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September update: netting and shooting

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Nick Edards, from Batwatch, provides an update on moves to lessen the impacts of licenced shooting on Grey-headed flying foxes. Back in March 2011 the NSW state government made a commitment to stop issuing licences to shoot Grey-headed flying foxes as a method of crop protection in the Sydney and Central Coast regions. There was always going to be some leeway for special circumstances but since there is still no agreement about those there is a delay in going ahead with that commitment which was to have happened on 1 July this year.

Part of the commitment was 50% subsidies for farmers to net their orchards but the prime fruiting month of October is fast approaching, leaving little time for that to happen.
Originally the funds for subsidies were for full exclusion netting (the most expensive at around $40,000 per hectare) and were limited to the Sydney and Central Coast regions. Now those funds can be drawn down by orchardists in other areas like Orange in the Central West and can also be used for throw-over netting which is less costly.
The outlay for farmers is still considerable so it is not surprising that there are those that are waiting to see if they fall under special circumstances.
The scheme was introduced following an independent panel set up by the state government in 2009 with representatives from farmers and the RSPCA. This panel found conservation issues (shooting a threatened species doesn’t really protect them) and that the animal welfare outcomes were legally and ethically unacceptable because many animals suffered protracted deaths, dying over long periods from dehydration, predation, infection and the like.

When shooting does take place it is generally done by the local farmer. While they do have to be licenced such shootings are difficult to carry out. The flying foxes arrive after dark and are fast moving animals. Also they are mammals, not birds, so any shotgun blast is unlikely to kill them unless it pierces their brain cases. It is much more likely that the long bones in their arms structures will be damaged, meaning they won’t be able to fly away from the orchard. They will then have to crawl into a place where they will be difficult to find, eventually dying.

A licence to shoot applies to particular species of flying foxes which farmers have to identify in the dark, an assessment even Nick Edards finds difficult. There are no limits as to the sex or age of the animals that can be shot so mothers with babies in tow can both suffer or there can be secondary deaths of babies left back in the colony. Shooting licences are limited to particular numbers but dead babies are not counted in those mortality numbers.

While some farmers who are sensitive to the issues of conservation and animal welfare there are others that see flying foxes as pests and vermin. Batwatch would like to see an agreement on special circumstances by 30 September which would impact this year’s harvest. Nick Edards says that there is momentum on the issue and sees the new Environment Minister, Rob Stokes, being part of that shift.

The next state election in May, however, is also approaching, which can mean further delays. It seems that Grey-headed flying foxes are forever stuck in a grey area. 

Nick Edards was interviewed for A Question of Balance by Ruby Vincent. Images from Nancy Pallin, Summary text by Victor Barry, September 2014.

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