The Weeds & Rabbits Project
PARTNERSHIPS AGAINST PESTS
The project’s purpose was to improve how we manage established invasive species in Victoria, Australia.
These pest species occur across vast spatial scales and are influenced by many ecological, economic and social factors.
If our approach to weed and rabbit management is to be effective, we need to build up the knowledge and capacity of those who undertake control activities, coordinate community groups and develop policies and support programs for people – to help them to work better together.
This our story
Photo of property infested with the weed, Serrated Tussock.
Image of rabbit warrens in sandy soil.
Image of a waterway infested with Blackberry bushes
Image of land manager laying a bait trail of carrots as part of a rabbit management program
Two people talking at the Youth Workshop, held at Melbourne Museum
A feral rabbit emerging from their warren.
We need to get pest species under control for the benefit of local people.
Weeds and rabbits have significant impacts on Victoria’s industries, natural ecosystems, human and animal health. They are one of the main threats that Australia’s biodiversity faces today. Not only that, they also cause damage to Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Sites and cause a great deal of frustration to communities.
Established pest species such as rabbits, blackberry, gorse and serrated tussock are particularly problematic. They cause damage across millions of hectares, but they can also re-infest areas where they have been removed. This puts all communities and land at risk – whether it is private land used for agriculture or public land set aside for conservation.
To be successful in the long-term, individual landholders should not tackle these species alone. There needs to be a coordinated approach across land tenures and at a landscape scale.
Landholders, researchers, government staff, waterway managers, community groups and a variety of other stakeholders are all important from this perspective. They have the ability to share their knowledge and resources to work together to tackle the weeds and rabbit issue. This ultimately makes the problem of widespread weeds and rabbits just as much about working with communities as it is about managing a pest species.
Rabbits destroy crops, cause soil erosion, compete with native fauna and breed prolifically.
Blackberries decrease decreases the productivity of land, alter water flow, cause erosion, harbour pest animals, and displace native species.
It’s the worst perennial grass weed in Australia, it impacts land productivity, pushes native species out and leads to biodiversity loss.
It’s highly invasive and persistent. It reduces grazing capacity, invades all pasture types, reduces land value and it’s highly flammable.
“We need to work across government. We need to work across industry, and we need to work across community.”
Program Manager 2016-2019
In this video, Michael Reid introduces the Weeds and Rabbits project. Michael discusses how weeds and rabbits are impacting all of us and why we need to work across community, industry and government to make a long lasting change.
Image of a community group gathering in a paddock.
Getting people to work together effectively and efficiently is critical.
The Weeds and Rabbits Project (the Project) is a $4.3 million initiative (2016-2021) to improve the way established pest animals and weeds are managed in Victoria.
It was funded under the Australian Government’s 2015 Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper and managed by Agriculture Victoria.
Our approach to the weeds and rabbit’s problem focused on improving and strengthening the current management system. This recognises that effective weed and rabbit management is complex, requires coordination, needs people to have a good understanding of best-practice techniques and involves a substantial investment of resources by public and private landholders.
There were two main phases of our system-strengthening approach.
The first one was all about understanding the established weed and rabbit systems in Victoria. We engaged with a diverse range of stakeholders across the state to explore how they were managing weeds and rabbits, what sorts of challenges they were facing and who they were working with.
This effort produced a series of ‘system maps’. We used these maps in a workshop with over 100 participants to identify where in the ‘system’ we can intervene to best support community-led action on weeds and rabbits.
In the second phase of the Project, we used insights from the system maps to collaboratively develop community-based projects. These projects help communities to take on-ground action against widely established species. This included community-grants program, research, and leadership programs.
The project is a partnership between the Victorian Government and Victoria’s four Community Pest Management Groups (CPMGs) – blackberry, gorse, rabbits and serrated tussock – and the wider Victorian community.
A series of interventions were delivered to improve how we share information, engage different demographics, support community leadership, and understand the role of compliance in community-led action.
GOVERNANCE & FUNDING
The project governance structure was designed to encourage community participation, work effectively with community groups, and engage in shared decision-making. This included:
- The Project Control Board (PCB), made up of representatives from Agriculture Victoria and the Independent Chair of the Delivery Leadership Group.
- The Delivery Leadership Group (DLG), which is a community leadership group made up of representatives from each Community Pest Management Group.
The community leaders were from the Victorian Blackberry Taskforce, Victorian Gorse Taskforce, Victorian Rabbit Action Network and Victorian Serrated Tussock Working Party.
OUR PROJECT PARTNERS
Victorian Rabbit Action Network
The primary aim of VRAN is to see feral rabbits gone from the Victorian landscape. They provide training, tools and networks to enable community, industry and government to implement best practice management in the control of feral rabbits.
Victorian Blackberry Taskforce
The Victorian Blackberry Taskforce was established in 2001 to work with Victorian communities and government agencies to provide a collaborative effort to control blackberry.
Victorian Serrated Tussock Working Party
The Victorian Serrated Tussock Working Party (VSTWP) work in response to the community’s deep concern with the spread of serrated tussock. Their community-led approach creates a partnership between community, government and other key stakeholders to tackle the problem together.
Victorian Gorse Taskforce
The Victorian Gorse Taskforce (VGT) leads an integrated approach to reducing gorse across private and public land. They source funding to implement community-led activities to reduce gorse in local problem areas.
“Community engagement is all about achieving an outcome on the ground.”
Southern Queensland Landscapes
In this video, Darren Marshall reminds us that listening and hearing different perspectives and collaborating with others can only improve land management decisions.
“It’s not maybe somebody should do something. It’s maybe we should do something.”
Chairperson, Victorian Blackberry
Lyn Coulston OAM, is chair of the Victorian Blackberry Taskforce (VBT), board member of the Victorian Rabbit Action Network (VRAN) and a long-term leader and supporter of community and Landcare groups in the Upper Murray region of Victoria.
In this video, Lyn discusses how community ownership and community involvement is vital. She also discusses how the government can work with and engage with community better.
Landscape Image of North East Victoria.
Scaling up collaboration, knowledge and actions.
The Weeds and Rabbits Project has invested in a suite of programs to strengthen Victoria’s community capacity to control the weeds and rabbits problem, and empower communities in managing these widely established invasive species.
Recognising the role and value of community leadership, the Project provided scholarships to emerging leaders and ran a two-day masterclass to upskill key stakeholders in community engagement around weeds and pests.
At the other end of the scale, the Weeds and Rabbits Project also worked to engage more young people in invasive species management. This included a youth engagement workshop to identify and work through challenges and opportunities, as well as grants to community groups to engage younger people in weed and pest management projects.
We also undertook a range of behavioural research on how compliance with invasive species legislation could be improved, alongside an evaluation on how to improve the information available on weed and rabbit management.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, we supported three community grants programs which were targeted to community pest management groups (CPMGs), so they could extend their work in the community, build their capabilities and establish a foundation of resources and research that they can use into the future.
“Unless you have ownership and involvement, you won’t achieve anything.”
Leadership Strategies for the Community
Our Leadership Masterclass was a three-day course for volunteers and professionals working with the community on invasive species management, to support them to develop genuine, equal and effective partnerships with the community. The following video captures members of the Master Class delivery team on the importance of effective leadership in community engagement.
“It’s about listening, sharing, facilitating collaboration and bringing people together.”
Professor at Penn State University
Ted Alter is a Professor of agricultural, environmental and regional economics at Penn State University in the United States, and an Adjunct Research Fellow at the University of New England in northern NSW.
Ted has a strong track record in invasive species work in Australia, including as key advisor in the development of the community-led Victorian Rabbit Action Network.
Watch this video to hear Ted talk about the importance of listening, sharing ideas and creating spaces for collaboration.
“We need to work together, as individuals we can’t solve the issues alone.”
In this video Andrew Holm talks about the benefits of working together.
Community Volunteers of the Victorian Serrated Tussock Working Party at a Farm Expo
The number of people involved in Project-funded workshops, training, field days and similar activities
Workshops and other events, ranging from hours to days
Participant in intensive training
Key weeds and rabbits stakeholders involved in intensive, multi-day training
Videos and case studies
New resources for helping raise awareness, motivation and skills
With information on better ways to engage landholders or tackle target weeds and pests
Targeted investment focused on supporting collective, community-led action on weeds and rabbits, and building collaborative working relationships between government, industry and the community.
The diverse activities supported by the Weeds and Rabbits Project have led to a range of positive outcomes in relation to community capabilities around weed and rabbit management, as well as some shifts in the underlying weeds and rabbits management system.
We achieved this through the empowerment of the community by investing in the work delivered by the CPMGs.
This was about enhancing the work that CPMGs were already doing in relation to community engagement, as well as providing funding opportunities to implement new ideas and programs.
With support from the Weeds & Rabbit project our community partners have:
- raised awareness amongst landholders to improve their understanding of weed and rabbit management issues.
- supported individuals to work together in collaboration across the landscape.
- extended their reach across Victoria, connecting with more landholders via updated websites, case studies and other educational resources.
- help raise the standard of weed and rabbit control across the state by hosting more intensive field days, support programs and training events.
- increased the capabilities of key individuals by delivering training in engagement, best-practice techniques and awareness of how to work in Aboriginal culturally sensitive landscapes.
- increased confidence so community members can share their new knowledge and skills with others in their community.
This community worked was complemented by the Weeds and Rabbits Project initiatives such as:
- the community engagement masterclass.
- the youth workshop and grant initiatives.
- more effective knowledge sharing between stakeholders.
- built knowledge and capacity in community tackling weeds and rabbits.
- community, government and industry collaboration.
- reduced reliance on regulation & compliance.
- effective community led programs being delivered and valued.
“It’s a rabbit problem with a people solution.”
A Strategy to deal with rabbits
The Victorian Rabbit Action Network has facilitated the development of the Victorian Rabbit Management Strategy, which is a first for the nation. The strategy establishes a framework to enable us to all work together to tackle this difficult environmental problem.
“The more we share with each other, the more we learn.”
Cultural Awareness Workshop
A workshop was held with Traditional Owners and other land managers to learn about managing rabbits in culturally-significant landscapes.
Cultural Sensitivity Warning
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that this website may contain images, voices and videos of deceased persons.
“If we have any hope of restoring degraded landscapes, we need to work better together.”
A new approach to tackling the rabbit problem
The Victorian Rabbit Action Network is a new approach to tackling the problem of rabbits.
It brings together community, government, science and private organisations to share the problem solving and decision making on how we invest in and deliver rabbit management programs across the state of Victoria.
Aerial photo of two agricultural paddocks
Tools that will continue to support community action.
The Weeds and Rabbits Project has left a long legacy of outputs and outcomes that community groups and government will be able to use and build into in the future.
While this includes various resources, research and education materials developed by community, it is more about fundamental shift in how they are working together.
With support from the Weeds & Rabbits Project, several of the community groups have:
- improved their approach to community engagement.
- extended their reach by collaborating more with others and formed new partnerships with other organisations.
- shared knowledge with communities and key partners.
- notably the community groups are raising the bar of how to deliver best practise information to communities facing weeds and rabbit issues.
Agriculture Victoria has also achieved a range of outcomes including:
- strengthening it’s understanding of communities and what community-led action can achieve.
- built capacity in tomorrow’s leaders through the delivery of leadership programs and youth workshops.
- enhanced their understanding of the challenges and opportunities around compliance with invasive species legislation and
- gained in-depth understanding of the benefits and challenges of taking a systems-approach to invasive pest species.
After four years of working together, community and government now have a joint understanding of how to strengthen the weed and rabbit management system and have developed a true partnership against pests.
“It’s creating spaces where people can come together and talk democratically about things that are important to them and strive to find a Solution.”
Our project partners and sponsors are continuing to advocate and support collective, community-led action on weeds and rabbits, and building collaborative working relationships between government, industry and the community.
In this video, Prof Ted Alter, Darren Marshall and Lyn Coulston talk about how you can make a positive difference to your local community and landscape if we work together.
Michael Reid and Land manager discussing weeds and rabbits in a paddock.
Photo of the weed, Blackberry.
Photo of large rabbit warren system in paddock.
Image of large blackberry infestation.
Photo of group participant talking at Youth Workshop.
Community members talking about rabbit issues at a problem site.
Participants at the Masterclass in Community Engagement.
Landscape image of open road in regional Victoria.
Rabbit warrens in sandy soils.
Blackberry weed infestations near vineyard.