Pisa Moorings is an almost a rabbit-free zone.

That is in stark contrast to the rest of Central Otago and is due to community buy-in and co-operation to eradicate the pest species.

The settlement off State Highway 8, with a population of about 750, has managed to do what larger towns have not.

Rabbit numbers across Central Otago and Wanaka are as bad as ever. The latest data analysed by the Otago Regional Council over a 10-year period (2011-2020) show escalating rabbit numbers in Cromwell, Luggate and Tarras.

Monitored sites in Ettrick, Roxburgh, Lindis, Fruitlands and Bannockburn had a decline in observed rabbit numbers in this same period.

The RHDV K5 virus released in 2018 was more effective in some areas than others, and was a likely factor.

ORC manager biosecurity and rural liaison Andrea Howard said rabbits were a priority pest in Otago, due to the serious threat they represented to biodiversity, environment and economic values.

Ten rabbits ate the equivalent amount of grass as one sheep, resulting in reduced pastoral production as well as soil erosion and degradation. ‘‘They can destroy gardens and eat tree seedlings and vegetables and they breed prolifically, making them very difficult to control without sustained and cooperative efforts,’’ Ms Howard said.

ORC’s authority on rabbit control was limited to ‘‘regional leadership, education, facilitation, and compliance’’ leaving the control of the pest on individual properties the responsibility of the land occupier or owner.

‘‘This rule applies equally to all landowners, though we recognise the options for rabbit control are sometimes more limited in urban and peri-urban settings where people live in close proximity,’’ Ms Howard said.

Co-operation and communication between landowners was essential for identifying  rabbit control measures which worked for everyone, and for upholding rabbit controls to keep populations from bouncing back, she said.

A collaborative approach in fight against rabbits had proved successful in Central Otago community Pisa Moorings, reducing the pest population by 90% and creating an almost bunny-free oasis, according to Pest Free Pisa Moorings co-founder Stu Taylor.

The group started in September last year and set out to tackle the subdivision’s  rabbit problem. It had completed 350 volunteer hours since November.

Volunteers armed with shovels and magtoxin gas to kill the rabbits safely in their warrens have run twice weekly working bees.

Approved by both the ORC and Department to Conservation, magtoxin was a common tool in rabbit management, and worked by taking the oxygen out of the air of warrens.

The group also worked alongside Pisa Moorings Vineyard, which bordered the subdivision. The cooperation between the two proved beneficial, Mr Taylor said.

Rabbit home . . . One of the many rabbit burrows in the paddocks surrounding Pisa Moorings. PHOTO: SHANNON THOMSON

‘‘ [Rabbits]were a serious issue.’’

The pest had caused damage throughout the subdivision and there was still evidence in outlying paddocks around Pisa Moorings with rabbit burrows dotted throughout the pastures.

Birdlife had also been affected at the subdivision as rabbits attracted ferrets, a natural predator, so the group had implemented a ferret trapping programme at a cost of $3000.

Funding for the trapping programme and wider rabbit control had come from donations. Pisa Moorings households were invited to give a one-off donation of $100 to help fund the work.

‘‘That’s funded what we’ve done so far. We’ll need some help to fund fencing and  rabbit stops on the cycle trail,’’ Mr Taylor said.

The hard work had paid off for the group, benefiting the wider Pisa Moorings residents with the near elimination of the rabbits and the return of birdlife such as quail and grebe.

Pest control was not a ‘‘one and done’’ event though, and regular maintenance was required to keep on top of the rabbit population, Mr Taylor said.

Plans were under way for rabbit stops on the cycle trail, as well as more rabbit-proof fencing, with the intention being the only way for  rabbits to enter Pisa Moorings would be the front entrance.

‘‘If we don’t do anything they just get worse,‘‘ he said.

Pisa Moorings had two big advantages which made it possible to get on top of rabbits where others were struggling, Mr Taylor said.

Pisa Moorings only had one entrance, and this, combined with the ability to rabbit fence along the cycle trail, helped in the fight against the rabbits, he said.

Bunny free oasis . . . Pisa Moorings is no longer plagued by rabbits thanks to the efforts of community volunteers. PHOTOS: SHANNON THOMSON

Ms Howard said measures such as rabbit-fencing and habitat modifications were effective in dissuading rabbit populations and the work Pest Free Pisa Moorings was doing would have long-term benefits.

‘‘It’s great to hear that people in Pisa Moorings have had success with a collaborative, landowner-led initiative to control rabbits in their area,’’Ms Howard said.

‘‘This will result in tangible environmental benefits for the community.’’