POLL: $150,000 worth of bat bite damage

FRUIT bats have decimated Andrew Gartrell's cherry orchard near Orange, causing $150,000 worth of damage so far.

And he's powerless to stop them.

For the last three nights a wave of bats have descended upon the orchard, stripping the ripe cherries from the trees which were about to be harvested by 300 pickers.

"Last night the sky was black with them. I couldn't believe it" Mr Gartrell said.

The orchardist says in the many years he has been in the industry he has never seen anything like it and he and fellow orchardist Guy Gaeta and NSW Farmers executive representative Graham Brown are calling on the state government to move quickly to give them more powers to move the bats on.

"A couple of days ago I noticed damage and I was convinced it was birds, despite Guy Gaeta warning me about the bats," Mr Gartrell said.

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On Sunday night Mr Gartrell, assisted by Mr Gaeta and Mr Brown, drove through the orchard trying to scare the bats off.

"It made absolutely no difference," said Mr Gaeta.

Mr Brown said the arrival of the bats has the potential to not only wipe out the cherry growers but also affect the livelihood of all fruit growers in the Orange area.

"There's nothing to say they won't hit the grapes next, and with food around they will stay for the first of the apple harvest in a few weeks.

"This district has a huge problem on its hands. This is about jobs and people's livelihoods," Mr Brown said.

Mr Gartrell, who is one of few orchardists with fruit still to be harvested, said he is hamstrung by legislation which won't allow scare guns to go off at night to deter the bats, let alone other methods to discourage the bats from pillaging his crop.

"We can only the scare guns during the day due to noise complaint legislation," he said.

Mr Gaeta said orchardists are appreciative of the support by Member for Orange Andrew Gee who told his ministerial colleagues about the problem facing growers and is calling on the State Government to make it easier for orchardists to shoot bats by streamlining existing legislation.

"It's too simplistic to suggest orchardists should simply net their trees and I don't think people appreciate how low the prices are that orchardists receive for their fruit," Mr Gee said.

Mr Gaeta said he understands public sentiment about protecting bats.

"We are not out to kill them. We just want a way to be able to move them on," he said.

Late last week Mr Gee made urgent representations to Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson and Minister for the Environment Robyn Parker about the fruit bat crisis.

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