Not in my backyard? How to live alongside flying-foxes in urban Australia

Justin Welbergen, Western Sydney University and Peggy Eby, UNSW Australia

The conflict between urbanites and wildlife recently developed a new battleground: the small coastal New South Wales town of Batemans Bay, where the exceptional flowering of spotted gums has attracted a huge influx of grey-headed flying-foxes from across Australia’s southeast.

In response to intense and highly publicised community concern, federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt has announced he will seek an immediate National Interest Exemption to facilitate dispersal of these bats – a move that risks undermining legal protections afforded to this and other threatened species.

Similar conflicts are occurring elsewhere in NSW, such as the Hunter region, where some unscrupulous members of the public lit a fire in a flying-fox roost at Cessnock.

With the ongoing expansion of the human urban footprint, animals are increasingly confronted with urban environments. Human encroachment into natural habitats generally negatively affects biodiversity. However, urban landscapes can present wildlife with an irresistible lure of reliable food supplies and other resources. While urban wildlife can provide a range of benefits to health and wellbeing, it can also be cause for frustration and conflict.

Urban human-wildlife conflict is a growing area of management concern and scientific research. But the research suggests that the current strategies for addressing NSW’s conflicts between humans and flying-foxes might not have the intended results.

Flying-foxes increasingly find themselves in urban areas.
Justin Welbergen

Ruling the urban roost

Australian flying-foxes are becoming more urbanised, and the noise, smell and droppings from their roosts can have huge impacts on local residents.

A fundamental problem underlying current approaches to urban roosts is a lack of understanding of the extraordinary mobility of flying-foxes. They are some of the most mobile animals in Australia, with movements that range from foraging trips of up to 120 km in a single night to long-distance nomadism covering thousands of kilometres in a single year.

Nomadic movements of an adult female grey-headed flying-fox, tracked over a period of four years and currently at Batemans Bay.
John Martin & Justin Welbergen, unpublished

While roosts can remain active for decades, they are more like backpacker hostels than stable households, housing a constantly changing clientele that comes to visit local attractions. Roosts are connected into large networks through which flying-foxes move in response to changes in local food resources.

This explains the sudden influx in places such as Batemans Bay where preferred food suddenly becomes abundant. But it also highlights the importance of a national approach to flying-fox management and conservation.

Intense local flowerings of Eucalypts, such as spotted gums, produce copious amounts of nectar and pollen, which attract large numbers of flying-foxes and other species for several weeks. When a relatively small local flying-fox population that is tolerated by its human neighbours suddenly increases tenfold, it can place severe pressure on the local community.

Despite their transient nature, these influxes are often wrongly interpreted as population explosions, leading to calls for culling. In comparison, more humane tactics – such as using loud noise or vegetation removal to disperse the flying-foxes – can seem like a more balanced response. But does dispersal actually work?

Council workers in Charters Towers, Queensland, using ‘foggers’ to disperse flying-foxes from a local roost.
Australasian Bats Society

Shifting the problem elsewhere

There is now ample evidence to show that dispersals are extremely costly and can exacerbate the very human-wildlife conflict that they aim to resolve.

Most dispersals result in the flying-foxes returning the original roost as soon as the dispersal program ends, because naïve new individuals continue to arrive from elsewhere. Overcoming this can take months or years of repeated daily dispersal.

Other dispersals result in flying-foxes establishing new roosts a few hundred metres away, typically within the same urban environment in locations that we cannot control. This risks shifting the problem to previously unaffected members of a community and to other communities nearby.

Former flying-fox roost at Boonah, Queensland, that contained thousands of flying-foxes before it was destroyed in June 2014.
Justin Welbergen

While flying-foxes are often portrayed as noisy pests, they serve our economic interest by providing irreplaceable pollination and seed-dispersal services for free. What’s more, those same bats that annoy people during the day work tirelessly at night to maintain the health of our fragmented forests and natural ecosystems.

So it is in our national interest to manage conflict at urban roosts, by using approaches that balance community concerns with environmental considerations.

Flying-foxes perform irreplaceable ecological roles in our natural environment.
Steve Parish

To be considered “successful”, a dispersal should permanently reduce conflict to a level that is acceptable to the community without causing significant harm to the animals. However, dispersals are currently implemented at the local council level with little or no monitoring of the impacts in or outside the immediately affected area. This makes it hard to assess whether they have been successful.

For example, it is not uncommon for flowering to cease and flying-fox numbers to decline naturally during the period of active dispersal. This gives the community a false sense that a permanent solution has been achieved, when in fact the issues will recur the next time the trees blossom. There is thus an urgent need for urban roosts to be managed with properly defined and applied criteria for success.

Evidence-based management

Unfortunately, lack of research effort directed at “ugly” and “less popular” Australian animals means that very few evidence-based management tools are available to deal with contentious roosts.

Research targeting a few key areas would greatly help efforts to improve urban roost management. For instance, we do not know how flying-foxes choose their roost sites, which leaves us unable to design “carrot solutions” by creating more attractive roost sites elsewhere.

Intensive tree-flowering events are relatively infrequent and hard to predict. This means that it is difficult to prepare communities for a sudden influx of flying-foxes.

Furthermore, the acceptability of various flying-fox management options differs between sections of the community, so it is difficult to find optimal solutions. Social scientists are currently trying to help identify priority areas that promote long-term viability of flying-foxes while also easing conflict with humans.

The extreme mobility of flying-foxes means that a uniform federal approach for management is needed.
Justin Welbergen/WildPhotos.org

Local, state and federal governments continue to allocate considerable funds for dispersal responses, even though such actions are high-risk activities for local communities and are unlikely to provide long-term solutions. We argue strongly that targeted research is needed to better inform land managers and affected communities of flying-fox ecology and provide them with low-cost, low-risk, evidence-based tools for dealing with urban roosts.

Flying-foxes don’t care about legislative borders, and state-based responsibility for wildlife management leads to discontinuity in approaches between jurisdictions. While flying-foxes are being monitored at the national scale, this initiative needs to be combined with a uniform federal approach for managing flying-foxes in our human landscapes. Otherwise, conflicts such as those faced by the residents of Batemans Bay will continue unabated.

The Conversation

Justin Welbergen, Senior Lecturer in Animal Ecology, Western Sydney University and Peggy Eby, Adjunct Senior Lecturer, Centre for Ecosystem Science, UNSW Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Dragon Fruit flowering

One morning last week I went out into the garden early to see how the Dragon Fruit buds were going.  The day before I’d had to go to Brisbane for the whole day and didn’t get into the garden at all.  I’ve been expecting any day to see some flowers from about 10 advanced buds.

There were four flowers that had opened during the night – and another five that must have flowered the night before and were now limp and closed.  That’s on top of the two fruit which are developing from a flowering a few weeks ago.

20160106_Dragon Fruit_P1010026_small

Early morning flower, with some of the previous night’s flowers in the background.

It had been raining quite a bit the night before and for a couple of days before that, but I was still a bit surprised not to see any of our native bees around the flowers.  Normally they would each have had a cloud of bees busily pollinating.  No problem to hand pollinate them, making sure to cross pollinate between plants because it’s said to increase the fruit size.

There were still a few buds which looked to be close to flowering, and when I checked the next morning one more had opened.

A third night's flowering.

A third night’s flowering.

This time there was the expected swarm of native bees busy pollinating.

So that’s ten flowers in three nights, and there are still probably another six buds developing.

Some of the buds that are still developing

Some of the buds that are still developing

Not bad for just three plants on a less than ideal trellis set up.  It looks like being a good year for Dragon Fruit, considering that this is only early January and we had fruit up until April last year.

Trying to get back to regular posts

2015 has been one hell of a year, brought about by a proposal for a major motocross facility in our community.  Most of our time this year has gone into working with community members trying to get this proposal squashed.

There were a few posts on the fight earlier in the year, and in reality it took up much of the time of many people from mid-December 2014 when we first found out about it to the end of May, when the proposal was refused in the local Council by a seven/nil vote.

In our more hopeful moments we ventured to think that this would be the end of it: 232 objecting submissions to Council (vs 2 supporting submissions) and a resounding defeat in Council; you would think that the proponent might have realised that he had picked the wrong place and the wrong community.

Unfortunately the proponent appealed in the Planning and Environment Court in July.  Even though the Court rules require that appeals are progressed within six weeks (or three months depending on which document you read – but the six weeks seems to take precedence), there was no movement on the appellant’s part for some four months.  Since then they have undertaken to provide documents to all the other parties, but these have not been received more than one month after their own, self-imposed deadline for providing them.

The delay is very stressful for all concerned, and I cannot help wondering whether this is the intent of the delays.

But we will fight on.  Seven members of the community have elected to become co-respondents to the appeal, as has one non-government organisation – and of course the Council is the main respondent, since it is their decision that is being appealed.

Regardless of the ongoing motocross business, our attempts at living as sustainably as possible go on, and will be the focus of part of the posts on this blog from now on.

If you are still among our patient readers, thank you for your patience.  It is very much appreciated.  And if you are one of our new viewers who joined during 2015, welcome, and we will attempt to give you more of what has attracted you to this site.

Amazing as it seems, despite the fact that I managed only eight postings here since the beginning of the year, the readership continued go grow right through to October when it peaked at 1,665 views by 1,175 visitors for the month.

Since then numbers have slightly declined, with only 811 visitors so far this month (not surprising given the lack of new material) – though that is nearly twice as many as in January.  Year on year, we have had twice as many views and visitors in 2015 as in 2014, and four times as many as in 2013.

 

 

Looking after your security in rural areas

There was an incident in the Lockyer Valley last week when a landowner in a fairly remote area was driving to work and saw what was clearly a pig hunter’s ute parked just outside her boundary, opposite her rainforest gully. She took photos of the ute with her phone. There was no number plate on the front, but she made a note of the rear number plate.

While she was taking the photos, two men, with five pig dogs, emerged from the gully.  One of the men was armed with a knife. One man yelled vicious abuse at her. He did not hesitate in coming towards her and grabbed her, trying to get the phone. She held him off as long as possible, but he did eventually get the phone, tried to stamp on it and then threw it as far as he could down the gully. The men then drove off.

She has reported this incident to the police, on grounds of trespassing and assault.

The following very useful advice has been received by Citizens of the Lockyer Inc. – an active community group here in the Lockyer Valley – from the Stock & Rural Crime Investigation Squad (Forest Hill)
Sir/Madam,
 Recently there was an incident along Sawpit Gully Road, Rockmount during which a resident has been confronted by two males, believed to be pig hunters, exiting her property.  During the confrontation, the resident was assaulted and her mobile phone was stolen.  Fortunately, the resident did not receive any injuries and she was able to recover her phone after the two males left the scene.  This matter is being investigated by Detectives from the Forest Hill Stock and Rural Crime Investigation Squad (SARCIS).
 
This incident is a timely reminder for people who live in rural and remote areas, to be on the lookout for suspicious persons or vehicles, and take precautions to ensure their own personal safety, and the security of their property.  Residents should be aware that people moving through these rural areas may be engaged in unlawful hunting activities and/or associated rural crime.  Such people may be armed with knives and/or firearms, and may be accompanied by hunting dogs.
 
What can you do if you locate an illegal hunter/trespasser on your property?
 
The most important thing is to ensure your own personal safety.  Confronting illegal hunters/trespassers has the very serious potential to result in your personal injury.  We DO NOT recommend that you confront these people.  Consider calling the Police, and if it is an emergency, call “000” immediately.  If it is possible, record details of the time, date, place and description of the people/vehicle/dogs (This information is required for Police to investigate and prosecute offenders).  If you do not want the offenders prosecuted, please still report the incident to Police for their information.  
 
If you choose to take a photograph of the offenders or their vehicles, you should be aware that photographing offenders can quickly escalate into a confrontation.  Photographs of vehicles, registration numbers, and offenders are very good evidence, however ONLY do so, if you consider it to be safe.
 
What is Rural Crime?
 
Rural Crime includes offences such as property theft, fuel theft, stock theft, arson and wilful damage.  Properties in rural and remote areas are often targeted by offenders who consider them to be soft targets.  Please take the time to ensure your property is secured before leaving home.  Ensure you have recorded serial numbers and marked property that is not otherwise identifiable.  Remove and secure keys from vehicles and motorbikes.  Secure firearms in an approved gun safe, and take the keys with you.  Consider other security measures such as security screens, alarms and CCTV cameras.
 
Please do not be alarmed.  These types of crimes do not happen often.  If you find yourself in the very unfortunate situation of locating an illegal hunter/trespasser or you are the victim of Rural Crime, you should contact your local Police.  You can also report these, or any other offences to Police by calling Police Link on 131 444.  Information can be reported to Police anonymously by calling Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
 
For further information or advice, please contact your nearest SARCIS office.  SARCIS locations and contact numbers can be found at http://mypolice.qld.gov.au/sarcis
 
Thank-you,
 
Troy WHITTLE
Detective Sergeant 11425
Stock & Rural Crime Investigation Squad (Forest Hill)
State Crime Command
( (07) 5465 4200 | 7 (07) 5465 4580 | È0428 741098
+ PO Box 84 Forest Hill QLD 4342 http://mypolice.qld.gov.au/sarcis

City farms and small producers at threat from trade agreements

Last night I was reading something about the Australian Government’s new trade agreement with China and thinking about the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement that the Abbott government has been salivating over in recent times.  That started a train of thought that went via Greece (the degree of resilience that connections many in the population still have with farms) and then to the opening up of Cuba to the US (and how that might impact their low input, small-scale farming).

This morning I opened up The Conversation and there’s an article on the way that better relations with the US might threaten Cuba’s “sophisticated urban and suburban food system [that is] producing healthy food, improving the environment and providing employment.” But what is under threat is more than that – the organic urban production model is being taken up in the countryside as well.

12698826744_0aee3c7c16_n

The world still has many lessons to learn from urban and peri-urban agriculture in Cuba. Javier Ignacio Acuña Ditzel/Flickr, CC BY

The Cuban example has been an inspiration to many in both the developing and developed worlds, with two-way sharing of approaches to sustainable agriculture on pretty much a global basis.

The article paints a fairly detailed picture of the background and significance of Cuba’s current agricultural system, and the way that it has developed over more than 20 years, initially responding to the cut-off of Russian aid, including particularly fossil fuels.

Well worth reading, both for the detail on the Cuban approach and as material to think about in terms of the free trade arrangements that are proliferating internationally.  You might also want to check out the much more detailed background to Cuban agriculture in the 340 page publication Sustainable Agricultural Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba published jointly by Food First Books, ACTAF (Cuban Association of Agricultural and Forestry Technicians) and CEAS (Center for the Study of Sustainable Agriculture, Agrarian University of Havana)

Motocross traffic on Adare Road – we stand to lose more than you think

I’ve posted before about the unsuitability of Adare Road for large amounts of traffic.

There’s more to that issue and I’ll come back to it in another post.

There are unsuspected losses associated with traffic on Adare Road that we face if the proposed motocross development is allowed to go ahead.

One of these relates to the Gatton Light Horse Troop.  You might be familiar with their role in the Anzac Day celebrations in Gatton and other localities in the Lockyer Valley.

The Gatton Light Horse Troop in the Anzac Day parade in 2012.  A friend in Germany sent this to me, which shows how far the knowledge of our Light Horse Troop has spread.

The Gatton Light Horse Troop in the Anzac Day parade in 2012. A friend in Germany sent this to me, which shows how far the knowledge of our Light Horse Troop has spread.

What you wouldn’t know, unless you are out toward the end of Adare Road early on a Saturday or Sunday, is that the Horse Paddock beside Adare Road,on the right just before the Redbank Creek Crossing, is one of their training grounds.

It's a stirring sight to see them practising mounted military manoeuvres at full speed.

It’s a stirring sight to see them practising mounted military manoeuvres at full speed.

If there are up to 150 vehicles travelling down Adare Road on a Saturday or Sunday morning, the Horse Paddock will become unsuitable for Light Horse training exercises.

There’s another group in the community (this time a much wider community) who know of the Adare Road Horse Paddock.  They are the birdwatchers, and the trees and bushes around the edges of the Horse Paddock are one of several regular birding spots for many visitors.

Adare road has been visited with increasing regularity by local, Brisbane, interstate and overseas birders over the last 20 years.  The location features regularly in online lists of the interesting or rare species which have been seen there.

IMG_0056-1

Two of the visitors in this group were from Japan

It continues to be something of a ‘hot-spot’ where visitors can find a selection of scarcer species which can be difficult to locate elsewhere in the region.  The combination of open woodland, riparian vegetation where Redbank Creek crosses the road, open paddocks, and the dams along the road provides for a range of habitats and therefore bird species that isn’t easily found in a situation where it is easily viewable from the road. And there’s always the possibility of seeing a koala, especially at the Redbank Creek crossing.

There are many birdwatchers who visit Adare Road regularly, some every couple of months, some every week.  There are also bird clubs which make annual trips to the area.

A lot of the most interesting birding is done along the road verges, including along the sides of the Redbank Creek crossing.  Motocross traffic in the mornings and evenings (when most birders visit) is going to turn birdwatching along Adare Road into an extreme sport – not to mention being extremely unpleasant with all the dust and noise.  It can be pretty confidently predicted that the beginning of motocross traffic will be the beginning of the end of birdwatching on Adare Road.

Nice try. More work needed – and in another location, without all the people living nearby

The proposed motocross development at Adare could possibly, with a lot more work on the concept and the details, be a good idea.  But not at Adare.

It’s just  in the wrong location, even if judged only on the number of people impacted.

The Qld Moto Park at Wyaralong, on the other hand, is an example of a properly located motocross facility – there are only about 120 people living within 4km.  At the Adare site, here are 900 people living within 4km of the proposed motocross property, including a lot of young people who don’t need their nights and weekends blighted by motocross and traffic noise.

demographic table QMP vs Adare[1] Compiled using the 2011 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Census Data for the localities closest in proximity to the proposed development.  Where census data is not available at the necessary scale for a locality, extrapolations have been made from an adjacent locality close to the proposed development.
[2] Note: 0-19 years includes those aged 0-14 years.[3] Sources: http://www.abs.gov.au/websitedbs/censushome.nsf/home/quickstats and Google Earth imagery and overlays to locate houses and properties within specified radii of the properties.

________________________________________________________

The $4 million QMP (Queensland Moto Park) facility between Beaudesert and Boonah was developed through the efforts of the SEQ Council of Mayors, the SEQ Councils, and the State Government.

The LVRC Mayor, Steve Jones,  as the Chair of the SEQ Council of Mayors Trail Bike Task Force, played a significant part over a number of years in the development of the project.  The QMP Wyaralong facility is a well-planned site following strict design and operating criteria.

Clearly, even judging only by the number of dwellings and residents adjacent to the site, the location of the proposed Adare development has not been well planned.