Rabbits have been significant pests in Australia since they were released near Geelong, Victoria in the 1800s. They are well suited to Australian conditions with populations increasing rapidly. They are considered one of Australia's most serious pest animals and typically
- destroy pasture, crops and plant communities, impacting on agriculture and the environment;
- cause soil erosion and associated sedimentation of waterways;
- compete with native fauna for food and habitat; and
Under the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994, wild European rabbits are declared as pest animals and under the Act, owners have a responsibility to take all reasonable steps to prevent the spread of, and as far as possible eradicate, established such pest animals from their land.
Rabbits create extensive warrens for protection - these can be up to 3m deep and 45m long. They form social groups and may share warrens or common areas. Rabbits are mostly active in the late afternoon through to early morning, are very selective in their grazing and feed mainly in areas of short vegetation with 250m or so of their warren.
Rabbit populations grow prolifically - they can begin breeding at 4 months old and may produce 5-plus litters per year, each with 4 or so per litter. A single pair of rabbits can increase to around 180 rabbits in just 18 months.
A range of tools exist to help control rabbits. The Pestsmart "Glovebox Guide to Managing Rabbits" emphasises that "a combination of these tools is essential for effective rabbit control, as no single technique will provide adequate long term results".
Common possible techniques are listed below. Links are to relevant fact sheets at http://feral.org.au Before using any of these techniques, it is the landholder's responsibility to assess what is appropriate for their property and take all required safety precautions.
- Harbour mapping (see https://www.feralscan.org.au/rabbitscan/)
- Warren Ripping and Harbour Removal
- Poison Baiting
- Exclusion Fencing
- Shooting and Trapping
- Biological Control (see http://www.pestsmart.org.au/boosting-rabbit-biocontrol-rhdv-k5-national-release/)
The Bellarine Landcare Group has been very active in working with landholders to create awareness around the impact of rabbits and working to develop capability within the community to implement control measures - see our Rabbit Control Action Projects.
For Further Information
Pestsmart "Glovebox Guide to Managing Rabbits" (pdf)
DELWP overview of European Rabbit
Feral.org Rabbit Fact and Management sheets