19 September 2023
A public awareness campaign aimed at highlighting the critical role of the flying-fox in the survival of Australian bush has kicked off as some the native mammals arrive in the Bathurst region.
The ‘Little Aussie Battlers’ campaign was first initiated by the Hunter Joint Organisation Councils in 2019 to boost understanding of the migratory habits of the flying-fox, as they increasingly roost in residential areas. The ‘Little Aussie Battlers’ campaign is drawing attention to two species of flying-fox in the Bathurst region: the vulnerable Grey-headed Flying-fox, and the Little-red Flying-fox, which are protected by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Act.
The Grey-headed Flying-fox, which is extremely susceptible to climatic changes and loss of habitat, is now federally classed as ‘Vulnerable to Extinction’, with its national population declining by more than 30% in the past few years. It is hoped a greater understanding of these Little Aussie Battlers will improve tolerance as affected residents and visitors to Machattie Park in the cities CBD recognise the seasonal nature of flying-fox migration and the vital role this threatened species play in our ecosystem.
Council’s Manager Recreation Mark Kimbel said that flying foxes are migratory within the Bathurst Region, arriving around spring and moving to warmer areas of Australia as winter sets in. Our fragile colonies are only here for a small part of the season and it calls for tolerance and patience by the community. Council will be working closely with the NSW Department of Planning & Environment and WIRES Central West to deliver the Little Aussie Battlers campaign.
“Throughout the year, flying-foxes migrate up and down Eastern Australia, to wherever their feed plants are flowering, meaning local camp numbers fluctuate from season to season, year to year,” he said.
“Like FIFO workers – flying-foxes fly in and fly out, working the night shift and leaving their camps at dusk to feed on flowering or fruiting plants and trees, then spreading these seeds up to a 50km stretch of land every night before heading back to camp to sleep through the day.
“We hope our communities can allow these Little Aussie Battlers to continue to do their incredible job of maintaining the health of our magnificent Australian native forests and ensuring the wellbeing and survival of our unique Australian native flora and fauna.”
What are flying-foxes?
Flying-foxes are nomadic mammals that travel up and down the east coast of Australia feeding on native blossoms and fruits, spreading seeds and pollinating native plants. The flying-foxes are seasonal visitors to Bathurst arriving in Summer and moving on to warmer locations when the temperature drops too low.
Grey-headed Flying-foxes are listed as a vulnerable species under the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 and the Federal Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 because of declining numbers. The main threat to this species is the loss and degradation of their natural habitat which is forcing these animals closer to towns as they search for food and shelter.
Grey-headed Flying-foxes disperse the pollen and seeds of a wide range of native Australian plants. A Flying-fox may travel up to 100 km and disperse 60,000 seeds in a single night. This long distance seed dispersal and pollination plays an important role in the health and biodiversity of forests along eastern Australia. This is why they are called keystone species as they are incredibly important for the reproduction, regeneration and dispersal of native plants in our country.
Living with flying-foxes
Flying-foxes may visit your back yard at night but are unlikely to stay for long. Residential back yards are rarely ideal roosting habitat for Flying-foxes, but instead may be a source of food such as nectar and fruit during night time feeding activities. Because flying-foxes are protected in NSW, approval is required to disturb or relocate them. If you live near flying-foxes, the following options may help minimise disturbance:
- Keep food or habitat trees in your yard trimmed or pruned;
- Use netting to protect fruit trees. Ensure that the netting is well secured and has a gap size of less than 5mm to prevent the animals getting tangled; and
- To make roost trees near housing less attractive to flying-foxes, clear shrubs and plants from under trees and remove some of the branches of the trees.
If you find a Flying-fox alone or on the ground it is probably injured and you should report it to WIRES by contacting 1300 094 737. To ensure safety:
- Do not approach or handle flying-foxes
- Use protective gloves when moving dead flying-foxes
If you are bitten or scratched by a bat:
- Wash the wound with soap and water for at least five minutes (do not scrub).
- Contact their doctor immediately to arrange for post-exposure vaccinations.
Disease associated with flying-foxes
Catching a disease from a flying-fox is extremely unlikely. There is no evidence that disease transmission can occur through contact or exposure to flying-fox faeces, urine or blood. If the flying fox are not handled, there is no risk of disease transmission. The use of soap and water to wash hands after accidentally touching flying-fox faeces, urine or blood is an adequate hygiene standard.
Australian bat lyssavirus is a virus similar to rabies that is carried by flying-foxes. However research has found that it is present is less than 1% of all wild flying-foxes. The virus is only transmitted through contact of mucous membranes or broken skin with the saliva or neural tissues of a bat. To date there have only been three confirmed cases of the virus, all in Queensland. These cases of human infection have been caused directly by flying-fox bites and scratches during handling of infected animals.
Hendra virus in horses and humans is a rare disease. All confirmed cases of human infection to date have been caused by exposure to high levels of the virus in the body fluids from infecting horses. There have been seven confirmed cases of Hendra virus in humans, all in Queensland.
What is Council doing?
Council has adopted a Flying-fox Camp Management Plan for Machattie Park and Kings Parade. Specialist ecological consultants were commissioned to develop the management plan for the seasonal return of flying-foxes in Machattie Park. The ecologists conducted an onsite assessment of the camp and alternative habitat within Bathurst. Community consultation was also carried out to gain an understanding of the history of the camp, flying-fox activity in the region and to understand community values and concerns. As of April 2023 and with a population of Grey-headed Flying-foxes currently in camp in Machattie Park, Council is following the Level 1 Actions within the plan, including:
- Carrying out additional cleaning and maintenance activities in proximity to the camp within Machattie Park;
- Expanding the community education program to provide information on why the flying-foxes are in the area, how residents could live with the colony, and their ecological importance; and
- Revegetation and managing land along the Macquarie River to create alternative flying-fox roosting habitat away from human settlement.
Bathurst Regional Council also proudly participates in the National Flying-fox Monitoring Program, coordinated in New South Wales by the NSW Department of Planning & Environment, to help us improve our understanding of flying-fox population trends, and better manage their conservation and impacts on communities. The flying-fox census is undertaken by Council staff and community volunteers throughout the year but more so during the warmer months (September to Aprl) when the seasonal visitor is in camp. This census will also give Council a more accurate picture of the population of flying-foxes in Machattie Park and along the Wambuul Macquarie River.
If you would like copies of the attached brochure to distribute at your workplace, school or community group please contact Council at 6333 6285.
Council is running Flying-fox education and habitat planting sessions for local school students. Students will be given opportunity to carry out onsite tree planting activities to increase habitat for the flying-fox population along the river. Council’s Environmental Programs Coordinator will also give a presentation on the local flying-fox population, the role that flying-foxes have in the environment, health concerns, threats to their long-term survival, and where they live. Teachers who would like to book a session can contact Council on 6333 6285.
Photograph courtesy of DJM Australia Photography.
This project has been assisted by the New South Wales Government and supported by Local Government NSW.
More information on flying foxes can be found from the links listed below: