Flying-foxes act as important pollen and seed dispersers for a wide range of native vegetation across the east coast of Australia. Due to their ecological importance in maintaining some of Australia’s most significant ecosystems, work needs to be undertaken to ensure the preservation of flying-fox species across the country.
The reduction in suitable foraging and roosting habitat, among other factors, has impacted on the population size of several species, leading the Spectacled Flying-fox and Grey-headed Flying-fox to be listed as ‘Vulnerable’ under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The expansion of human populations across coastal New South Wales and Queensland has led to flying-fox camps becoming increasingly located in urban and rural residential areas, possibly from movements of camps due to loss of natural habitat, or the expansion of human settlement into traditional flying-fox habitats.
The growing propensity of flying-foxes to roost in urban areas has caused more frequent interactions between the species and Australia’s human population. The location and size of these camps can have notable economic, social and health impacts on residents, business owners, and the agricultural community. These impacts have increasingly affected residents’ quality of life, and put pressure on local government to take action.
There is uncertainty around the reasons for the increase in urban roosting behaviour, and the accuracy of population estimates of these flying-foxes. The highly-mobile nature of flying-foxes—the Grey-headed Flying-fox in particular—contributes to difficulties in ensuring that data is accurate and determining whether management actions will have lasting results.
Increased urban roosting in recent years has led councils to implement a number of management techniques. These include actions to deter flying-foxes from returning to an established roosting spot, known as dispersals, in order to reduce the impacts on affected communities. Local councils are often tasked with the difficult job of balancing their legislative responsibilities for the conservation of flying-foxes, with the needs of local communities.
This inquiry considered the Commonwealth and state protections afforded to the two threatened flying-fox species, the interaction between state and Commonwealth regulatory frameworks, and the varied approaches to managing the camps that cause tensions. Consistent with the terms of reference, the focus of the inquiry was to ensure that the regulatory framework enables the effective management of flying-fox camps, while securing the appropriate environmental protections.
The recommendations outlined in the report are intended to complement the existing efforts to protect, conserve and recover affected flying-fox populations, allowing them to be managed in the most appropriate and sustainable way possible, while limiting the impacts on the livelihoods of those in the communities affected. The recommendations are designed to provide more immediate support and guidance for relevant stakeholders, taking into account the longer-term recovery objectives set out in the draft recovery plans for the Spectacled Flying-fox and Grey-headed Flying-fox. Central to these aims is national coordination, funding and research, clear guidance for decision making, and community education.
To support these aims the Committee has recommended the establishment of a cooperative body to coordinate and compile information on the management actions and priorities for reform relating to nationally protected flying-foxes across Commonwealth, state and local government jurisdictions. The Committee has also highlighted the need to fund priority actions and research, and the development of a decision tool for local governments when faced with flying-fox camps that affect their residents. Finally, the Committee recommends the development of education resources to assist local councils in affected jurisdictions and potentially affected jurisdictions.