SSAA Victoria has been at the vanguard of the conservation movement throughout the state for the past two decades and its influence continues to be felt. The SSAA state hierarchy savours its links with Parks Victoria as part of its Conservation Pest Management (CPM) program to eradicate dangerous feral invaders, and two of the main areas where SSAA members have been making a major impact are the Werribee Mansion and Point Cook Coastal Park.
The Werribee Mansion project started in July 2013, while the Point Cook crusade has been going for about 18 months. During those respective timespans, 2500 rabbits, 11 foxes and a couple of cats have been bagged at Point Cook. Meanwhile, a tally of 1100 to 1200 rabbits has been removed from the Werribee Mansion property.
Formally constructed in the 1870s, the splendid building in Werribee Park boasts a significant number of exotic plants from all around the world in its surrounds. It is also home to the state’s official rose garden and the original orchard. It was a makeshift state governor’s residence before Government House was completed, and it has housed visiting dignitaries. Such an impeccable pedigree dictates that its environmental riches must not be ruined by feral pests.
This is where the SSAA contribution comes to the fore. Indeed, the efforts of volunteer members have been so successful that SSAA Victoria Hunting & Conservation Assistant David Croft says that the program has been scaled down to “maintenance-type mode”.
“We used to take 60 to 70 rabbits per night, but thanks to our efforts, numbers have dropped off, so now we go in every fortnight. On a good night, we only need to take about 18 rabbits,” said David. “There were groups of four members when we started, but now we are down to two. One shoots, while one drives the buggy, which is supplied by the hotel at the site.”
The scheme is also bolstered by an extra group of helpers, with SSAA Victoria enlisting the assistance of a group of Karen refugees from Burma who live in the area. “They send ferrets down the warrens and help with the maintenance of plants and foliage,” said David.
Ranger in charge James Brincat keeps the Karen volunteers in the loop and organises their schedules.
“They are a wonderful group of people,” said David. “There can be 20 to 30 of them involved at any time. English is not their first language and we use interpreters. They are allowed to take a few rabbits for their own personal food needs if they want.”
All together, about 650 SSAA members are accredited to assist in the SSAA Victoria CPM program. “We send them where it is appropriate,” said David. “We link the postcodes where they live to the areas that they operate in to make things more convenient.”
The wide-ranging scheme can probably trace its origins back to a cull of goats in the Murray-Sunset National Park in 2003. From there, it progressed to dealing with rabbits, foxes and cats - all the pests that are the most dangerous to the environment.
“Everybody in Victoria is familiar with the name and its aims,” said David. “At the same time, we are available to farmers and landowners if they get in touch with us.”
It would seem that SSAA Victoria is doing a sterling job in helping to keep a lid on the scourge of feral pests.