You have probably seen their signs on the highways warning against keeping pet rabbits and you have probably driven over the ‘fence’ at Cottonvale on the New England Highway. You might have also wondered where the rabbit fence starts and finishes and what role it really plays these days.
Well, wonder no more…
The Darling Downs-Moreton Rabbit Board (DDMRB) has been in operation for 130 years, dating back to the 1890s when the Maranoa, Warrego, Mitchell, Gregory North, Leichardt, Darling Downs, Carnarvon, Burke and (in 1905) Moreton Rabbit Boards were proclaimed in response to the march north of rabbits from the southern States. Following a Royal Commission in 1930, all Boards but Leichhardt, Darling Downs, and Moreton were abolished. The Darling Downs-Moreton Rabbit Board was constituted under the Rabbit Act 1964.
Fast forward to 2022 and the DDMRB has 14 full time staff, most of which patrol and maintain the entire length of the 555km fence. In days not that long gone by, patrolmen were stationed along the fence, and it was from there and a series of camping huts and horse paddocks they patrolled their runs on horseback. The fence was erected along watersheds and traverses some extremely rugged terrain that continues to be challenging to negotiate, even with modern 4WD and all-terrain vehicles. The whole fence is foot netted to prevent rabbits and other animals from burrowing under and patrol staff routinely patch holes, cut trees off the fence, repair flood gates and replace foot netting. Over a third of the fence has been raised to also provide a strategic barrier to wild dogs and the whole fence is subject to a rolling renewal and replacement program as well as the ravages of fires and floods. It is a never ending job, but is it still necessary?
DDMRB Chair Cr Janice Holstein (Lockyer Valley Regional Council) said, “Science tells us that the fence is as important today at preventing the spread of rabbits as it was 130 years ago. Research has shown how genetically different the rabbit populations to the south of the fence are compared to the much less significant populations to the north of our operational area. This tells us that the rabbits beyond our area aren’t coming through the fence to get there”.
DDMRB also has compliance staff that work with landholders and Councils across the Board’s operational area to locate and ensure removal of rabbit populations inside the Board area.
“Rabbits cause significant damage to agriculture and the natural environment. While they’re still a serious problem in many areas of Australia, we shouldn’t forget just how bad the impact of rabbits were and how bad they can once again become if we are complacent.” Cr Holstein said.
“The DDMRB maintains the 555km rabbit fence that runs from Goombi (north west of Chinchilla), where it joins the wild dog barrier fence, to Mt Gipps (near Rathdowney), as well as working with landholders and Councils to prevent rabbits from becoming established in our 28,000km2 operational area, which is home to much of Queensland’s most productive agricultural land and unique ecosystems”.
DDMRB Director and Southern Downs Regional Councillor, Jo McNally hears a number of common questions about the Board and the rabbit fence.
“One of the most common things I hear is that there are rabbits on both sides of the fence, so what’s the point of it?”
“It’s true; there are rabbits on both sides. But there immeasurably fewer inside the Board operational area than there are outside, particularly to the south in the Granite Belt and in New South Wales” she said.
“That’s the primary role of the DDMRB; to prevent rabbits from establishing inside the operational area, or the ‘clean side’ of the fence”.
Cr McNally said she often fields questions about the fence, or lack thereof, on the New England Highway at Cottonvale.
“There was previously a grid in place that formed part of the rabbit fence and acted to reduce the likelihood of rabbits crossing. Main Roads, as they are doing on highways right across Queensland, removed the grid for safety and cost reasons. People scoff at the obvious breach in the fence there, but there are actually some other measures in place such as wing fencing that deter rabbits from crossing. Obviously we’d have preferred if the grid stayed in place, but I imagine our predecessors probably also lamented progress when the rabbit fence gates were removed from the road!” she said.
Another common issue is hares mistakenly being identified as rabbits. DDMRB compliance staff are often called to investigate rabbit sightings inside the Board area only to find that hares have been spotted.
Like rabbits, hares are introduced animals but do not pose the same impacts as rabbits. They do not burrow, nor do they have the breeding capacity of rabbits. Hares are not declared pest animals in Queensland, whereas rabbits are declared and landowners must take steps to control them on their land.
Cr Holstein said, “We urge people to report rabbit sightings in the DDMRB area to us, either by phone, social media or via our web site. Our compliance staff are on hand to visit properties and provide assistance with advice on the most effective control methods to suit the situation”.