How the rabbits missed eating this, one of the last examples of the coastal Stylidium graminifolium or Grasstrigger plant on the Phillip Island foreshore is anyone’s guess.

 

YES, but how do you get rid of the rascally rabbits!!

The human race has done it’s best to stuff up Phillip Island – introducing rabbits, foxes, cats, dogs, the bridge and ourselves of course.

But, in recent times, with the guidance, funding and organisational power of the Phillip Island Nature Parks, together with Coast Care volunteers, friends’ groups, engaged local landholders and the general community; we’ve been fighting back.

Irradicating the foxes, notwithstanding the occasional unconfirmed sighting, has been a big one.

It’s saved the penguin colony, which provides much of the muscle for these other environmental rescue efforts, the Short-tailed Shearwaters, and helped with the Eastern Barred Bandicoot and Hooded Plover projects.

Getting the community to better control their cats and dogs, and also to reduce their own impact on the coast has also helped.

But there’s still more to do, a lot more to do as was clearly in evidence when members of the Surf Beach Sunderland Bay Coast Care Group took interested members of the public on a biodiversity walk and talk on Sunday, November 21.

Under the direction of the Coordinator of the SBSB Coast Care Group, Gayle Seddon, they saw stark evidence of how rabbits have ruined the biodiversity of coastal vegetation, targeting plant species including the pretty pink Stylidium graminifolium or Grasstrigger plant, regarded as a ‘canary in the coalmine’ indicator of the damage being done generally by rabbits.

Beautiful native orchids have also been a casualty.

“They don’t just eat the leaves and the flowers, they dig down and eat out the rhizome or root structure of the plant reducing or eliminating its chance of recovering,” said Senior PINP Ranger Mark Merryfull, who among other things, shares the responsibility for conserving and regenerating the native flora and fauna on 2000 or so hectares of public land managed by PINP.

He’s happy to come along and support days like this one, monitoring the impact on native vegetation and taking action to roll back the damage being caused.

“The Eastern Barred Bandicoot program has been a major success, from the breeding program on Churchill Island, we’ve released dozens of bandicoots on to the island,” their numbers back up into the thousands, he says, indicating a scratching site frequented by some of the beautiful little marsupials.

But they’ve also been impacted by the loss of native habitat.

“The next one we’ll be working on is the Bush Stone-curlew, another bird that nests at ground level.”

The visitors on Sunday came along to see what happens when rabbits are excluded from the landscape, in this case by a number of wire cages erected along the Sunderland Bay to Surf Beach foreshore, in 2017, allowing the Grasstrigger plant to return, but it’s taken a long while.

Where once this area would have been covered by a waving ocean of these long-stem plants, in pink flower at the moment, only those parts where the cages keep the rabbits out, are the Triggerplants returning, and with them some glorious native orchids and other over-grazed native plant species.

It’s clear evidence, according to Gayle, that the rabbits have got to go, allowing native vegetation to return.

Over the winter and during the pandemic, the SBSB Coast Care Group has been leading a ‘Rabbit Proof Your Home’ project as a first line of defence against the invasion by rabbits, not only impacting the native flora and fauna, but also undermining coastal houses.

They’ve shown residents and landowners how to rabbit proof homes to help stop rabbits from ravaging Surf Beach Nature Reserve.

“The reserve used to be blanketed with beautiful pink Triggerplants and crimson Running Postman but they have been targeted by rabbits to the point of elimination. If nothing is done these species are likely to become locally extinct,” said Gayle.

Since their introduction to Phillip Island in the late 1850s, rabbits have increased to plague proportions along the coast, taking advantage of the removal of foxes and lush green lawns and shelter under houses and sheds, which have replaced native grassland.

Rabbits dig, eat seedlings and other small plants, nourish soils which benefits weeds, ringbark shrubs and contribute to erosion and the spread of weeds. Weed control, restoration and revegetation efforts are ineffective while rabbits continue to flourish.

The Coast Care Group will continue to promote rabbit eradication programs, so look out for those, and you can also get information from phillipislandlandcare.org.au.

They also have their annual fundraising ‘Bunny Boiler’ dinner coming up on Wednesday, December 1 at the Phillip Island Winery where all things rabbit are discussed and eaten!

They have a special guest speaker, Tim Bloomfield. His presentation is titled: ‘We are smarter than rabbits, now let’s prove it!’

For further information, phone or email bookings contact Deborah Morris on 0407 900 959 or debmorr142330@gmail.com

But the proof is already in, rabbits are destroying the diversity of our local coastal vegetation and anything we can do to beat them will be highly beneficial.

“We hope to inspire, engage, educate and facilitate community action for a Rabbit Free Phillip Island,” Gayle said.

Under consideration are the next steps with rabbit proofing homes and even plans for a rabbit proof fence along the reserve.

On Saturday, November 27 there’s a ‘Phillip Island Coastcare Blitz’ field day visiting five coastal sites around Phillip Island.

As Phillip Island Nature Parks Senior Ranger Mark Merryfull demonstrates, the rabbits not only eat the leaves and the flowers of many native plants, they also dig down to eat the root systems as well.