Say goodbye to Sydney’s colony of bats

By AAP with AG Staff 17 February 2011
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A huge colony of 22,000 flying foxes will be evicted from Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens after a lost court appeal.

A MASSIVE COLONY OF flying foxes will be evicted from Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens after an animal welfare group failed in its legal bid to allow them to stay.

Bat Advocacy had challenged a 2010 decision by then federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett to approve the relocation of up to 22,000 individuals of the threatened grey-headed flying fox species.

The Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust made the request on the grounds that the animals were destroying important species of trees and palms. It plans to disturb the bats using loud industrial noise, a successful ploy used on bats in Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens.

Mr Garrett’s approval came with strict conditions, including supervision by an independent observer group with expertise in animal biology and grey-headed flying foxes.

But Bat Advocacy argued in the Federal Court that the minister had failed to take into account the gardens were a critical roosting habitat, and that he did not consider conflict with humans elsewhere. It also argued the minister failed to consider information concerning previous unsuccessful attempts to relocate colonies elsewhere.

A familiar site: Sydney’s flying fox colony at the Royal Botanic Gardens. (Getty)

Bats versus Botanic Gardens

In his judgment on Thursday, Federal Court Justice Dennis Cowdroy rejected the applicant’s submissions and dismissed the application, saying the environment minister had properly considered the issues. He ordered Bat Advocacy to pay the minister’s and the Royal Botanic Gardens’ costs.

Royal Botanic Gardens executive director Tim Entwisle said he was pleased with the outcome. “This means we can continue monitoring and preparing for the relocation in May 2011,” he said in a statement. “A seasonal peak of more than 22,000 flying foxes is just not sustainable in one of the world’s great botanic gardens.”

Grey-headed flying foxes are a threatened species, protected under both state and national environment law, and play a crucial role in pollination and seed dispersal in native forests. But the Royal Botanic Gardens says that, to date, the bats had destroyed 27 mature trees and more than 20 palms since taking up residence there 20 years ago. And another 300 trees were at risk, Tim says.

Considerations of bat relocation

Several sites have been identified as possible homes for the bats, including existing flying fox camps at Ku-ring-gai, Cabramatta and Parramatta. Botany Bay National Park and Lane Cove National Park were also named, although the Royal Botanic Gardens has said it could not be certain whether the bats would settle in any specific location.

The conditions imposed on the dispersal activity include that it must happen within a limited timeframe to avoid disrupting the camp during the sensitive breeding and roosting season.

The Royal Botanic Gardens will be responsible for the project, including ensuring the colony relocates to an appropriate site, and will be accountable for any safety risks.