Our Say | This flying fox debate sounds a bit familiar

WHEN it comes to the grey-headed flying foxes that have decided to call Machattie Park home, it would seem that one man’s pest is another man’s pollinator.

There has been plenty of angst since they took up residence in early December.

Their sheer numbers make them a confronting sight in the popular park, while there has also been concern about their droppings, the risk of them carrying life-threatening diseases such as Australian Bat Lyssavirus and damage they may cause to the recreation area’s historic trees.

Part of the fear and anger about the flying foxes is a result simply of their visibility: if they were congregating in a less visible spot in the city, there might not be such alarm.

But much of it is due to the flying foxes’ sudden arrival. One minute they weren’t there and the next minute they were – and in bulk.

And locals, understandably, are worried that they might simply refuse to move on.

But what if the flying foxes are helping, not hindering?

Defenders of the animals – including members of the Friends of Bats and Bushcare Group from Melbourne – have pointed to their role as pollinators who disperse the seeds of native trees, saying the work they do for the environment makes up for some loss in the tree canopies in which they live.

The flying foxes are in city parks like Machattie because their native habitat has been destroyed, they say, while the chances of a human catching the Australian Bat Lyssavirus are extremely low.

The central elements of the flying fox debate – wild creatures in an urban location, the protection of the environment being used as a justification by both sides, the question of how Bathurst is perceived by those from out of town – bear more than a passing resemblance to the debate about a kangaroo cull on Mount Panorama.

And like the kangaroo cull debate, it would seem that the majority of people fall firmly into one of the two opposing camps rather than populating the “undecided” territory in the middle.

If the flying fox debate is going to go the way of the Mount Panorama roo cull argument, Bathurst Regional Council should already know what to expect from here.

To educate or to eradicate? Science or common sense? 

Unless the flying foxes choose to move of their own accord, it’s going to feel like deja vu all over again.