An ongoing European wild rabbit population control trial project has been labelled a "success", with a little help from enforced COVID-19 travel restrictions.
South East Local Land Services partnered with Bega Valley Shire Council, landholders and a contracted shooter in late April to undertake the trial after the temporary closure of the nearby caravan park and cabins "opened up a window to allow the trial to go ahead with a minimum of disruption to tourists, the community and businesses".
The professional shooter, who council said "maintains an extremely high skill grade in the use of firearms, vision and thermal imagery equipment, and noise suppressors" killed 29 rabbits out of 30 at Merimbula's Short Point, 126 of 128 at Eden and 200 at Tanja.
Council coordinated the program at Short Point Reserve and nearby Beach Cabins and Merimbula Beach Holiday Resort, the Barclay Street Sports Complex, Eden Marine High School, Eden Cemetery and a nearby caravan park.
Local Land Services is coordinating the ongoing program on private properties at Tanja.
Council said all sites were targeted "due to the abundance of rabbits that had previously been identified".
"In these locations native vegetation has been undermined and scratchings had caused major headaches, especially for the sports clubs at Barclay Street who had been forced to fill holes prior to training and games. Many gravestones had also been undermined," council's recreation assets officer, Ed Crothers, said
"While it is likely that other rabbits harbouring nearby will attempt to move into the control sites, ongoing monitoring will be undertaken and follow up controls will be implemented where appropriate.
"Put simply these locations will be far more user friendly and safe now," he said.
A thorough review of the project is underway, and plans are in place to expand the program if further funding can be secured, council said.
The shooting approach is part of "a mix of techniques" being used, which also involved the release of the newest strain of the rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus K5, formerly known as calicivirus in October last year.
The virus causes fatal haemorrhagic disease in the rabbits, and was chosen for the trial due to its "targeted nature and long-term biological establishment".
Council's director of assets and operations, Anthony McMahon, said in April the information gathered from the project will be used to "inform the development of a broad Rabbit Management Plan".
"He said the management of rabbits was driven by state and federal legislation and policies including the legal requirement, under the NSW Biosecurity Act 2015, for landowners to control and prevent the spread of rabbits," he said.
News reports state rabbits were "practically unknown" in the region until the early 20th Century.