Rabbit control on the Galson Estate was urgently required; the population had grown to problematic levels. The worst affected areas are on the common grazings from Eoropie to South Dell. The key issues are loss of grazing for livestock and the hazard caused by burrowing. but this issue is now being addressed by Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn (Galson Estate Trust) working together with the grazing clerks and a local team of 12 shooters registered with UOG and given permission to take a co-ordinated approach to rabbit management across the estate, aiming to reduce the rabbit population to tolerable levels.
Reasons for control: Despite the rabbits cute reputation as a much loved cartoon character in the form of bugs bunny, they are still the major pest species in the UK. This mammal is largely underestimated by most but their capabilities to breed as well as, chew, eat and dig through most landscapes is second to none. Seven rabbits will eat as much as a sheep; it doesn’t take much to work out how even a small population of rabbits can decimate a colossal amount of grazing pasture and root crops.
Burrowing rabbits also pose a threat to livestock and horses alike, animals breaking legs and lambs getting stuck in rabbit holes is not uncommon, also a problem with burrowing is the damage caused to sports and public areas, gardens, cemeteries and archaeological sites.
In the 60’s and 70’s we had myxomatosis, a man made disease introduced in 1951, the virus is transmitted by the rabbit flea, it is a dreadful disease that causes immense suffering and affected rabbits can take a fortnight to die……I know I would rather have 200 healthy rabbits on the ground than 1000 sick ones! Today myxomatosis is still present in parts of the UK, but outbreaks are caused by a less virulent strain of the virus. Mortality rates during recent outbreaks tend to be between 40 and 60 per cent compared of rates of up to 99 per cent recorded after the initial outbreak in 1952.
Over the years shooting parties came over from the mainland to shoot and ferret in agreement with UOG and local grazing clerks, however as visits were inconsistent and there was no evidence of numbers, it is difficult to gauge how truly effective this method was.
This currant rabbit culling scheme is an initial pilot and will run for six months, the project is funded by local grazings townships as well as funds from the UOG Community Investment Fund, to provide incentive for hunters, and a bounty system is in place, whereby 50p would be paid for each rabbit. Evidence is the tails which will be collected and counted, a closed and locked skip is provided for disposal purposes.
The pilot scheme started on April 1st, and 845 rabbits were shot in the first month, these were shot on common grazing from North Dell to Eoropie and Upper Barvas. The total number of rabbits shot for the three month period is 1588. In June five members of the Ness team completed a rabbit gassing course; this is carried out by using Phostoxin tablets which release a concentration of poisonous gas when in contact with moisture are inserted into each hole of a burrow. Phostoxin is extremely toxic to rabbits with inhalation resulting in rapid death.
We were also approached by parents of Lionel school who expressed there concern about the condition of the school playing field, in relation to the mess left behind by geese and borrowing rabbits, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (CNES) are experiencing major issues with geese on their playing fields, but after a meeting with representatives of SNH, CNES and Police Scotland, Police Scotland is very clear that no shooting can take place on any school grounds.
This is a three year pilot scheme to reduce the number of geese in Lewis and Harris which was estimated to be in the order of 5850 birds, the scheme is supported by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and overseen by staff within Scottish Agricultural College (SAC), shooting is only permitted at certain times of the year as the Graylag goose is protected in law. A team of 80 shooters, all volunteers operating under a licence shot 1118 in its first year…..268 shot in the ness area, this year the Ness team had a bag limit of 250 and managed to shoot 203 albeit with a smaller shooting team.
The next phase of this cull will start on 1st August and run through to the 31st August, the Ness team has been given a bag limit of 110.
The Ness team, under special licence and strict guidelines from SNH were also oiling goose eggs, egg oiling is considered to be a 100% effective method of non-lethal and humane bird control. Egg oiling involves the use of liquid paraffin BP to coat the shell of the egg in order to stop the embryo from developing, after oiling it is highly unlikely that the parent will re-lay once the end of the normal incubation period.