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A brief reprieve for the Sydney Botanic Gardens' colony


 
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Nick Edards, from Bat Advocacy, explains how using environmental legislation is so important when trying to influence environmental decisions, especially with the pitch to remove grey-headed flying foxes from Sydney’s Botanic Gardens.    
Using the law, and in Bat Advocacy’s case environmental law, has advantages over other forms of protest, so it is worthwhile to take the effort to learn what is needed for specific cases. Nick recommends the Environmental Defenders Office which, while overworked on its pro bono operations, will always provide information and legal advice in relation to environmental issues. Indeed, it was the legal team from the NSW Environmental Defenders Office which formed the core legal representatives when Bat Advocacy challenged the removal of the flying foxes under federal legislation.

 
But even with EDO's efforts, the case could not have gone ahead without the support, both financial and organisational, that Humane Society International contributed.    
The legal challenge was possible because grey-headed flying-foxes are listed by the Commonwealth as a vulnerable species, so all decisions likely to have a significant impact on that species have to be referred to the Federal Minister for approval.
The process of assessment and approval can be extensive and Bat Advocacy's challenge was that the Minister did not follow the correct legal process when he approved the project to disperse the flying-foxes from the Botanic Gardens.
Despite the court case having been lost, the Commonwealth assessment process is the ray of hope that organisations need to be able to challenge such actions as it provides opportunities for public submissions to be made on issues.
Although, in this case, the Federal Court found there were no grounds to overturn the decision to approve the relocation, it does not mean that every action will be approved.

 
Even though the case was lost, the conditions defined by the Minister as part of the approval of the project were another source of hope and have contributed to the relocation being postponed twice.     
This is because the conditions of approval require scientific monitoring to be performed and one aspect of this monitoring entails fitting bats with radio transmitters. Ethics Committee guidelines specify strict limitations on the weight that an animal must be for it to be fitted with a radio transmitter.
In the last two years, there has been a serious shortage of the flying foxes' native food sources which means that animals are in less than optimal condition and are prone to losing weight. As a consequence, in 2010 the Botanic Gardens Trust was unable to trap enough animals that were heavy enough to carry collars. In 2011, further issues related to the collaring have again forced the project to be postponed.

 
Bat colonies are not strangers to disruption, as the long running relocation saga at Maclean will attest.     
There, the local high school was expanded into an established bat colony, even though environmentalists had warned about the consequences of such an action and there has been escalating human/bat conflict ever since. There was also a colony at Kurnell which appears to have relocated itself to Kareela after the construction of the Desalination Plant, even though the company took extensive steps to mitigate any changes. That Kareela colony is now a source of conflict.

 
This highlights the fact that any preferences for relocation are human ones and fail to consider where the flying foxes will eventually end up, moving the problem without solving it.    
Many bat dispersals see the animals relocating a few kilometres away, as in Kurnell to Kareela. For the Royal Botanic Gardens’ colony that means small city parks or Centennial Park may be chosen by the bats as new roost sites in the aftermath of the dispersal, none of which are considered to be "sutiable" sites. This means that the bats will inevitably be dispersed again until the choose a site that is deemed, by humans, to be "suitable" .
For now, it is the various state and federal regulations that are preventing the dispersal going ahead proving that it is always good to have a court card.

All images are by Nick Edards and depict:
top: Female grey-headed flying-fox "belly dipping" in the Parramatta River to rehydrate and keep cool on a hot Sydney summer day
centre: Grey-headed flying-fox giving birth in the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney
bottom: Young grey-headed flying-fox in Parramatta Park

Nick Edards was interviewed for A Question of Balance by Ruby Vincent. Summary text prepared by Victor Barry, June 2011



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