Flying fox relocation postponed

The Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG) have sensibly decided to postpone for one year their plans to relocate their resident flying fox colony, however rather than simply delaying they really need to go back to the drawing board altogether.

While the RBG seem to be trying to keep publicity around the backdown low it seems that the plans have been abandoned because of the poor health of many of the bats.  A condition of the relocation’s approval was that 100 bats be fitted with radio collars for monitoring, at least 60 of which must be females weighing more than 650g.  However food shortages in recent months mean fewer bats than normal are at a healthy weight.

This would be a sensible juncture for the gardens to reconsider it’s plan entirely.  The RBG claims the relocation is necessary to protect trees in the Gardens but there are a number of options that would allow bats and trees to coexist which haven’t been explored.

One such option, suggested by ecologists and Bat Advocacy NSW, who have worked tirelessly to defend the bats since this plan was first mooted, would be to plant fast growing trees that the bats would prefer as a habitat.  This would result in the bats leaving alone the trees that the RBG are worried about.  The RBG have given little consideration to such a plan, possibly because it would take 3-4 years to come to fruition.  However, now that they have to wait at least a year before anything happens they have a lot less to lose by giving this option a go.

I hope the RBG give alternative options such as this serious consideration but up to this point they have been frustratingly narrow minded in their desire to remove the bats.  It seems they are aiming for a Garden that is nicely manicured but completely sterile and free of wildlife – which is a shame given that to many people the gardens are so much more than this.

The nightly fly-out of thousands of flying foxes from the Gardens is a Sydney icon and images of the bats are used along with pictures of kangaroos, koalas and Uluru to promote Australia overseas as a tourist destination.  If they were to go, not only would this threatened species lose a valuable piece of habitat but all of Sydney would lose a natural wonder.

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4 responses to “Flying fox relocation postponed

  1. The Botanic Gardens Trust has given serious consideration of a wide range of options over more than decade and have not take the decision to relocate flying foxes lightly. This is a serious issue for this world quality botanic garden and should not be trivialised. We have always taken into account the health and well being of the flying foxes and the decision to delay was based on advice from our bat research team, approval committees and other experts.

    The Trust issued a media release about the postponement and distributed this to all media outlets in Sydney. We encouranged them to talk to us about the reasons for the postponement and it got coverage in the Telegraph and some TV news reports. We’ve done a lot of local newspaper interviews and we are keen for the public to know about the delay.

    http://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/welcome_to_bgt/feature_stories/trust_postpones_flying-fox_relocation has a copy of the media release and also a link (at the bottom) to a Question and Answer page that addresses some of the issues you have raised.

    On that page you’ll find the following information about why a large plantation and netting would be unsuitable in the heritage listed 194-year-old botanic garden:

    27. Can’t the Botanic Gardens Trust plant more trees and provide a habitat for the flying-foxes?

    The landscape of the Royal Botanic Gardens itself is considered to be of heritage importance and the composition and design of the Royal Botanic Gardens is carefully planned to maintain its heritage value. The design, plant content and variety have the primary purpose of providing key plant related messages through landscape displays and the use of interpretative information. For educational and aesthetic purposes, many plantings are grouped according to scientific, geographical, evolutionary, aesthetic and horticultural history criteria.

    Any new plantings take a long time to mature, and with many of our most significant tree specimens now dying, we do not have time to wait. Our thematic plantings may not even suit the requirements of a flying-fox colony, even when they have matured, as they are designed with the purpose of maintaining the heritage, plant science, and aesthetic values of the Gardens in line with our Conservation Management Plan, rather than recreating habitat for wildlife.

    Even if an area of new plantings or artificial roosts could be established in time and in keeping with the mission of the Botanic Gardens Trust, discouraging flying-foxes from trees that they have colonised to a new adjacent area would be much harder than keeping them out of the Gardens totally (our experiences under current licences in trying to protect individual trees have been largely unsuccessful).

    28. Why don’t you just net the heritage trees to keep them out, like farmers do?

    In orchards, trees are a uniform height (usually no more than 5 m) and planted in straight rows. In the Royal Botanic Gardens netting would need to accommodate the tallest affected trees which are 30 m tall and would have to cover the entire Palm Grove as well as adjoining garden beds, otherwise the colony would simply move from the netted areas into the un-netted areas. Netting the entire area would be very expensive and not in keeping with the landscape values of the Botanic Gardens. Furthermore, the flying foxes would still need to relocate to a new habitat so the end result would be the same as using noise disturbance.

    The Botanic Gardens Trust has tried many ways to protect its trees over the years but nothing has been successful. We’ve postponed the relocation but the need for it remains urgent if we value the botanic gardens and its scientific, conservation and heritage collections.

    I’d encourage anyone with any questions to contact the Botanic Gardens Trust directly. It’s a complex issue and there seems to be some misunderstanding of our rationale and options.

  2. It may be true that while waiting for trees to mature the bats will cause more damage, yet the RBG now must wait for at least a year before anything is done and there’s no guarantee that in a year from now the same problems won’t crop up, resulting in more delays.

    Why not use this time, which will otherwsie go to waste, on finding ways to allow the bats to co-exist with the aesthtics of the garden? The longer we have to wait the less there is to lose.

  3. We’ll certainly use the time to find out more about the flying foxes and how to make sure the relocation is successful and does not harm the animals. But we really have tried every reasonable alternative for leaving the flying foxes in the Gardens. The two just don’t work together sadly. The Botanic Gardens Trust has to look after the plant collection and the heritage landscape, particularly if we can successfully move them to another location. I know it’s a tough decision but we have to give it a try.

  4. Pingback: Conservationists to challenge bat relocation in court « Councillor Irene Doutney

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