TWO councillors say Bathurst Regional Council should thank its lucky stars that the flying foxes have yet to return to Machattie Park.
The animals, also referred to as bats, became a major problem in the 2017-18 summer, with huge numbers seen roosting in the park around this time last year.
As the year wore on and the flying foxes went away, council devised a plan of action should the animals return this summer.
The draft plan included a range of deterrent and dispersal methods, which combined had a 95 per cent failure rate elsewhere and would cost around $500,000.
Councillors, after much debate, decided not to invest in these methods but instead implement an increased cleaning regime in Machattie Park if the bats returned.
It is now halfway through summer and the park has remained free of the animals.
“The flying foxes haven't returned to Machattie Park at this stage,” mayor Graeme Hanger said. “Only individual or small numbers of flying foxes have been sighted across Bathurst.”
He wasn’t able to say whether Bathurst was out of the woods yet, as “the movements of the flying foxes are difficult to predict”.
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Councillors Alex Christian and Bobby Bourke were pleased that they hadn’t returned, but said that the future for this summer and beyond remained uncertain.
They were critical of council, saying that it was good that the flying foxes hadn’t returned as there would be nothing more than extra cleaning services available to deal with the problem.
“There will be some councillors that are thanking their lucky stars that they didn’t come back, because they voted to do nothing,” Cr Christian said.
It was reported in the media this week that flying foxes had returned to Orange and were affecting orchardists.
Cr Bourke said the flying foxes were free to devastate a key industry in Orange because there was no effective management plan in place to address the issue.
He felt Bathurst would be at risk of losing its most significant park if the animals returned, as council, like Orange City Council, was underprepared.
Further to that, Cr Bourke said that there was a lot of red tape in regards to what councils could do about bats, but he believed councils should be able to “throw away the manual” and come up with their own solutions to deter or disperse the pests.
Both Cr Bourke and Christian agreed that, in future, council should set aside $20,000 for one deterrent option, such as lights or sprinklers, so it was prepared to act if flying foxes were seen.
“We want to protect what’s in that park. It’s historical, it’s got a lot going for it,” Cr Bourke said.
“It shouldn’t be a toilet park for a bunch of bats.”
On the other side of the debate, Cr Monica Morse, a strong advocate for not implementing deterrent or dispersal methods, maintained on Wednesday that council had made the right decision.
“The results were really bad. The chance of sending them away was really, really low,” she said of the methods.
She said it was hard to anticipate when and if the animals would return, but council had to ensure it was ready to respond just in case, which it could do by taking note of what was happening elsewhere.
“You need to listen to people who have the experience with the bats,” Cr Morse said.
In the meantime, council will continue to monitor the park and other areas for flying foxes, as well as continue its educational campaign that spreads important information about the animals.
Council said that the key messages of the campaign are:
- Grey-headed flying-foxes are listed as vulnerable to extinction, as their numbers have significantly decreased over the last 50 years. Key reasons for this decline include the continual loss of habitat which has reduced the supply of their natural food sources and roost sites.
- The risk of flying-foxes spreading disease to humans is extremely low. Bat Lyssavirus can only be contracted if you are bitten or scratched by an infected bat, and is not spread through droppings or urine. However, although Australian Bat Lyssavirus is extremely rare, it is a serious disease, so never touch a flying-fox. If you see a sick, injured or orphaned flying-fox please report it to WIRES on 1300 094 737.
- Flying-foxes do an extremely important job of spreading pollen and seeds each night - up to 60,000 seeds each and up to 50km in distance. By doing this they help ensure the survival of our native forests.