The Committee received multiple pieces of evidence from a range of stakeholders that highlighted the need for national coordination of management actions with respect to flying-fox camps, as well as any future research or efforts to educate stakeholders on flying-fox ecology, roosting or behaviour. In this chapter, the Committee proposes a range of measures to assist communities in the eastern states, while providing some actions that can be undertaken in the shorter-term to provide improved protection and conservation for flying-fox species.
National coordination of management actions
The requirements for federal referral of some management actions, based on the Referral guideline for management actions in grey-headed and spectacled flying-fox camps under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), coupled with the different state-based referral requirements leads to confusion, potential duplication of effort and wasted time and resources, especially for local government bodies with limited resources.
While the Department of the Environment and Energy (the Department) aims to communicate with state governments and identified local government bodies, the message received by the Committee from individuals and other stakeholders is that the information about flying-foxes and their management is not known, or poorly communicated or coordinated in some instances. The Department acknowledged that in the past few years, and especially in the last 12 months, there have been increased efforts in coordinating with the responsible state agencies to avoid duplication, but the Committee believes more can be done.
During the roundtable public hearing, a number of witnesses emphasised that direct management of flying-foxes required local (or site-level) expertise and action, but needed to be better coordinated. The Committee heard that there was a role for national coordination, both in the referral and approval of the actions, as well as the capture and management of the data or outcomes of the management actions undertaken, which could then be accessed or referenced for similar actions elsewhere.
Equally, the mobile nature of the national population of flying-foxes (especially the Grey-headed Flying-fox) requires national coordination, as the response in one state or local government area will often affect other areas. The separation between state and federal government management and monitoring has led to disparate sources of action and knowledge about the actions undertaken and the subsequent population effects.
It was noted these inconsistencies may be addressed through a common assessment process, which is currently being considered as part of the National Review of Environmental Regulation and efforts to develop an integrated national listing of threatened species. However, the Committee believes more can be done in managing these kinds of reforms, as set out below.
In a similar vein to the NSW Flying-Fox Consultative Committee referred to in Chapter 2, the Committee sees merit in establishing a national (or at least eastern states) consultative committee or working group on flying-fox management, research and education, to ensure that efforts are not being duplicated, nor knowledge lost.
Such a committee or working group could formalise the sharing of research relevant to all stakeholders. The current disconnect was evidenced at the roundtable public hearing, where witnesses such as Dr Pia Lentini outlined current or upcoming research which other witnesses were unaware of.
While the Committee is aware that a lot of stakeholders within the flying-fox academic and research community are aware of ongoing activities or developments, a national committee or working group could facilitate the central capture and coordination of these efforts and feed information into a concerted education and communication campaign, as outlined later in this chapter.
For the creation of such a committee or working group to be appropriately considered and given the attention it deserves, the Committee considers that the potential establishment of such a body needs to be raised at the Council of Australian Governments, to enable the appropriate priority and resourcing to be discussed.
Central to this concept achieving its aim is the commitment of the federal and relevant state governments to cooperation and alignment on flying-fox management and referrals, as well as centralised funding and research coordination.
The Committee is conscious that the pressures from all flying-foxes, including the Grey-headed and Spectacled Flying-foxes, are often unique to the region affected. However, the nature of the pressures on the flying-fox populations and the increasing impact that this is having on urban environments, industry and individuals, means that a coordinated and concerted response is necessary.
This coordination is even more important in light of the identified recovery objectives included in the draft recovery plan for the Grey-headed Flying-fox as outlined in Chapter 3.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government propose a national or eastern states flying-fox consultative committee or working group to the Council of Australian Governments. The consultative committee or working group would be responsible for centrally compiling information on referrals and management actions, and identifying priorities for legislative harmonisation, research and funding for future action in the management of nationally protected flying-foxes.
Funding for priority actions, research and data
As outlined in the previous chapters, the research and monitoring of nationally protected flying-foxes is central to understanding the current populations, conservation requirements, ecological importance and impacts of the species.
Through submissions and the roundtable public hearing, it was evident that the National Flying-fox Monitoring Programme (NFFMP) is important in guiding the data for consideration of the listing of flying-foxes under the EPBC Act, as well as for targeting other activities and research.
The status of flying-fox populations, their movement between camps, and the accurate estimation of different species’ abundance and their breeding and mortality is essential to being able to afford all species the appropriate classifications under federal and state legislation and the protections and management protocols that come with those classifications.
Essential to this research is the established requirement that 13 years of sustained population research is necessary to enable a baseline measurement to trigger EPBC Act threshold measurements (positive or negative).
If accurate tracking and research into Grey-headed Flying-foxes corroborates the population decline and pressures expected by current population estimates, then the basis for the afforded protections can be incorporated into the education and communication tools outlined later in this chapter. If the population data suggest otherwise, then it can form the basis for appropriate reclassification or declassification as required.
Similarly, research is important in building the knowledge base on flying-fox behaviour, environmental and habitat pressures, and the drivers of nectar production. Research is also vital for identifying appropriate management activities to implement in affected communities.
The Committee notes with interest that the behaviours of flying-foxes causing the most conflict or concern (increasing urban roosts, population movements) are not well understood. As outlined at the roundtable public hearing, there are many hypotheses around why urban roosts are increasing, but no conclusive answers exist.
The Queensland Government outlined current satellite tracking research into understanding flying-fox roosts in urban areas, however this research is currently limited to Little Red Flying-foxes. This disconnect between the requirements for national research into such behaviours and the limitations of current research into the nationally protected species of flying-foxes, strengthens the case for nationally-coordinated efforts into such endeavours.
Research into understanding roosting behaviours and population dynamics is necessary for achieving the recovery objectives stated in the Draft National Recovery Plan for the Grey-headed Flying-fox. The loss of original habitat, identification of urban food sources and range overlap investigation are also important research priorities, to enable sufficient data to inform future actions.
Continuing and guaranteed funding for research, as well as any resultant actions, is crucial to guarantee meaningful data for the relevant agencies or stakeholders. The Draft National Recovery Plan for the Grey-headed Flying-fox states that the costs for implementing priority actions should be incorporated into the core business expenditure of affected organisations as well as additional funds obtained for the explicit purpose of implementing the recovery plan. However, the Committee believes that committed funding and resources from the Commonwealth should be allocated, along with the coordination efforts called for in Recommendation 1.
The inconsistent funding basis for the NFFMP was discussed at the roundtable public hearing, and disparate funding arrangements for efforts such as those being undertaken by the National Environmental Science Program (NESP) and its emerging priorities funding, would benefit from a central, coordinated and larger funding pool for research that could then be utilised by a central coordinating body and disseminated to stakeholders such as local councils.
Additional research is also required to look into incidental human health impacts relating to flying-foxes. Some submissions to the inquiry suggested there were increased incidences in asthma, skin irritation and other conditions associated with the presence of flying-foxes in urban areas. Such research is vital for providing certainty for the community and health authorities.
Finally, in order to achieve the full range of priority actions recommended in the national recovery plans for the Spectacled and Grey-headed Flying-foxes, as discussed in Chapter 3, the Committee believes further research and funding commitments are required to enable the protection and enhancement of critical roosting and foraging habitat.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government establish a dedicated funding pool for flying-fox research and conservation actions, to enable:
continued funding of the National Flying-fox Monitoring Programme for at least the next 10 years;
committed funding for the priority actions outlined in the recovery plans for both the Spectacled Flying-fox and Grey-headed Flying-fox;
targeted national research into flying-fox roosting behaviours and habitat loss impacts; and
any other research that allows for the timely evaluation of flying-foxes under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, informed by rigorous data, at the earliest opportunity.
Decision framework for councils and other managing bodies
As outlined in Chapters 2 and 3, the current framework for referring management actions in nationally-important flying-fox camps containing Grey-headed or Spectacled Flying-foxes is established by the Referral guideline for management actions in grey-headed and spectacled flying-fox camps.
This guideline, paired with the relevant state or territory requirements for management actions where the nationally protected flying-foxes are not involved, satisfy the current legislative requirements for protection, conservation and management of flying-fox camps that may be impacting on human populations. However, the legislative requirements can be confusing or not appropriate as a first port of call for individuals, affected communities, businesses or local governments.
Accordingly, an easy-to-access, universal, decision making tool needs to be developed to aid councils (as a primary target audience) in navigating the different requirements and sources of information they need to make decisions, or steer people to the relevant information. This decision making tool was identified as a priority by the CSIRO during the roundtable public hearing. The Committee notes that researchers for the NESP identified that they were already developing such a framework through the Threatened Species Recovery Hub. The Committee considers this work can help inform the development of a nationally consistent framework, to be used by all relevant stakeholders.
The Committee believes that a framework developed in consultation with the federal and state governments, informed by the relevant research and scientific bodies, could help councils:
identify flying-fox camps in their jurisdiction, through guided use of the NFFMP viewer and other relevant sources;
assess whether the camps potentially include nationally protected species and whether the populations are static or seasonal/transitional;
consider any past management actions undertaken locally or otherwise, and their effectiveness;
decide on the most appropriate management options and refer matters as appropriate (state, federal or both); and
provide education to affected communities (as covered in the next section).
This tool should be developed in consultation with the relevant councils, as the primary land managers and stakeholders responsible for flying-fox management in most situations, to ensure that the language and resources developed are appropriate and effective.
These resources should also be scalable to apply to the different management scenarios that may arise, and reflect the appropriate state and federal regulations. Councils should be provided with guidance on a wide range of scenarios, including:
small, seasonal flying-fox camps which have minimal impact—with effective mitigation strategies to be highlighted for affected residents, such as the use of car covers, health considerations, and so on;
flying-fox camps that are impacting on residents, and the regulatory pathway that applies;
higher impact camps, and the considerations for councils and communities, such as: management options available, communication resources and strategies available, regulatory pathways that apply, and appropriate actions including dispersal activities and interventions by the Minister for the Environment and Energy.
Councils will be able to apply the decision tool to gauge these range of situations, and allow communities to understand the appropriate management options available under a variety of circumstances.
Development of such a decision tool requires cooperation and open communication, as well as a degree of alignment across states. Such a tool will enable councils to understand their obligations, identify possible options under various scenarios, and communicate this information easily to their communities.
The Committee notes that the NSW Camp Management Policy 2015 already establishes a hierarchy of options for actions within that state, and could be used as a development starting point for a national tool. The development of this decision tool should be prioritised by the Department, and could be informed by any national coordination committee or working group established as a result of Recommendation 1.
The Committee recommends that the Department of the Environment and Energy develop, in consultation with relevant state and local governments, a tool that assists councils to make decisions on action, referral and education in the most appropriate way, relevant to the flying-fox impacts in their jurisdiction.
Public and community education
Throughout the inquiry, the Committee was presented with evidence that demonstrated the varying levels of understanding and priorities of different sections of the community regarding flying-foxes in general, and their conservation status.
Whilst there is a significant amount of publicly-available information on flying-foxes and their ecology, behaviours and environmental importance, many people in the community do not access this information until a flying-fox camp becomes a concern.
Some community members find the official advice on conservation status to be at odds with their own experiences, having been exposed to large camps of flying-foxes and their impacts.
The Committee appreciates that problematic camps can cause distress and damage to communities, businesses and community attitudes. Part of this appears to stem from a lack of information from the relevant levels of government and a lack of available information regarding the potential and perceived health risks from flying-foxes.
The current requirement for interested stakeholders, including councils, to access and synthesise the relevant information from official sources often leads to the delayed communication of relevant information to affected households and businesses.
The Australasian Bat Society and Banana Shire Council recommend that the inclusion of flying-fox information in the school syllabus, or even as extra information for students and parents, can help counter misconceptions about the nature and impact of flying-foxes.
Many other submitters outlined the value and importance of pre-emptive or precautionary community education on the role of flying-foxes in the ecosystem, as well as the range of options that can be expected if camp management is required in their community.
This community education should extend to the dissemination of information regarding the known human health risks associated with flying-foxes on humans. This includes an understanding of the likelihood of disease transmission and the preventative measures that should be taken. Additionally, communities should be informed of the importance of standard hygiene practices in alleviating the risk of infection from flying-fox droppings.
Accordingly, the Committee considers that the Department should develop, in consultation with state governments and the flying-fox expert community, a suite of education products that can be disseminated in affected (or potentially affected) communities, and included as part of the decision making tool referred to in Recommendation 3.
Ideally, these education resources should be able to be used nationally (acknowledging the differing ranges of some flying-foxes and state frameworks), and should be a priority consideration for any national coordination committee or working group established as a result of Recommendation 1.
The Committee recommends that the Department of the Environment and Energy, in consultation with other relevant organisations, develop a suite of education resources for Australian communities regarding flying-fox ecology, behaviour, environmental significance, health impacts, and management options. These resources should be promoted by the Australian Government to local councils, communities, businesses and all relevant stakeholders in affected jurisdictions and potentially affected jurisdictions.
The Committee recognises the importance of flying-foxes to the Australian environment and affirms their conservation, protection and recovery as a priority, in accordance with the EPBC Act. However, the Committee also recognises that those protections should be based on sound data and believes that the research goals set out above will help establish that.
The Committee also recognises that flying-foxes can have significant impacts on communities when camps are within the vicinity of residents and businesses.
Evidence points to the fact that tensions will increase if traditional habitat and food sources are not restored and the pressures on flying-foxes and the changes in their behaviour are not better understood, by both the experts and the general community alike.
The Committee believes that the recommendations contained in this report will help to set a course for the relevant experts, government bodies and communities to better understand these important animals and our interactions with them, while setting goals to achieve while the relevant recovery plans are enacted toward their 10 year goals. The Committee is confident its recommendations will allow for evidence-based protection and management to coincide with better education and understanding of how humans and flying-foxes can co-exist most effectively.
9 February 2017