Pests in their hundreds have been brought to Tasmania either consciously or accidentally, or arrived of their own volition. New settlers wanted to improve the landscape by introducing European species, or to recreate England in the antipodes. Acclimatisers had scientific motives in seeing how European species adapted to an alien environment or hoped for an economic bonanza from the speedy growth of animals and plants in the more favourable colonial climate. Sportsmen thought Australian animals offered no challenge and introduced English game to indulge their talents.

Colonists were often shocked by the ability of introduced species to spread uncontrollably. Blackberries, gorse, willows and boneseed became well-known plant pests. Carp and starlings were fauna pests. First appearing in the 1850s, by the 1870s codlin moth threatened the apple industry. Legislation requiring orchardists to clean orchards and use arsenical spraying and fungicides was unpopular but helped control the pest. Introduced for fur farming in the 1820s, rabbits increased dramatically by the 1870s and ruined the fertility of much pasture. Despite the Rabbit Destruction Act (1871), they caused huge losses in wool in the early 1880s. Landed interests lobbied for restricting or eliminating the lucrative rabbit skin trade (in 1881, 1,927,620 skins were exported), built rabbit-proof fencing, and put poisonous gas in burrows. Such measures made little difference, rabbit destruction legislation proved ineffective, and rabbits remained a popular food source. In the 1950s, the Department of Agriculture co-ordinated use of 1080 poisoning and the virus myxomatosis, and destroyed warrens, which proved more successful.

In the 1990s new pests emerged. The most potentially serious, introduced red foxes which threaten stock and marsupials, is being fought by a Fox Free Tasmania Taskforce. In the 1980s Japanese boats brought in their ballast water the starfish known as the Northern Pacific Seastar: this pest now proliferates and threatens the Tasmanian commercial shellfish industry. Some 44 naturalised animal species are currently considered pests.

Further reading: S Breen, Contested places, Hobart, 2001; J McRae, The Tasmanian Farmers, Stockowners and Orchardists Association 1908–1958, Hobart, 1961; T Semmens, Lea's legacy…, Hobart, 1999; E Thompson, A handbook to the insect pests of farm and orchard, Hobart, 1892–95.

Stefan Petrow