THE ‘Enhancing Biodiversity at the Bunurong Coastal Landscape’ funded project (due to end in June 2021) has been extended for six months by the state government.

This allows South Gippsland Landcare Network (SGLN) and project partners (West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority, Parks Victoria, Trust for Nature and Bass Coast Landcare Network) to continue pest control works that have targeted foxes and rabbits along the Bunurong coastal area of South Gippsland for three years.

SGLN is continuing to work closely with pest animal contractors, private landowners, and land managers across 16,000ha from Venus Bay to Walkerville (on the coastal side of the Walkerville Road); it is an important area for agriculture and tourism and is of environmental and ecological significance.

Under the state government Protecting Victoria’s Environment – Biodiversity 2037 plan, the Bunurong coastal area is a priority landscape – containing important remnant vegetation (including 10 threatened plant species) and is critical habitat for 30 threatened fauna species and 17 internationally important migratory birds.

Fox control has included 1080 baiting on public land and farmland, with trapping nearer to residential areas. Since the start of the project three years ago, the number of foxes taking baits or being trapped has declined since the start of the project, indicating that the integrated approach to fox control is adversely impacting the population.

Another indicator of a decreasing population is the reduced amount of evidence of fox activity, such as tracks, scats, and the removal of dead animals from roadsides.

It is important to keep the pressure on foxes through these and other control measures (such as shooting).

However, SGLN project officer Susan Koci says we can all play a part by not leaving out food scraps and pet food for foxes to obtain.

In February 2020, the K5 strain of calicivirus was released at multiple locations in the project area. Initial results were encouraging with a significant decline in the rabbit population over summer when feed was scarce, and insect carriers were prevalent.

However, the following warm, wet spring and a cooler than average summer provided ideal conditions for numbers to increase.

The virus is transmitted by direct contact with infected rabbits or insect vectors. As calicivirus is likely to be still in the environment, it is anticipated that given suitable hot, dry conditions, the summer of 2021/22 could see the virus sweeping through the population.

Owners of pet rabbits in and around the project area are encouraged to attend their local vet to have their pet rabbits vaccinated against the K5 strain of calicivirus.

This project has been funded by the state government’s Biodiversity Response Planning program to ensure that Victoria’s biodiversity is healthy, valued and actively cared for.

This project aligns with the implementation of Protecting Victoria’s Environment – Biodiversity 2037. For further information on this project, please contact Susan on 0400 565 142 or at info@sgln.net.au.