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BATS: Batemans Bay bat crisis, Megabat, Fruit bat, Flying foxes

OLD FRIENDS: The Batemans Bay Water Garden is once again home to thousands of grey-headed flying foxes.
BATEMANS Bay’s most divisive furry fliers are back.

About 10,000 grey-headed flying foxes have once again made the Batemans Bay Water Garden their home after an absence of about six months.

NSW Office of Environment and Heritage threatened species and ecosystems team member Joss Bentley said her team had conducted a bat census at the Water Garden at the end of February.

“There were about 1000 of them then, and obviously a lot more have come,” she said.

While spotted gums at the Garden were not in flower at the start of the month, the absence of nearby nectar had not deterred the bats.
“They can roost here and travel to the gums,” fellow team member Lorraine Oliver said.

“We did a census at Cockwhy Creek (north of Batemans Bay) and found the rainforest was producing fruit.

“We had a wet, cool summer, so it is possible that plants are flowering at different times.”

Ms Oliver said she didn’t know how long the creatures, who have frequently raised the ire of nearby residents, would stay.

“They are not predictable animals, so it is hard to say, but we are really interested in finding out as much as possible about them,” Ms Oliver said.

“They could move out to-morrow.”

The team members advised nearby residents to keep their distance.

“We would also ask people not to disturb them,” Ms Oliver said.

“They are still threatened and declining.”

“If anyone has health and safety concerns, they can visit the Office of Environment and Health website or the Department of Health website.”

BAT BUDDIES: NSW Office of Environment and Heritage’s Joss Bentley and Lorraine Oliver at the Water Garden.

The bats’ arrival has not gone unnoticed.

Janelle Wright, of the neighbouring Batemans Bay Salvation Army, said the animals were closer than they had been last year.

“There have to be thousands of them and they seem to fly around more during the day now, whereas it used to be only at night,” she said.

“You can smell them already and we have accepted that it is going to get worse before it gets better.”

The Batemans Bay Museum is also right next to the Garden.

“They are stinky and they have made quite a bit of mess out the back,” Museum volunteer Lesley Moore said.

“Some of our men volunteers make banging noises out the back to keep them away.”

However, last season, curator Myf Thompson was prepared to live and let live.


Classical music is the latest weapon in the bat battle going on in Batemans Bay.

The Batemans Bay Old Courthouse Museum is in the frontline of the battle, right under the nose of the 2000-strong “camp” of grey-haired flying foxes at the Water Gardens, and they are using music written centuries ago to encourage the controversial critters to move on each day.

The museum volunteers crank up ABC Classic FM each morning from a small stereo outside the eastern side of the building.

“Within half an hour they are out of earshot,” Batemans Bay Historical president Tony Whelan said.

The volunteers got the idea from the Sydney Botanical Gardens, where music has been used successfully to combat the same problem there.

“I don’t know which is worse, the bats or the music,” Mr Whelan said.

Museum curator Myf Thompson sees it differently.

“At the moment, the Sydney International Piano Competition is on, so we have the best educated bats on the South Coast, not to mention the volunteers,” she said.

While classical music is the current choice, museum volunteers say they are open to playing Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell, Prince’s Bat Dance or any other bat-themed music if anyone has some to spare.

Ms Thompson has no ill-feelings towards the flying foxes, despite the trauma they have been causing many Batemans Bay residents with their noise, damage to power lines, odour, appetite and sheer numbers.

“They are a South Coast species and they are only here because their habitat has been so disrupted by development,” she said.

“They have been here for three months, which is longer than expected, and we have had to do a lot of cleaning.”

She rejects talk of culling the bats.

“They are fascinating, and if we can’t accommodate another species, what kind of people are we?”

Meanwhile, Bay City Cinemas duty manager Lachlan Churchill said he wasn’t concerned that the current level of anti-bat sentiment in Batemans Bay would affect ticket sales for The Dark Knight Rises, which opens on July 19.

“Batman’s persona will keep him intact, and he won’t be touching any powerlines,” he said.


There is some hope for the many residents that want the flying foxes at the Batemans Bay Water Garden to leave as a strategy exists to get them to move on.

Last November, Bega MP Andrew Constance welcomed the announcement of a new NSW Government strategy to minimise the impacts of flying-fox camps surrounding populated areas.

Mr Constance said the draft policy had the prime purpose of minimising health impacts of flying-fox camps on people.

"It will empower land managers, primarily councils, to work with their communities to sustainably manage flying-fox camps," he said.

"The strategy strongly encourages councils and other land managers to prepare camp management plans for sites where the local community is affected.

"We are taking a pragmatic approach to addressing the frustration that the community has felt and this policy will deliver better outcomes for people and for the species."

Flying-foxes remain protected and under the new policy land managers will be able to get a five year license to create buffer zones by removing vegetation to create a separation from populated areas and to disturb animals at the boundary of the camp to encourage roosting away from human settlement, carry out camp disturbance or dispersal by clearing of vegetation or dispersal of animals by noise, water, smoke or light and undertake camp management such as removal of trees that pose a health and safety risk, weed removal (including removal of noxious weeds), trimming of understorey vegetation and the planting of vegetation.

The Flying-fox Management Policy is now on public exhibition and can be viewed at: http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/threatenedspecies/flyingfoxcamppol.htm.


Like many Batemans Bay residents, the National Parks and Wildlife Service is unsure when the camp of grey-headed flying foxes will be departing the town.

A NPWS specialist has been monitoring the Batemans Bay bats during visits every Friday.

“Last Friday, NPWS staff estimated there were between 1500 and 2000 flying-foxes at the Water Gardens in Batemans Bay,” NPWS spokeswoman Lucy Morrell said.

“Since its arrival, the population has fluctuated from a peak of about approximately 3000 to an estimated low of 100 and the NPWS continues to monitor the flying fox population weekly.”

There appeared to be many more there on Thursday.

“During the current spotted gum blossom season, this temporary flying fox camp has fluctuated down to approximately 1000 then back to its peak of 2500 to 3000 animals, so we are monitoring this closely to determine whether or not the recent reduction is a clear indication the animals are depleting their food source and leaving.”

The bats are feeding on flowering eucalyptus, and when these are diminished, NPWS believes - and many Batemans Bay residents hope - they will move on.

NPWS believes that nasty smells, denuded trees and lots of noise are the worst we can expect from the bats.

“The risk of flying foxes transmitting disease to humans is extremely low,” an NPWS spokesman said.

“Provided that basic hygiene measures are taken, there is no reason for the public to be concerned about disease risks.”

For more information on the bats, whose tenure has redefined the phrase “flying visit”, go to the Office of Environment and Heritage website at www.environment.nsw.gov.au/animals/flyingfoxes.htm.

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