Karen refugees are using ferrets to help control Werribee Park's rabbit population. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones
Parks Victoria is using ferrets and bullets to cull rampaging rabbits on the grounds of heritage-listed Werribee Mansion.
Rangers say rabbits were ruining lawns, flowering plants, and roots of heritage trees, and poison baits had failed.
But in the past three months a weekly program in which members of the Karen refugee community released pet ferrets has dispatched almost 100 rabbits.
The ferrets chase the pests out of their burrows in the garden beds into nets, from where the rabbits are humanely killed, although Parks Victoria, sensitive about public perceptions, wouldn't specify how.
It's part of a two-pronged attack on the rabbit scourge. In the past month, on a separate day to the ferrets, members of the Sporting Shooters' Association of Australia have come to Werribee Park one night a week to shoot rabbits.
The shootings are part of a four-year, $100,000-a-year contract Parks Victoria has with the association to combat pest animals in the state's parks and reserves.
The shooters at Werribee are volunteers, but their expenses, such as ammunition, are paid.
Using a silent golf buggy, night-vision sights and low-velocity ammunition, they have bagged more than 100 rabbits from the mansion's rose garden and outer paddocks.
About 50 Karen people from the western suburbs have been coming to the mansion for the past year, aided by migrant resource service AMES, to revive its market garden.
The restaurant at the Mansion Hotel & Spa at Werribee Park, which sponsors the seedlings, uses half the fruit and vegetables grown in the 0.8 hectares of plots.
The Karen gardeners aren't paid, but they can take home the other 50 per cent of produce.
Werribee Park ranger in charge James Brincat said that four months ago two Karen men asked if they could go ferreting along the Werribee River.
When they lived in Thai refugee camps, they would hunt to supplement their rice diet.
Mr Brincat and the men thought of deploying the ferrets on the mansion grounds. It's a low-impact solution because given the heritage plants, ''we can't go in with bulldozers''.
The Karen people and the shooters are allowed to keep the rabbits they kill.
Mr Brincat said poisoning rabbits had not worked at the mansion. Some mornings he found the rabbits had dug up 10 per cent of the previous day's plantings of flowering plants. He conceded the two new schemes weren't a solution. ''We're never going to get rid of rabbits but at least we will keep them down.''
Mr Brincat said it was unusual to use such rabbit-control methods in a formal garden setting. The program would continue at Werribee and Parks Victoria will consider using it in the grounds of other Parks Victoria properties such as Point Cook coastal park.