Bat inquiry gathers momentum

BATS OUT OF HELL: Problem flying fox colonies around the Hunter Region. Federal Member for Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon has called for a Senate inquiry into the management of camps in urban areas. SUPPORT is growing for a review of bat management policies as an increasing number of Hunter communities grapple with colonies of flying foxes taking up residence on the urban fringe.
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Blackalls Park residents are the latest to call upon all levels of government to address the noise, health and environmental problems faced by people living near camps with thousands of flying foxes.

Singleton has battled bats at Burdekin Park for more than 15 years but the uneasy coexistence of flying foxes and humans is a problem also besieging neighbourhoods in East Cessnock, Lorn, Raymond Terrace and in Newcastle suburbs around Blackbutt Reserve, Islington and Carrington.

Member for Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon is seeking a Senate inquiry into flying foxes and has made contact with federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s office in a bid to “take the politics” out of the issue.

“It would give politicians the opportunity to ask scientists and experts the questions that people in the street would like to ask them,” he said.

“I appreciate the ecological value of flying foxes but there must be a way to protect the species and also alleviate the problems of communities living near large colonies.”

Mr Fitzgibbon said the timing of the next election would preclude an inquiry in the current term, but he was confident the proposal would gain the approval of the next parliament.

A spokesman for Mr Hunt confirmed on Friday the minister would support an inquiry into flying foxes.

CSIRO scientist David Westcott also saw merit in Mr Fitzgibbon’s call, but warned that finding a solution would not be easy.

“People want a simple answer but the reality is that in some instances there is a solution and in others there isn’t,” he said.

“It has been shown that relocation is not the answer because it just tends to move the problem on.”

Dr Westcott, who leads the National flying Fox Monitoring Program, said while bat colonies in urban areas were increasing, it did not necessarily follow that the overall population was increasing. The last count in November had recorded 700,000 grey-headed flying foxes along Australia’s east coast.

A previous count in 2004 recorded about 400,000 animals, but Dr Westcott said direct comparisons could not be made because of changes to methods, seasonal variations and other factors.

Australasian Bat Society president James Welbergen said bats were ecologically important because they provided “ a very expensive ecosystem service for free”.

“They are long-distance seed and pollen dispersers. They have an important role in keeping the integrity of the Australian forest intact.”

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