Bats out of hell: orchardist fights to save apple crop

FLYING foxes have hit another of the district’s long-established orchards, damaging fruit and costing a grower thousands of dollars in income.

A week ago Peter Darley noticed flying foxes coming into his orchard, however, they were much smaller than the larger grey variety that invaded his orchard two years ago.

Mr Darley immediately contacted the National Parks and Wildlife Service ( NPWS) which is responsible for issuing licences to cull flying foxes that are threatening livelihoods.

“I can shoot up to 50, but this smaller variety is very quick,” he said.

“The best I can do is to scare them away with a gunshot, but then they just fly back in.”

Just after Christmas the colony of small flying foxes landed in an orchard on the eastern slopes of Mount Canobolas, wiping out a late-picking variety of cherries.

At the time, orchardist Guy Gaeta said he feared the flying foxes would stick around until the first apple harvest.

That is exactly what has happened on Mr Darley’s orchard, with more than 3500 trees with ripening gala apples being attacked.

“I have to say NPWS were very quick to respond. They came straight out and took photos and issued me with a licence to cull,” Mr Darley said.

But, he said the solution to discouraging the flying foxes was not simple.

“We can’t just pick all the apples off at one time as we have to wait until the colour is right in particular fruit,” he said.

“It is very frustrating.”

“They [the bats] are in a feeding frenzy, a real mindset, and there’s no putting them off.”

Mr Darley said he would welcome any state government funding for netting as suggested by member for Orange Andrew Gee at a meeting in January with NPWS staff and concerned growers.

“The cost of netting for the average grower is just too prohibitive, although I do have some other drape-style nets on my other varieties,” he said.

Mr Darley fears once the flying foxes have finished on the Gala apples they will start on other varieties of sundowner and fuji, soon to be harvested.

Mr Gee said orchardists, along with NSW Farmers, were working on a submission for  stage government funding to purchase nets.

“We haven’t seen the submission yet, but as soon as we get it we’ll be talking to the minister about it,” he said.

“NPWS has assured us that the shooting permit system has been streamlined and a more proactive approach is being taken by them.”

Mr Gee said growers could also access low-interest loans through the Rural Assistance Authority to purchase nets, however, he said the longer-term solution was a comprehensive netting policy.

NPWS says two growers in the region have reported to and applied to NPWS for culling licenses since January 1.

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