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On 17 February 2011 the Federal Court ruled against the Bat Advocacy Inc’s challenge to the decision of the Minister for Environment Protection Peter Garrett to allow the forced removal of the colony of Grey-Headed Flying-Foxes (GHFF) from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney. This was not an appeal to review the merits of the decision, but a hearing on points of law. The court said that its function was to examine whether “the correct processes were followed by the Minister in making his decision.”

Flying-foxes love the nectar of flowering Gums & will quietly drink from each flower of the tree

Bat Advocacy Inc raised 4 challenges, which were answered by the court as follows:

1. Q:    Did the Minister fail to take into account a relevant consideration when exercising his power of approval. That consideration was the impact on the GHFF resulting from their removal from their critical habitat in the Gardens. A:    The Minister concluded that the proposed action should be attempted if the GHFF could be acceptably & safely dispersed in order to prevent ongoing damage being occasioned to the internationally significant trees within the Gardens. Thus, the Minister did not fail to consider the loss of the GHFF habitat in the Gardens and the draft Recovery Plan.

2. Q:    Did the Minister fail to take into account a relevant consideration, namely the social matters & the associated community conflicts resulting from the dispersal of the GHFF to areas outside the Gardens. A:    The portion of the Reasons under the heading ‘Social & Economic Matters’ demonstrates that the Minister has given due regard to information on social matters identified in the PER & in public submissions.

3. Q:    Did the Minister fail to take into account all adverse impacts, present & throughout the duration of the approval, that the approval would have on matters protected by Part 3 of the EPBC Act. The approval is stated to remain effective until 2039. The applicant does not identify the impacts which have allegedly been disregarded by the Minister. Rather, the submission merely suggests that there may be cumulative impacts which will adversely affect the GHFF. A:     Based upon the precise nature of the monitoring, which will continue throughout the life of the approval, & upon which the life of the approval is contingent, it could not be said that the Minister failed to consider how the approval would operate to the date of expiry.

4. Q:    Did the Minister fail to take into consideration other information in the Minister’s possession concerning similar GHFF dispersals which had been raised in public submissions and referred to in the Independent Expert Report of Dr Richards. A:     The Minister was aware of the potential for the proposed action to be unsuccessful. In these circumstances, the Court cannot conclude that the Minister failed to consider previous unsuccessful attempts to disperse colonies of GHFF in Australia.

That still doesn’t make the decision the right one & the court hasn’t answered this question.

In May 2011, the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust will start dispersal techniques of around 22,000 ‘threatened’ grey-headed flying foxes.  The Sydney Morning Herald wrote – “But the Gardens said that to date the bats had destroyed 27 mature trees & more than 20 palms since they took up residence there 20 years ago.  Another 300 trees were at risk, Dr Entwisle said.  Several sites have been identified as possible homes for the bats, including existing flying fox camps at Ku-ring-gai, Cabramatta & Parramatta.  Botany Bay National Park & Lane Cove National Park were also named, although the Gardens has said it could not be certain whether the bats would settle in any specific location.” http://www.smh.com.au/environment/animals/huge-sydney-bat-colony-to-be-evicted-20110217-1axtm.html

Flying-foxes also love the nectar from Grevillea flowers

According to bat experts, dispersal techniques will make the bats tired & stressed, making them prone to serious injury. They will have to join other colonies to fight & compete with food that was, at least during 2010, very scarce.  Bats were found all along the east coast of Australia & as far as Adelaide looking for food with some eating citrus fruit in country orchards, although citrus is not their usual food.

The east coast situation of starving bats has resulted in an increase in anti-bat sentiment in the community with many complaining about bats in their garden keeping them or their children awake at night. This blog’s stats show with alarming regularity people searching the question, “How to get rid of bats?”  I know what the answer will be.  Some people will chop down their trees to take away the food & the tree/s that the bats are using.  No tree, no bat. I predict there will be a great increase tree removal & despite the rules & regulations of Councils, many won’t bother to get permission.  Our Council wouldn’t know the true numbers of tree removal across Marrickville LGA & I’d bet this is the same with other Councils.

Golf courses, when they have Fig trees, are wonderful for flying-foxes to find food

Sydney Councils have been saying throughout 2010 that they did not want the 22,000 Botanic Gardens flying-foxes to come to their area so it’s not as simple as removing the bats from the Gardens for them to happily fly away to another home. Their removal will have a ripple effect & I doubt it will be supportive of the bats.

The grey-headed flying fox is listed as ‘vulnerable to extinction’ with the major threat being loss of habitat. Other factors are: being killed by people & declining numbers.  Flying foxes have a very low breeding rate so don’t breed & boom.  They eat native fruit & nectar & do a terrific & vital job in pollination & seed distribution so we actually need them. When starving they will eat citrus fruit.  Because of loss of habitat, flying-foxes come to feed on flowering trees in suburban back gardens.  They eat & leave, rarely deciding to roost & usually only return for 2-3 weeks before moving on to a different food source. There is no evidence that people can get the Hendra virus from bats. Rather than hurt a flying fox if you want to stop it from visiting your garden, contact the Department of Environment Climate Change & Water for assistance – http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/contact/

If you net fruit trees it is important to pull the netting tight so a bat can walk over it, but not get entangled & injured. http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/threatenedspecies/NettingOfCommercialFruitTrees.htm

I appreciate the situation that the Trust is faced with & understand why they sought the eviction.  However, there are many others like me who are sad & disappointed about this decision, who believe the bats should be allowed to continue to live in the Botanic Gardens & that their eviction will create many more problems for bats & other birds.  It is also an enormous loss of opportunity for ‘natural tourism,’ as many people would travel to see such a glorious sight right in the heart of our city. Let’s hope that everything works out quickly so everyone can be happy, most of all the bats.

I last wrote about the flying foxes at the Royal Botanic Gardens here -http://savingourtrees.wordpress.com/2010/03/24/sydney’s-royal-botanic-gardens-trust-wants-‘threatened-species’-bats-banished/

A Fig tree in fruit - fabulous food for Flying-foxes

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