Vegetable growers across Victoria are bracing for a sharp increase in feral rabbit populations due to an extended breeding season that the pests will enjoy this year, AUSVEG spokesperson Hugh Gurney said.
“The Victorian Department of Primary Industries, through their monitoring, have reported that rabbit numbers are starting to rise from a 15 year low,” Mr Gurney said.
“The expression ‘breeding like rabbits’ is certainly fitting in this situation and growers are urged to consider taking action on their properties. Warren ripping and other activities can be used to take to control of rising rabbit numbers,” said AUSVEG Communications Officer Hugh Gurney.
“Recent high rainfall has resulted in strong pasture growth which will improve survival rates among the pests, as well as extending their breeding season,” said Mr Gurney.
All Victorian land owners are responsible for preventing the spread of, and as far as possible eradicating, established pest animals - such as rabbits - under the Catchment and Land Protection Act of 1994.
AUSVEG is the National Peak Industry Body representing around 9,000 of Australia’s vegetable and potato growers.
“Under the right conditions, a single pair of rabbits can increase to 184 individuals in only 18 months, so action to control numbers is vital to prevent further impact on the environment and farming operations,” said Mr Gurney.
“Rabbits are preferential grazers and choose to eat soft green plants which are high in protein whenever possible. This makes leafy vegetables, such as lettuce, an ideal source of food for the destructive pests.”
“Warren ripping, which involves the destruction of rabbit warren systems, is effective at controlling the numbers of this pest, as rabbits do not readily dig replacement holes,” Mr Gurney said.
The Calicivirus and Myxomatosis, which previously used to control numbers of the pest, are now ineffective against current generations of rabbits, so alternative control methods must be used to try and keep populations in check,” said Mr Gurney.
When introduced in 1952, Myxomatosis killed 99.8 per cent of Australia’s rabbits, which at that time numbered over 10 billion.
“Vegetable growers are generally affected by rabbits with warrens on neighbouring properties, so we are urging all landholders to work together with their neighbours and take steps to control rabbit numbers,” said Mr Gurney.
Australia’s feral rabbit population began from just 24 European rabbits which were released in 1859 by Thomas Austin for the purpose of shooting in Winchelsea, near Geelong, Victoria.