An increased population of flying foxes in the East Cessnock area has prompted concerns from nearby residents.
Several people have contacted Cessnock MP Clayton Barr about the problem, with the noise, smell and risk of is disease among their concerns.
Mr Barr is urging affected residents to write to him so he can pass on their concerns to Minister for Lands and Water and Primary Industries Niall Blair.
An estimated 10,000 flying foxes have taken up residence on the Crown Land reserve at the corner of Long Street and Old Maitland Road.
Cessnock City Council resolved in March last year to write to the Minister for Trade and Investment, Regional Infrastructure and Services and to work with the NSW Division of Crown Lands to assist in the development of a plan to manage the flying fox camp.
A response from Crown Lands said it will continue to work with council on the preparation of the Flying Fox Camp Management Plan, and that the progress of the plan would depend on funding being available.
The Department of Primary Industries will continue to monitor the situation.
Mr Barr said the management plan attracts a price tag of around $10,000.
He said the more people who contact him regarding the matter; the more likely Mr Blair will make a decision to do something about it.
“It’s about getting enough activity on the minister’s desk that this becomes a problem for him,” Mr Barr said.
“There’s absolutely no doubt that people’s lifestyles over there are affected by the bats.”
The management plan will involve assessing the size and species of the colony, identifying the plant species and alike.
Mr Barr said people have complained to him about health risks that the bats can cause, but Mr Barr said these complaints would need to be backed up by a medical professional to have any substance.
He said if people can receive medical proof that their health is being affected by the bats, then the issue would be considered more serious.
Member for Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon issued an appeal in federal Parliament on Monday for more to be done about the Hunter’s flying fox problem.
Mr Fitzgibbon described the flying fox plague as an issue that goes well beyond amenity and is posing a health threat to elderly residents with respiratory problems.
“The problem is in Maitland, Cessnock, Singleton and many other communities in my electorate,” he said.
“I know there are environmental issues. I do not plead to be completely ignorant of them, but let us get out there and explain to the community how and why we are going to do more about this very serious problem in rural and regional Australia.”
Risk of being attacked is extremely low, says vet
Despite claims of health risks caused by the bats, local vet Marcus Holdsworth says the flying foxes are not cause for concern.
“The risk of someone being attacked by them is extremely low unless they are being directly attacked themselves, and even then they will try to fly away unless they are stuck on the ground for some reason and someone is annoying them,” Dr Holdsworth said.
“The only risk is if you handle one, and get bitten or scratched by it, and it just happens to have the lyssavirus affecting it at the time, and you do nothing about it.”
Lyssavirus affects, at most, about three percent of the species and only four humans worldwide have died from the disease, two having been bitten by microbats.
Dr Holdsworth said that the East Cessnock inhabitants are mostly a megabat species, grey-headed flying foxes, but has noticed a large influx of little red flying foxes, a more mobile species which may account for the upsurge in public interest.
East Cessnock is an attraction for the bats for several reasons according to Dr Holdsworth; their preferred areas are coastal, but this puts them in direct conflict with humans so they require somewhere else to camp.
The built-up area is also safe from predators, has a good amount of water, food and shade and other bats already live there.
The flying foxes, which generally live for around five-to-10 years in the wild, are constantly in a state of change, and Dr Holdsworth said they will continue to leave and return unless man destroys their habitat further.
“Their normal roosting sites and feed trees are being destroyed across the country and so they have to travel further and further to less suitable places just to survive,” he said.
There are advantages of having them in our area – as they are a ‘keystone’ species many other animals and plants rely on them for survival and wellbeing.
“They are vitally important in pollinating and dispersing the pollen and seeds of more than 120 species of native trees and plants,” Dr Holdsworth said.
“Without them many of our trees and forests will eventually die out.”
And despite the increase in Cessnock, grey-headed flying foxes are actually on the decline, with less than 450,000 estimated to be left in Australia, a population decrease of around 30 percent between 1989 and 1999 and ongoing.
Dr Holdsworth’s advice if you come across a bat is to leave it alone and call someone who is vaccinated to come and deal with it.
If you find an injured animal, contact the Native Animal Trust Fund’s 24-hour emergency rescue hotline on 0418 628 483.