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Addressing the problem of rabbits

Addressing the problem of rabbits

In the most recent survey of Montrose season ticket holders, we asked what single improvement they would make for the coming season.

Over 40% of the comments mentioned the word “rabbits” and the damage they do to the courses.

So here we attempt to examine the scope of the problem and explain what we’re doing to address it right now, as well as in the longer term.

The bigger picture

It is estimated that there are nearly 10million wild rabbits in Scotland.

Our temporary head greenkeeper Paul Teviotdale admits it often feels like a high concentration of them choose to live by the Angus coast.

“Rabbits have been a problem for a number of years now and we are continuing to do our best to get on top of the issue,” he said.

“What we need is a concerted push to bring down the number of rabbits and then keep them down.”

There are four main ways to control rabbit number. Traditionally, you can gas them, shoot them, ferret for them or put up fencing.

Gassing

“Gassing rabbits would be the best method,” said Paul, “but this has its difficulties.

“With so many of the rabbit holes under the gorse, we can’t always cover every hole which allows the gas to escape.”

Phostoxin gassing tablets are the most effective option. They contain aluminium phosphide, which reacts with normal atmospheric moisture to release phosphine (hydrogen phosphide) gas.

It decomposes into a small pile of greyish powder, which has no residual effect on the soil, and doesn’t harm plant life in the treated area.

However domestic and farm animals have to be kept away from the treated areas for at least two days to prevent any possibility of the tablets being dug up while they are active.

“With so many dog walkers on the links, and the possibility of dogs wandering into the gorse and maybe discovering an unopened hole, it’s just not a viable option,” said Paul.

Shooting

Moving on to shooting, this is currently operating and of course this means you can count how many rabbits have been removed from the course.

The contractor has shot 443 rabbits in the last six weeks. In the 10 months from the end of May 2020, he dispatched 2,163 – a total of 2,606 rabbits in the last year, at a cost of £2 a rabbit.

The problem here is that the minute the rabbits hear a gunshot, they head for the cover of the gorse.

And rabbits are very good at keeping their numbers up so there will always be plenty around while we continue to shoot. The annual number of emergent young per female rabbit in a long-term study ranges from one to ten.

Ferrets

Ferreting is another way to control the rabbit population but again gorse produces a challenge for the ferret owner. They can’t see their animals when they emerge from a hole and they can easily lose a few ferrets on a hunting spree.

“I have spoken to a couple of guys during lockdown who have expressed an interest in ferreting when restriction ease,” said Paul.

“I will contact them to see if they are still keen to come down and give it a try.”

Meanwhile, the cost of fencing the entire area around the two courses has been seen as prohibitively expensive.

Inter-dependency

gorse on the 1562You will have noticed that gorse and rabbits have a close relationship.

Gorse gives much of the attractive character to the courses, especially when it’s out in flower as it is just now, and it adds to the challenge of the environment.

However it’s also a handy cover for rabbits and their burrows.

You may remember us talking earlier in the month about the gorse management plan.

Overgrown areas of gorse are not just a hazard in terms of visibility to those playing golf.

The gorse management plan takes environmental issues into account and helps the board and the green staff make the correct decision in what gorse needs to be removed and when.

Removal of gorse is not just about the playablity of the course but also assists in reducing the rabbit population at Montrose Golf Links.

Immediate

So we are continuing to look at controlling rabbit numbers on the courses but the question remains what we’re doing about the damage they are wreaking?

For whatever reason, the damage is always worse on the north side of the 1562 medal course, on the 5th to the 9th holes.

And the efforts of the greenkeeping team are concentrated on the 1562.

“We try to patch the rabbit holes on the fairways, with different levels of success,” said Paul.

“At the minute, we’re taking turf from the unused 9th tee on the Broomfield to patch the damage.

“Some patches take better than others and as you can see, sometimes the rabbits return to the scene of the crime before the turf has taken root again.

“Surface damage can be treated with soil and reseeded, but again there is the danger the rabbits will return.

“This is where our volunteers really help us out.

rabbit damage on the golf courses

“The damage is being done day in, day out while we try to find a way of controlling the rabbit population and we do tend to focus on repairing the 1562 first.

“We are aware of the deteriorating condition of – for example – the 11th on the Broomfield, so we will be turning our attention there.

“It can feel like a huge game of Whac-a-Mole, or rabbit, and sometimes it can feel like we’re not getting out of the bit.

“But if we continue to work on controlling the numbers of rabbits, the damage they do will begin to reduce and we should get on top of it.

“In the meantime, if anyone wants to volunteer to help or has any inventive solutions, please do get in touch!”

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