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Flying-fox Habitat Restoration

Restoration of the Grey-headed Flying-fox roosting habitat at Wolli Creek

Grey-headed Flying-foxes (GHFF), and other bats in Australia, are critical to the survival of forests. When they fly at night (sometimes up to 50 kilometres in one evening) to forage for food, they spread pollen between patches of forest that have been separated by development such as houses and roads. This pollination of tree flowers is essential for the regrowth of trees.

During the day, GHFF live in camps, a behaviour called roosting. Roosting involves socialising, sleeping, mating, rearing and nursing young. Camps are located near to water sources and while vary, often consist of dense trees and canopy, which helps to avoid overheating in summer months.

Flying-fox drinking (photo credit: Gavin Gatenby)
(photo credit: Gavin Gatenby)

As a result of increasing development and urbanisation, the areas available for GHFF to roost are decreasing. In addition, the risk of power line electrocution and entanglement in fruit tree netting and barbed wire fences poses a threat to GHFF in urban areas. As such GHFF are listed vulnerable to extinction under NSW and Commonwealth legislation.

In 2007, a GHFF camp was established in bushland at Wolli Creek, near Turrella train station. The Draft National GHFF Recovery Plan (DECCW 2009) identified that the Wolli Creek camp is 'roosting habitat critical to survival of the species' and the 2014 Draft EPBC Act Policy Statement - Camp Management Guidelines for the Grey-headed and Spectacled Flying-fox identifies the Wolli Creek camp as Nationally Important. It is expected that this camp will become an increasingly important site for protection of GHFF.

Unfortunately, this site is suffering from significant weed infestation from exotic plant species. The invasion of weedy vines in the canopy and proliferation of other weeds can result in the loss of existing and potential GHFF habitat, even though the weeds may also offer some relief to GHFF from heat stress. Removal of vines and other weeds is necessary for the long-term sustainability of the habitat but needs to be conducted in a manner that minimises risks to GHFF.

As such, there is a need to manage the Wolli Creek site so that the habitat continues to support GHFFs in the long term. Management of the camp also needs to ensure that risks and impacts to surrounding neighbourhoods are minimal. These include noise, odour, faecal drop and disease. To protect this site Council in partnership with the site's owner, Sydney Trains, land managers including City of Canterbury Bankstown Council, and relevant stakeholders including the Wolli Creek Preservation Society and National Parks and Wildlife, have developed a management plan to undertake significant weed control over a ten year period.

The primary objective is to ensure that the functional habitat for the GHFF is maintained, and works will begin early in 2016. Works will focus on removal of exotic vines, targeting those that are threatening existing young and developing canopy trees, removing woody weeds and, if required, revegetating with local species.

Secondary objectives include population monitoring, installation of signage and fencing, community education (register here to receive a newsletter regarding events) and planting of trees in nearby areas as foraging (feeding) habitat. For the last couple of years the Wolli Creek Preservation Society has organised an annual bat picnic - check out the video of the March 2016 picnic.

You can help Grey-headed Flying-foxes by avoiding the use of barbed wire fencing and ensuring you use wildlife friendly fruit tree netting.

Flying-foxes in Australia are known to carry two infections which can pose a serious risk to human health - Australian Bat Lyssavirus and Hendra Virus. Human infections with these viruses are very rare and when there is no handling or direct contact with Flying-foxes, there is negligible public health risk. If you find a Flying-fox (whether alive or dead) do not handle it, instead contact WIRES on 1300 094 737.

As the owner of the site, Sydney Trains will obtain necessary approvals for work at this camp.

If you would like to be kept updated on the project and proposed works please contact Alexandra Vandine on 9562 1835 (Wednesday-Friday) or email alexandra.vandine@bayside.nsw.gov.au.

This project is supported by Bayside Council, City of Canterbu​ry Bankstown Council, National Parks and Wildlife Service, Sydney Trains and the Wolli Creek Preservation Society. This project has been assisted by the New South Wales Government through its Environmental Trust.

If you like to grow your own fruit and vegetables, you may have noticed that your delicious yield can fall prey to the occasional bird or flying fox. Although they do prefer nectar from our native trees, they are attracted to our backyards because much of their habitat has been removed.

During the summer months flying foxes may be attracted to fruit trees in your garden. If you don't have fruit to spare and you are going to net your fruit trees, you must make sure you use wildlife friendly netting and secure it tightly. Loose nets with large mesh (anything over 20mm) are a danger to flying foxes, because they become tangled and cannot free themselves. This can cause terrible injuries and painful deaths. Bats that are entangled may risk starving their young as they may not be able to return to feed them or their young may either be attached underneath their mother's wing and suffocate. Wildlife Friendly Netting recommends netting your fruit trees with a frame or with Fruit Saver netting, seen in their examples below:

Hail Guard will keep our grey headed flying foxes and your fruit, safe! (Source: Wildlife Friendly Netting) 

Fruit saver netting will keep our grey headed flying foxes and your fruit, safe! (Source: Wildlife Friendly Netting) 

If you net your trees properly, you will successfully protect your fruit and our grey headed flying foxes. Always use durable materials - nylon should never be used, as it causes injuries even when stretched tightly. Use white netting, with mesh size less than 20mm (always use netting that you can't fit a finger through!) and either secure it tightly at the trunk or construct a frame at least 1 metre around the tree that nets can be tightly stretched around. Alternatively, use brown paper bags to tie around ripening fruit. These must be changed when wet.​

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