rabbits, brambles, hills and alternatives

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rabbits, brambles, hills and alternatives

Postby crabbycams » Wed May 20, 2009 9:57 pm

I have brambles up two gullies that I'd like to clear because:
a) they harbour bunnies which will eat everything new that I want to plant
b) I want to turn the gullies into a chain of ponds that trickle down the hill
c) while they are a weed, and arguably a useful one, I'd like to plant a less invasive and prickly alternative, and
d) they are a noxious weed when is all said and done.

Goats are not an option. I don't have adequate fencing and as the property is over 6 hours drive from where I currently live and, more importantly, have a job, I cannot be there to tether them, ensure their safety from the increasing fox population. There is no building at all on the property that could shelter them. I have advertised in the local press for someone to agist their goats on the property but no luck.

I'd like to know what I can plant that will:
a) not create a harbour for bunnies
b) be attractive
c) prevent erosion in the gully.

Getting rid of the bunnies, or even reducing the population is pointless without destroying the harbours and warrens. Planting anything is pointless without getting rid of the bunnies. And just to add to the woes, the neighbouring properties are for sale so no-one is going to do diddly squat about either the rabbit or bramble issues.

Suggestions please...

Mike Hart
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Location: Bendemeer NSW

Brambles and Bunnies

Postby Mike Hart » Wed Aug 26, 2009 10:52 pm

This is a difficult question to answer and I am not sure I have a definitive answer but this is how we have approached the problem.

When we bought the property we have, it had in general terms been very neglected, both by the absentee owners and the actions of indifferent individuals who were given agistment rights and created more problems as a result. Anyhow we had literally acres of blackberries (brambles) but I found that Peter Andrews advice about weeds and thinking about what they are doing on the property gave me a different insight. First everywhere the blackberries grew has proven to be a great indicator of hydrological activity, where they grew was where there was water in the ground. Along the creek they performed a valuable service holding together fragile creek banks that had been pounded by runoff and stock trampling. The blackberries presented a serious loss of valuable land in acreage but a significant bank of vegetative matter that was doing much good work holding the land together. The areas also provided the best hides for rabbits and foxes. We also had the local shire breathing down our necks as the new land owners and they had tried for fifteen years or so and failed to get the previous owners to do anything significant. We wished to avoid at all costs the use of any herbicides and fire as a control measure which are both standard approaches. From what we had seen herbicides would poison everything else and fire merely made the problem worse.

First we engaged a number of friends and acquaintances who liked to shoot and offered them access to shoot rabbits and foxes. I call this phase one. So for a year now every month or so we have people go in and shoot the rabbits. The best result was nearly one hundred rabbits and seven foxes in one day which will give you an idea of the extent of the vermin infestation. The repeated shooting sessions has had a significant impact on the rabbit population levels to the extent that the numbers are down to probably only a dozen or so from literally hundreds. In fact we only see the odd one or two rabbits but they are still out there and we are resigned to the fact that now the various viruses have diminished in effectiveness they will continue to be a problem. Our neighbours also shoot any they see as well so everyone has done a bit. Moral - you just have to keep at it and on top of them.

Then there was a need to destroy the hides created by blackberies and rip the warrens elsewhere and we had them by the hundreds. This was a difficult decision given the good regrowth following de-stocking of livestock and leaving the land to rest for nearly eighteen months or two growing seasons. However in the end the warrens can only be destroyed this way so where it was appropriate to rip we have done so. We have now had done about 50 acres.

The remaining blackberry areas are more difficult as they are in wet areas and hence ripping in these areas would bring about significant soil erosion problems and after last november when a colossal amount of water fell in a short time (10 inches in 12 hours) the risk of erosion and soil loss was too high to contemplate. We therefore decided and are now engaged in slashing and cutting. We obtained the services of a contractor who uses a bobcat with a special cutter that cuts and mulches. The final 50 acres or so with significant blackberry growth gets cut next month. I am confident the hides there will be erased and the soft wet ground (evident by rushes and other water loving grasses) will rapidly recover to normal native grasses. From there the plan is to continue to slash and mulch regularly and eventually the blackberries will give up.

In some places we get in and do it by hand with special long handled secaturs and a brushcutter. Sure we have to go back and do it again but each time the blackberry regrowth is less and the native vegetation bounces back faster bit by bit, so Peter was right about weeds doing good but being out competed by the natural vegetation. At last count we now have identified twenty native grasses and are confident over time more and more will appear. We have no thistles and those that do appear we note and leave to do their work here and there then slash them when their done growing as well.

The next step is to begin rebuilding mulch piles concentrating on the hill top areas and begin to slow down water run off in the small soak creek areas that bisect the property that run down to the main permanent creek on the property. The creek by the way is also recovering well with lots of regrowth and now beginning to take back the form it probably originally had and described so well by Peter as being a series or chain of deep ponds with reeds and grass matts in between.

That is all we can offer at the moment. Best of luck but remember even though the Shire could not live with the weeds and our neighbours were not so sure, we were and were determined to let them do their work while the natural restorative processes took hold. NSF works.

Shirley Henderson
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Postby Shirley Henderson » Thu Aug 27, 2009 9:18 am

My own experience with Blackberries is that it thrives in full sun and becomes straggly in shade (easier to control) and providing less shelter for rabbits. Rabbits do not like cold, damp conditions, well it would not be there first choice. Try planting useful trees such as Pittosporum undulatum or other trees (in fact diversity including decidous, Poplar?) that like moist conditions and can create a canopy over the blackberry. This could thin the blackberry immensley while growing your new plants to keep the soil stabilised and safer from erosion. Chicken wire or other protection will be neccesary for your new young plants it is cheap. Long stem planting is a good choice as they grow faster than ordinary tubestock. Rabbits eat heaps, I know... so protection is a must for your young trees. The blackberry is protecting your moister gully from erosion and needs to be replaced as you go with something else that will do the same. Although my suggestion is Pittosporum I am sure there are others that could work, maybe, acacia as a starter.... Of course Willows would be great but I suppose you are not allowed to plant them?
Check out what other useful trees are in your area and available with the qualities of roots that stabilise the soil, fast growing, some decidous, providing enough shade to cause thinning of the Blackberry, (this means the plants dont have to have great height), and begin creating your wetland gully. Dont forget at the top of the hill plant some tall growing tough wetland plants to spread down through your gully.
Good luck, Shirley.

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Postby gbell » Thu Aug 27, 2009 9:35 pm

You guys have me worried about blackberry - didn't realise it helped the rabbits out. Thing is... it provides food. Can it not be controlled yet kept?

Mike Hart
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Joined: Thu Nov 06, 2008 9:07 pm
Location: Bendemeer NSW


Postby Mike Hart » Thu Aug 27, 2009 10:26 pm

I no gripe with blackberries as a plant per se, the produce very nice fruit which you can put to a variety of tasty uses but they are a declared noxious weed in NSW which means you are required under an act of parliament the Noxious Weeds Act to control and eradicate the plant. In our area they do best in wet areas and I understand in their home area Europe they are actually a river bank plant. They are not a fast growing plant but spread laterally by runners and are spread by birds and foxes and other animals which eat the fruit and then deposit the seeds in droppings somewhere else to provide an ideal germination process.

We like the job they do in the absence of the native or other vegetation which they replaced when the land was degraded and they merely filled a niche left vacant. We actually like the way they have acted as a barrier to what was once uncontrolled stock movement foraging and grazing out the creek plants and trampling the soft soils in the creek area.

Regrettably they also provide a great hiding place for foxes and rabbits and as birds nest and rest in dead trees, they were also found on our property to be most vigorous around dead trees which merely compounded the hide issue as they then made ideal burrow spots for rabbits and probably foxes.

The plan we developed based on the advice we took out of Peter's books and ideas was to let them do their good work, slash them when appropriate so you keep the remains to mulch back into the soils (keep in mind they also break down very slowly when dry being a woody plant) and give the natives shrubs and grasses a chance to bounce back. That is happening but it is not an overnight process.

The biggest problem we have is not the management strategy but our local Council who are welded to the idea of spray the @#$!! out of everything with poison. We have stood our ground and are prepared to go to court if they persist, so far they have backed off. We also had a minor problem with St John's wort which the Council was also rabid about as well. We dealt with the wort by spending weeks of back braking hand weeding and have well and truly dealt with the problem, the wort is basically gone and everywhere it was pulled up and left to rot back down in a pile it has not reappeared.

The key message I can only provide is that taking care of hydrology and using NSF ideas and methods (as interpreted by me) the resuscitation of the natural landscape has resulted in a diverse natural biota appearing and the introduced plants decreasing. Basically we are not at all phased by the issues of weeds, after all what is a weed? But we are keen to keep the bunnies under control and remove them altogether as rabbits are incredibly destructive animals with their digging and eating habits and on our property did far more damage than any cow or sheep did.

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Postby duane » Fri Aug 28, 2009 1:26 pm

Blackberries have a role in Nature...that is to protect vulnerable/sensitive parts of the landscape from erosion eg stream banks etc. The very fact that they have these nasty thorns means this a a natural mechanism to protect the plant from animals eating them out whilst they are trying to repair/protect the sensitive area.

As Shirley has said blackberries hate shade.

As a practical solution, the following has been suggested:

1. slash the blackberry...don't poison it.
2. once slashed, if possible, use the long stemmed planting method, to plant any tree or shrub, in an area where it can grow up, protected by the blackberry mulch, leaving the blackberry biomass and C soil and root system in the ground, and when it grows it will shade out and ultimately kill the blackberry.

That's the theory but in practice it may be a different matter.

Has anyone tried this??

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Postby ColinJEly » Fri Aug 28, 2009 8:25 pm

How about a nice recipe for Fricassee of Rabbit with Blackberry Jus? :lol:

Shirley Henderson
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Location: Thirlmere

shading out blackberry

Postby Shirley Henderson » Sun Aug 30, 2009 4:17 pm

In regards to the shading out of Blackberry, I have been doing a little experimentation. First, in the reserve where I work there is huge patch of Blackberry that was sprayed by contractors until I started there. I have stopped the spraying and left it alone. It thrived for the first year and it was very hot and sunny. Then we had some good rain and Bursaria, wattles, african olive and African Boxthorn began to grow. They are taking over the Blackberry Patch. However there are other areas of Blackberry still going well. A recent fire went through the area and the Blackberry still had live buds starting to move and grow 2 days after the fire. My observations will be recorded for learning purposes.
My area of focus though is mostly around the waterways and I have been using a method of pruning back the blackberry and pruning the small trees above it to shade it out. The Blackberry has thinned but I dont want it gone completely because it is protecting the waters edge from (Kids damage) and the wild birds breed on the banks. This is their safe haven. Funny thing is though, there is a native blackberry local to the area as well. It's very much similar to the introduced Blackberry but the branches do not grow quite as long. This is not declared a weed and is in fact part of this protected community. It is invasive too!
If you could control the blackberry to do what you require it could be used as useful fencing to protect your waterways and other fencing situations with pruning here and direction there.
Yes you can shade it out and I believe planting through out the Blackberry is a good idea. Obviously you will need plant protection from those rabbits and though they live and hide amongst it there is plenty of other habitat and hiding places and I have seen many birds thriving in the habitat too. It's not so bad.

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