New funding to protect French Island’s wildlife

5 October 2020

French Island is set to become a haven for threatened species with the Australian Government announcing last week that $335,000 in funding from the Environmental Restoration Fund will be contributed towards efforts to eradicate feral cats on French Island. 

Nestled within the internationally significant Western Port Ramsar site, French Island is a sanctuary for Victoria’s wildlife. Over 230 bird species have been recorded on French Island including significant species such as the White-Bellied Sea-Eagle, King Quail and the Orange-Bellied Parrot. 

The island also supports a large population of Long-nosed Potoroo, as well as a significant population of Koalas. Recently, 70 critically endangered Eastern-barred Bandicoots were released onto the island to help bring this species back from the brink of extinction.

Of the native species recorded on French Island, 34 are listed as threatened under state and/or federal government environmental classifications. However, many of the species on the island are highly susceptible to predation by feral cats.

Feral cats are a significant pest species and have had catastrophic impacts on Australia’s native fauna. Predation by feral cats is one of the greatest threats to Australia’s land-based mammals and is implicated in the extinction of at least 27 mammal species.

Since 2010, Parks Victoria, French Island Landcare, Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority (PPWCMA) and others have been collaborating to control the feral cat population on French Island and reduce the damage they have wreaked upon the island’s wildlife.

French Island residents have also been implementing a responsible pet ownership program to prevent owned cats from entering the feral population.

The intense efforts undertaken by all partners has seen the island’s feral cat population reach its lowest point, with an estimated population of between 100–200 individuals remaining. This, combined with French Island’s natural barrier to new cats reaching the island and the absence of European Red Fox set it apart from other biodiversity conservation areas in Victoria and make it the perfect place to establish a safe-haven for wildlife.

Funding from Victorian Government agencies and Australian Government initiatives including the National Landcare Program is being secured and, with the new funding announcement is now very near the total estimated to achieve eradication of feral cats over the coming four years.

The PPWCMA will be working with Parks Victoria, Zoos Victoria, French Island Landcare, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning and the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions to also secure the necessary permits and approvals to commence the project with major on-ground work proposed to start in 2021.