Waikato’s champion rugby club is being overrun by a bunch of bunnies on their home ground.
A plague of rabbits digging up the field has the club concerned about health and safety as junior rugby commences.
Thousands of rabbits are breeding on the town’s northern boundary on Victoria St West and at Hautapu Rugby Club they have set up homes under a thick hedge.
The plague has also been noticed at neighbouring Cambridge High School and at the Cambridge raceway.
But the Waikato Regional Council and Waipā District Council has given the rugby club some bad news about how the pests should be controlled.
As it leases the land, it is responsible for controlling pests.
That doesn’t come cheap – European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) were foolishly introduced to New Zealand almost 200 years ago – today they are responsible for $50 million a year in lost production – and $25 million is spent controlling them.
Kevin Clark has been caretaker at Hautapu for 20 years and says he’s never seen a rabbit problem as bad.
The club has employed a pest conrol officer to shoot rabbits, and Kevin has also bagged some – but he says the rabbits are quick to take refuge in the hedge.
“We spent $3000 on a field to get it ready for the season, but the rabbits eat the fresh growth and dig holes – it’s a concern when we have people playin on it,” he said.
When the News visited last week dozens of bunnies were enjoying the morning sun. They ran for cover very quickly – but evidence of their work in the form of large burrows is clear to see.
Cambridge High School business manager Amanda Wright said rabbits had been a “big issue” for the school this year.
“The numbers are much higher and they are digging up the fields. They are also leaving a mess on our fields which is not ideal for student sports.”
Hautapu Rugby Club leases the land from Waipā District Council, which says the responsibility to maintain the land, which includes pest control, sits with the leasee.
“We understand the club does undertake regular pest control however in this instance, it looks to be a wider problem coming from adjacent landowners with uncontrolled rabbit populations,” a Waipā District Council spokesperson said.
Waikato Regional Council Biosecurity officer (pest animals) Chris Monk visited the area in July and five landowners neighbouring the rugby club were sent letters by the council telling them to carry out pest control.
He said landowners collectively hired a contractor who shot 1570 rabbits. Another contractor used Magtoxin to treat burrows.
He said properties neighbouring the football field were now in long grass – which rabbits do not like, and that may have resulted in more being present on the on the rugby field.
The McLean scale determines the level of rabbit control required, and whether enfocrement is needed.
Chris Monk said the the rabbits may still be having an impact but the situtation when last checked was below the enforcement threshold.
“We have no authority to instruct landowners to do control if they are below the threshold but there is nothing to stop a landowner from undertaking control themselves,” he said.
Thats’s not good news for the rugby club though.
Rabbits can breed throughout the year, but their main breeding season is from late winter to early summer.