Poisoning plans causing concern

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A pindone poisoning operation is being done in the Bannockburn and Upper Clutha areas, where the rabbit problem is the worst it has been for several years, Department of Conservation (Doc) and Otago Regional Council (ORC) officers say.
But some members of the public are unhappy about the operation, saying it will close off significant areas to those walking dogs and with young children.
The pindone operations were about to begin in the Upper Clutha and Bannockburn area, Doc senior ranger biodiversity John Keene said.
The total area for both operations is about 130ha in Bannockburn and 750ha in Upper Clutha.
In Bannockburn, the area for the poison drop comprises the Bannockburn Sluicings Historic Reserve and several private properties with a mix of size and land use.
In the Upper Clutha area, the area to be poisoned includes Doc-managed areas such as the Albert Town Conservation Area, the Hawea River and Clutha River marginal strips and the Lower Lindis Conservation Area.
The News was contacted by a Bannockburn resident who was concerned about the poisoning being done in areas commonly used by members of the public. The resident, and another resident, both of whom wished to remain anonymous, were particularly concerned about the poisoning being done in the Bannockburn Sluicings Historic Reserve, which was one of the few reserves in the area where people were allowed to take dogs, they said. The residents were also concerned about risks to children in the area, and the time poison residue remained.
Doc information advises the area could remain toxic for 14 months after the bait has been laid.
However, Mr Keene and ORC environmental monitoring and operations director Scott MacLean said the poisoning was needed to get the rabbit problem under control.
Rabbits in both areas were now over the maximum allowable limit in the ORC’s Regional Pest Management Plan (RPMP), and measured five to seven on the modified McLean scale used by the ORC, Mr MacLean said. The maximum limit in the RPMP is three.
Mr MacLean said it was difficult to estimate how many rabbits per ha were in the Bannockburn and Upper Clutha areas, but the McLean scale had the following definitions: – Three: Sign infrequent with faecal pellet heaps more than 10m apart. Odd rabbits may be seen. – Five: Sign very frequent with faecal pellet heaps less than 5m apart in pockets. Rabbits spreading. – Seven: Sign very frequent with 2-3 faecal pellet heaps often less than 5m apart over the whole area. Rabbits may be seen in large numbers over the whole area.
The highest number the scale goes to is eight, which is ‘‘Sign very frequent with three or more faecal pellet heaps often less than 5m’’.
Mr Keene said the Bannockburn and Upper Clutha areas were historically rabbit prone, and there had been recent strong breeding seasons there, which increased rabbit numbers to levels where ground-based and aerial shooting alone were not enough to get the numbers down.
Mr MacLean said the collaborative nature of the pindone programme was important and should help its success, with private landowners also included in the programme in the Bannockburn area.