NEW laws could let work in Hunter flying fox colonies, including noise attenuation fences and relocation efforts, go ahead within five days of giving notice to environmental regulators.
The state government has published a draft code of practice for managing the protected species which has 20 “camps” in the Hunter that have caused headaches.
Under existing laws, a council or other public land manager requires a licence to take actions near flying fox camps due to the animals’ protected status in NSW.
The draft code proposes camp managers could forge ahead with actions “as are reasonably necessary to manage, mitigate or reduce the impacts of flying foxes on nearby human settlements” if they meet the requirements.
The new rules would allow trimming, planting, mowing and noise attenuation fencing and non-lethal “disturbance actions” designed to relocate the colonies could be carried out with five days’ notice to environmental agencies and all councils within 20 kilometres.
“The Environmental Agency Head may, within three business days … give directions in writing,” the code states. “The camp manager must comply with any direction given.”
All work must cease if any flying foxes are killed, injured or “displaying signs of stress or fatigue”.
A flying fox expert must also advise whether the colony includes pregnant females or is under food stress, which both preclude disturbance. The former was the case in 2012, when Maitland City Council plans to chop down roosting trees in Lorn were scuppered after four observation nights.
Maitland mayor Loretta Baker said that city’s plan had worked but it took about three years to ultimately move on a colony in Lorn.
She advocated early intervention and relocation as a step that could make it easier.
“I do feel strongly about them losing their habitat, we need to do something about that,” she said. “Our plan worked well, but they are cyclical – they could come back.”
Cessnock City Council director planning and environment Gareth Curtis said the Hunter councils’ joint organisation was preparing a submission to gain clarity around how it interacted with existing flying fox management plans.
“We are not sure whether we’ve got additional things to comply with or whether this reduces them,” he said.
Singleton RSL sub-branch vice president Mick McCrone said the Burdekin Park bat colony that caused Anzac Day services to relocate for several years was an ongoing issue.
“I don’t really know what the answer is, I’m no expert, I just know they’re a bloody pest,” he said. “If we drive them out of here, where do they go next?”