Bunnies in society’s sights

Before: Tucker Beach was a dumping ground for cars, appliances, and animal carcasses

A plan to tackle rabbit populations at Queenstown’s Tucker Beach is in the works, thanks to Otago Regional Council’s (ORC) first-ever funding of community rabbit control projects.

The Friends of Tucker Beach Wildlife Management Reserve received $33,000 from ORC’s ECO Fund to create a rabbit management plan, consolidating the conservation work the society’s done to date.

In 2020, the society was granted $1 million over three years from the government’s Jobs for Nature fund to transform the reserve from its ‘‘terrible state’’ into a thriving ecosystem,
the society’s chair Rosemary Barnett says.

‘‘There were burnt car wrecks, people were dumping rubbish … it was an area no-one felt
safe to go … and in the past 12 months we’ve cleared 18.5 hectares of woody weeds,  we’ve fenced and tried to rabbit-protect 3.3ha, and planted 10,700 native plants.’’

Barnett says recent monitoring of banded dotterel and the rare black billed gull has revealed populations have since increased, and invertebrates and native lizards have
returned to the reserve.

While native flora and fauna are ‘‘starting to come back’’, the society’s vision of restoring the biodiversity of the 150ha reserve, including the adjacent Shotover River’s gravels, is
endangered by rabbits roaming the majority of the reserve and invading the cleared and re-forested sites.

After: Following a year of conservation work, undertaken by the Friends of Tucker Beach Wildlife Management Reserve, the area’s again home to native plants and birds, like the banded dotterel. PICTURE: STEVE COUPER

‘‘The problem we’ve got is that in spite of the incredible progress that we’ve made with the support of the Jobs for Nature funding, a lot of those gains are threatened by rabbits.

‘‘There’s still 132ha threatened by rabbits.

‘‘They’re damaging the surrounding soils and plants, and they’re an abundant food source for predators which prey on endangered birds.’’

To combat this, the society will use the ECO funding to roll out a ‘‘coordinated neighbourhood rabbit management plan’’ which will include workshops on rabbit management, and best-practice eradication programmes.

‘‘It has to be involving the community and the adjacent properties, because we all have to
participate if we’re going to achieve results.

‘‘Fencing is also needed to create boundaries and facilitate better rabbit control between privately-owned properties and the wildlife reserve.’’

She says the society is ‘‘very grateful’’ for the support of regional council as the funding
furthers the momentum of the group and protects the ecological gains of the reserve.

‘‘There’s a real sense of community government and local government collaboration.

‘‘It’s encouraging for our group to have had financial support for Jobs For Nature, and
now from ORC, so that people, the community, feel their efforts and their commitment
have been recognised.’’

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