OUR SAY: Limitations in plans to get rid of flying foxes

HANGING OUT: Flying Foxes in Cook Park earlier this year. Photo: JUDE KEOGH
HANGING OUT: Flying Foxes in Cook Park earlier this year. Photo: JUDE KEOGH

UP and down the east coast of Australia, the four species of bats known as flying foxes have shown what a recent federal parliamentary report called “a growing propensity to roost in urban areas”.

Anyone who has spent a meaningful amount of time in our own Cook Park can attest to that.

Despite their urban ubiquity, the overall flying fox populations are still believed to be in slow decline, even with state and federal environmental protection. The NSW government allows limited killing of flying foxes to counter crop damage, but regulations have been tightened in recent years.

For urban residential dwellers wanting to shift permanent camps of flying foxes, lethal options have long been off the table. Responsibility often falls to local councils, who work out a plan of management using either passive or active dispersal, or an escalating mixture of the two.

Passive dispersal involves cutting down trees – “habitat alteration”, to quote the federal report – or using water sprinklers or nets to deter bats from roosting. Active dispersal means light, noise, smoke or some other device to drive the bats from their location, but as the federal report observes, none of these methods are guaranteed to work.

At present, local councils or other public land managers need a licence before trying to disperse bat colonies, but the NSW government is proposing to do away with this requirement under a new code of practice, on display in draft form until Friday.

Instead, the government is proposing that the council “notify the environmental agency head in writing at least five days before” its intended action. The draft code says the agency head “may” write back within three days, giving directions as to what actions are allowed, and what are not.

This is considerably faster than the present scheme, which gives the government 20 days to respond to routine requests, and 40 days if active methods are to be used to disperse a colony. 

But strict limits remain. “Disturbance actions” are only allowed for 2.5 hours in every 12, and then “preferably at or before sunrise or sunset”. They can only run for six days before a break of at least one day, and must cease altogether if more than half of the bats remain after seven days of disturbance.

With this level of protection, it would hardly surprise if our Cook Park-adjacent bat-bothered residents believed they came off second-best.