The draft flying fox dispersal plan for Batemans Bay does not go far enough, the Chair of the flying fox task force says.
Ultimately all residential areas within the shire are likely to be affected
Russell Schneider will today lodge a submission with Eurobodalla Shire Council and said the plan did adequately address the full impact of the colony and the social and economic costs.
“The local economy is being severely impacted, as infrastructure failures disrupt small business activities, bat droppings ruin agricultural crops and tourists are deterred,” he said.
“The community is disappointed that the council was able to find funds to purchase the bowling club site, rather than commit those funds to deal with what they consider to be a clear and present danger.”
He said residents reported respiratory ailments, depression and anxiety. There were reports of new roostings in Mogo, Batehaven, Moruya, Murramarang and beyond.
“Foraging at least as far as Tuross opens the possibility that ultimately all residential areas within the shire are likely to be affected. This does not appear to have been seriously considered,” he said.
“Without action they will almost certainly be next in line. It is vital that community confidence in the capacity of the authorities to manage the situation be restored.”
Batemans Bay Flying Fox chair Russell Schneider’s full submission to Eurobodalla Shire Council (May 27) in response to the draft dispersal plan.
Batemans Bay Flying Fox Task Force chair Russell Schneider.
The following submission is presented on behalf of residents in the Eurobodalla Shire who have contacted me in my role as Chair of the Task Force established to deal with the Batemans Bay Flying Fox issue.
While it reflects their views it should not be seen as precluding other proposals, comments or suggestions from residents, nor does it necessarily include all proposals put to me, many of which have no doubt found their way to Council in individual or collective submissions.
I would like to thank all those who have taken the time to contact me and particularly congratulate a small group of concerned residents who have actively engaged with the wider community to collect information and data about the effect of the current situation on those directly affected and the broader community. This material is being provided as a separate submission from them. The overwhelming response has shown that the community want dispersal to take place as a matter of urgency.
Residents appreciate that effective dispersal of this enormous colony will not be easy and requires both short term and longer term strategies. One longer term proposal that has considerable support is to establish an alternate and attractive roosting site sufficiently removed from residential and concentrated agricultural operations to provide an environment which is satisfactory to both Flying Foxes and humans. Such a sanctuary would be a positive long term move and could provide opportunities for scientific research into the species. Residents recognise it may be difficult to encourage the animals to move to a specific location in the short term, but consider effective planning could make it achievable if pursued over time.
Residents also believe Council should review budgets and priorities to ensure adequate provision is made for ongoing maintenance and defence over future years. Lower priority should be given to matters like the provision of new signage at the entrances to towns, etc.
My comments and recommended changes to the draft action plan, based on community input, is as follows:
· The current draft plan does not adequately address the current or future impact of the bat colony which has progressively expanded over the last few years to the point where it has reached unprecedented levels.
· The plan does not acknowledge the costs, both social and economic, that have been created and will continue unless prompt action is taken.
· The local economy is being severely impacted as infrastructure failures disrupt small business activities, bat droppings ruin agricultural crops, affect solar panels, and tourists are deterred from visiting or staying. Even oyster farmers are forced to wear protective clothing when travelling to their leases in the early morning. The overall financial impact on the community is devastating.
· The community is disappointed that Council was able to find funds to purchase the bowling club site rather than commit those funds to deal with what residents consider to be a clear and present danger. There is a clear misalignment of priorities.
· Despite reassurances residents are extremely concerned about existing and potential health issues and risks arising from the presence of such an enormous Flying Fox colony in close proximity to houses, the CBD, and the hospital. These issues include respiratory ailments, depression, anxiety and a range of other disorders. Given the numbers of FF’s the potential for a person to be infected with lyssavirus cannot be dismissed. This would indeed be catastrophic.
· The economic cost to the Shire of inaction almost certainly outweighs the cost of moving to active dispersal in both the short, medium and longer term. This does not appear to have been taken into account.
· The flying foxes are clearly colonising other parts of Eurobodalla and there are reports of new roostings in Mogo, Batehaven, Moruya, Murramarang and other places. Foraging at least as far as Tuross opens the possibility that ultimately all residential areas within the shire are likely to affected. This does not appear to have been seriously considered in the dispersal plan: i.e., while residents currently remote from the Batemans Bay area may be concerned that dispersal may move the problem to them, they should understand that without action they will almost certainly be next in line.
· It is vital that community confidence in the capacity of the authorities to manage the situation be restored.
· Local, State and Federal representatives do have an obligation of care to safeguard the physical and mental wellbeing of the community and therefore doing nothing (or even missing this window of dispersal opportunity) is not a legal or ethical option.
· Actions and undertakings by the Federal and State Governments clearing the way for positive moves to relieve the community from the current crisis are welcomed as they open the way forward. It is now up to Council to act proactively with a comprehensive strategic action plan based, in the absence of better proposals, on the suggestions below.
· The community should be advised at the earliest possible stage of this plan to ensure they know what will happen, why, how and when.
· It should be noted that the “Swamp-Oak Floodplain Forest in the Water Garden” cannot be regarded as an endangered ecological community. It is a man-made forest which has been in existence for less than 25 years, and therefore there should be no barriers to removal or pruning of casuarinas in this or adjoining areas.
The proposed action plan is as follows:
1. All agencies, local, State and Federal, should act together in an integrated way to execute a dispersal plan which involves at least four stages:
· Active dispersal
· Ongoing reduction of attractive habit in residential areas during winter
· Defence from September on.
2. Plans should be developed for further defensive action at least for the next few years or until it is clear the colony has established itself away from human habitation. This could include establishment of an attractive alternative site remote from residences or farms.
3. The preparatory stage should involve a vegetation plan which reduces the attractiveness of current or potential roosting sites. As a first step this should involve lopping of Casuarinas in both the Water Gardens and other areas to a height no more than 2 metres from the ground. If this fails the trees should be removed. Forestry Corp should be engaged in clearing activity on its land.
4. Controlled burning should be undertaken during and after the preparatory stage. This is not only necessary to discourage new roostings but many of the areas currently affected represent very real fire hazards on the fringe of urban development. Apart from the impact on humans, houses and infrastructure, a sudden bushfire would be far more adverse to the Flying Fox community than dispersal actions, including controlled burning.
5. Controlled burning should extend beyond the roosting areas and take place at other inappropriate locations simultaneously with dispersal measures to minimise the chances of new colonies being formed in residential zones.
6. Residents throughout the shire should be encouraged to act as “bat-watchers” and report new roostings during (and after) dispersal via a dedicated hotline. All media should be asked to assist in spreading this message.
7. Residents should be allowed to utilise lights, noise and inflatable devices (waving men) to discourage FF’s from their own homes during the dispersal time.
8. Flying squads should be established to attend new roosting sites and “nudge” the new arrivals with noise, light strobes, smoke etc, to prevent colonisation in other residential areas.
9. Consideration should be given to other ways of deterring the FF’s from resettling in residential areas during the defence stage. This would include the use of natural predators such as Sea and Wedge tailed eagles, as this is said to have been successfully used in at least one other location.
10. Unemployed youth and local indigenous people should be encouraged to participate in dispersal activities if they wish.
11. Education and health authorities should be put on active alert before and during dispersal operations.
12. Schools particularly should advise children and parents that they must on no account handle flying foxes, whether injured or not, at any time. This message needs to be reinforced at the time of dispersal.
13. Health authorities should ensure adequate supplies of rabies vaccine are available, both for volunteers actively engaged in dispersal and any resident who may have the misfortune to make contact with a FF. Hospital doctors and GP’s should be advised to consider histoplasmosis as a possible cause of respiratory ailments and appropriate testing be undertaken.
14. Dispersal is likely to impact on infrastructure, particularly electricity supplies. Both Telstra and Essential Energy should be actively engaged in the dispersal plan so they can ensure adequate emergency services are available. Businesses relying on uninterrupted power supply, e.g, bakeries, should be advised of the times at which power supplies are in most danger.
15. Residents directly affected by noise and smoke should be counselled before and during the operation, and provided with whatever assistance (face masks, etc) possible.
16. Accommodation providers away from the dispersal area should be invited to assist in providing alternate accommodation for those who may be unable to cope with dispersal activities (noise etc)
17. An action plan for the water gardens area needs to be developed, including various options. The community has differing views on whether it should be totally drained or retained in a different format which is more likely to attract native birds and animals other than FF’s. A final decision should be based on what is least likely to encourage renewed colonisation. In the meantime all casuarinas should at the very least be reduced in height pending clarification of whether this would be sufficient to prevent roosting. Council should also remove all trees likely to attract FF’s as roosting sites from Council owned urban land.
This submission does not purport to be a total plan, nor to represent all the views, suggestions, comments or proposals from the community, and if any have been overlooked I apologise to those inspirational residents who have given so freely of their time and wisdom in an effort to reach a satisfactory conclusion to what has seemed an intractable problem. I congratulate and thank them all.