Nature conservation

Native animals

Camp disturbance or dispersal (Level 3) actions

This fact sheet should be read in conjunction with the Flying-fox Camp Management Policy 2015.

The Flying-fox Camp Management Policy outlines a hierarchy of camp management actions based on the principle of using the lowest form of intervention required.

This approach involves:

  • routine camp management actions (Level 1)
  • creation of buffers (Level 2)
  • camp disturbance or dispersal (Level 3).

This fact sheet provides more detail on Level 3 management actions.

Note that Level 3 management actions should be developed as part of a camp management plan (see the camp management plan template (PDF 355KB)), and a licence may be required (see approvals and licences).

In line with the hierarchy of actions outlined above, Level 3 management actions should not be undertaken until Level 1 (routine camp management) and Level 2 (creation of buffers) management actions have been undertaken and have failed to adequately mitigate the impacts of flying-foxes on local communities.

Much of this fact sheet draws on information from camp management plans developed by Ecosure.

What are Level 3 management actions?

Level 3 management actions involve the disturbance or dispersal of flying-foxes from a roost camp. Camp dispersal is an action that aims to intentionally move entire camps of flying-foxes from one location to another by clearing vegetation or dispersing animals through disturbance by noise, water, smoke and/or light.

While dispersal is supported by the Camp Management Policy, it should be considered a last resort in managing flying-fox camps as the outcomes of dispersal cannot be predicted with any certainty.

Proposed camp dispersals should be clearly identified as Level 3 management actions in the camp management plan, and should not be carried out with the aim of killing or harming flying-foxes.

What should I consider before implementing Level 3 management actions?

Dispersal approaches are very costly, require ongoing commitment and maintenance, are often not successful and rarely result in desirable outcomes for all stakeholders. Dispersal also often leads to flying-fox stress, injuries or fatalities, and may lead to increased human health risk, nuisance issues, or human/flying-fox conflict at other sites or in neighbouring local government areas.

No dispersal of flying-foxes has a certain outcome. Uncertainty arises in many forms:

  • Will the dispersal be permanent, or will flying-foxes return to the camp once the source of disturbance ceases?
  • Will the dispersed animals move to another established camp, or will they establish new camps nearby?
  • Will any new camps resulting from dispersal occur in areas far from or close to human settlements such as schools, hospitals or residential areas?
  • Will the authority conducting the dispersal be held responsible for the establishment of new camps in other jurisdictions?
  • Will costs run according to budget, or will ongoing management and associated complications result in budget over-runs?
  • Will the community be supportive of the dispersal, or will conflicting views result in difficult community interactions?
  • Will the dispersal have minimal impact on the welfare and health of flying-foxes, or will it result in flying-foxes spreading out across the landscape and thus increasing the potential for close contact and increased conflict between flying-foxes and humans?

A review of past flying-fox dispersal attempts in Australia (PDF 533KB) documents the difficulty and the low success rate of such attempts.

Consideration should also be given to the following issues.

Hierarchy of management actions

Given the uncertainty outlined above, any land manager considering a dispersal of flying-foxes must have exhausted all other options before attempting the dispersal. This approach is consistent with the hierarchy of actions in the camp management policy.

For example, dispersal may not be necessary if routine camp management (Level 1) or buffer creation (Level 2) actions can adequately mitigate the impacts of flying-foxes on the local community.

Community engagement

Community engagement will be an important part of any camp management plan. The local community should be engaged before undertaking any camp management actions. See the Working with communities fact sheet.

Where active dispersal is proposed, impacts on the community can be significant. It is not uncommon for industrial-level noise to be used in flying-fox dispersals for hours at a time before dawn for weeks on end. Such disturbance may have significant amenity impacts for local residents including:

  • sleep disruption between 4 am and 7 am on dispersal days
  • stress to noise-sensitive pets during dispersal
  • irritation associated with smoke used for dispersal
  • disturbance during vegetation management during the night
  • increased flying-fox vocalising/noise during the day.

Some level of impact is likely for residents within 150 metres of the roost, and possibly up to 300 metres.

Dispersal may increase the likelihood of human contact with flying-foxes, thus increasing the risk of pathogen exposure and disease transmission. Effective communication of appropriate safety precautions for field staff, local residents and the broader community will be essential. See the Flying-foxes and Human Health fact sheet for more information.

Dispersal can also prompt a range of emotionally-charged responses from the community, both opposed to and supportive of the dispersal.

Dispersal Method

Consideration should be given to the method of dispersal applied.

Passive dispersal through vegetation removal in a staged manner can gradually make a camp unattractive as a roosting site so that flying-foxes will disperse of their own accord. This is less stressful to flying-foxes, and greatly reduces the risk of splinter camps forming in other locations. Generally, a significant proportion of vegetation needs to be removed in order to achieve dispersal of flying-foxes from a camp and to prevent camp re-establishment.

Alternatively, active dispersal through disturbance relies on deterring flying-foxes from landing at the camp when returning from overnight foraging using sound, light and other physical deterrents. Active dispersal will be disruptive for nearby residents given the timing and nature of activities. Additional risk management and welfare impact mitigation strategies are required for active dispersal.

A combination of passive and active dispersal may be required to achieve a successful long-term outcome.

Stop-work triggers and contingency plans

Given the many aspects of uncertainty associated with flying-fox dispersals, camp management plans should include detailed planning for stop-work triggers and contingencies. For example, unacceptable levels of stress, injury and death of flying-foxes might be identified as a trigger to halt the dispersal at the main camp, and the preparation of contingency plans may be required to anticipate and manage dispersals at nearby locations where camp establishment would be problematic.

Budgeting

Detailed consideration of budget allocations for dispersal actions and related activities will be required.

Timing

Consider the timing of management actions. See below: When can I implement Level 3 management actions?

Monitoring, evaluation and reporting

Dispersals are likely to require significant monitoring and evaluation effort, involving dedicated capacity and funding. See the Monitoring and evaluation fact sheet for more detail.

Conservation

The cumulative impacts of flying-fox camp dispersals may negatively impact on the conservation of the species and the ecosystem services flying-foxes provide.

During and immediately after periods of population stress such as widespread heat stress or food stress, Level 3 management actions should not proceed. Food stress may be apparent if large numbers of low-body-weight animals are being reported by wildlife carers in the region.

The use of passive dispersal through vegetation removal requires consideration of any significant ecological impacts on the roost site.

Relevant approvals

Approval from the NSW government will be required before any dispersal commences. Commonwealth approval may also be required. See Approvals and Licences below.

When can I implement Level 3 management actions?

Dispersal actions need to be carefully planned and should consider climatic and animal welfare issues.

Level 3 management actions are not recommended during critical reproductive periods, from the time when the resident female flying-foxes are heavily pregnant until the time young can fly independently (generally from August to May for Grey-headed and Black Flying-foxes and April to December for Little Red Flying-foxes).

The timing of the reproductive cycle varies between species, between years and between sites. Expert assessment will be required on a site-by-site basis to ensure Level 3 management actions are timed appropriately.

When daytime temperatures are expected to climb above 30°C, consider postponing Level 3 management actions to avoid the risk of heat stress. When daytime temperatures are expected to climb above 35°C, Level 3 actions must be postponed until temperatures fall below 35°C and ideally below 30°C. See the fact sheet on managing heat stress events for more information.

When seasonal climatic conditions or regional food stress have resulted in significant population stress, Level 3 management actions should also be postponed.

For sites containing Grey-headed and/or Black Flying-foxes:

JanFebMarAprMayJuneJulyAugSepOctNovDec
Level 1, 2 and 3 management actions not recommended Level 1, 2 and 3 management actions may be allowed Level 1, 2 and 3 management actions not recommended

How do I implement Level 3 management actions?

As part of the development of a camp management plan (see the camp management plan template (PDF 355KB)), the following steps should be considered.

Feasibility assessment

The Office of Environment and Heritage recommends that a detailed feasibility assessment be conducted by the proponent for any proposed Level 3 management actions including regional and site assessments, proposed methods and timing, cost estimates, stop-work triggers, contingency plans and assessment of risks such as environmental, social, health and safety, financial and legislative risks. This assessment will help to determine whether the results of a dispersal attempt are likely to be successful and permanent. The feasibility assessment should be included in the camp management plan.

Regional assessment

A regional assessment should be undertaken to identify existing camps within a thirty-kilometre radius (flying-foxes have a preferred foraging radius of about 20 kilometres) and potential flying-fox camp sites within a six-kilometre radius of the dispersal site. A recent study showed that flying-foxes generally relocate within six kilometres of the original camp when dispersed (Ecosure and Griffith University, unpublished data).

Existing camps nearby may be the most likely recipients of any dispersed flying-foxes, and land managers for those camps should be identified and informed of the proposed dispersal.

Suitability of potential roost habitat near the dispersal site should be assessed on the basis of detailed criteria including availability of dispersal corridors, availability and accessibility of food and water, size, plant species composition, canopy structure, proposed developments, and proximity to sensitive areas such as schools, hospitals and residential areas. Office of Environment and Heritage recommends using a rigorous and systematic decision-making process to identify potential habitat and exclude non-suitable habitat, including GIS-aided identification, aerial photographs and computer modelling and establishing weighted criteria for determining site suitability scores.

Any potential roost habitat that occurs in close proximity (less than 300 metres) to human settlements may be contentious if occupied by flying-foxes dispersed from the dispersal site. These should be clearly identified in the camp management plan with contingency plans developed and costed for each site should they become occupied as a result of the dispersal. Discussions and agreements with neighbouring councils are likely to be required where potential habitat is identified in their areas.

Any potential roost habitat that occurs more than 300 metres from human settlements should be investigated to determine its suitability as an alternate roost site. The camp management plan should consider whether these sites could benefit from habitat enhancement to make them more suitable as roost sites such as improving water availability, establishing protective ground cover, or planting with future roosting trees. Such actions should be implemented well before the proposed dispersal.

Site assessment

A detailed plan of the site of the proposed dispersal should be prepared, including high-resolution mapping identifying the approximate total area of the camp and the approximate area occupied by flying-foxes including historical occupation. Office of Environment and Heritage recommends a site visit before commencing any management actions to ground truth the mapping and to have a suitably qualified/skilled person conduct an assessment of the camp. This should include a population assessment of the camp to determine population numbers, presence/ratio of dependent young (flightless and flying), presence/ratio of lactating or late-pregnancy females, as well as a visual assessment of the health of Grey-headed Flying-fox individuals.

Where vegetation clearing is the proposed method of dispersal, the location and size of the area, and the vegetation type that would need to be cleared or altered once flying-foxes have left the site should also be identified. An assessment of the likely ecological consequences of any clearing should be conducted by a suitably qualified expert.

Dispersal methods

Where active dispersal is used, disturbance must be carried out using non-lethal means, such as acoustic, visual and/or physical disturbance or use of smoke.

Disturbance activities must be limited to a maximum of 2.5 hours in any 12 hour period, preferably at or before sunrise or at sunset. Disturbance should cease at least 30 minutes before sunrise to allow animals to find a roost.

Where passive dispersal is used, ensure that trees are not felled, lopped or have large branches removed when flying-foxes are in or near to a tree and likely to be harmed. The action must not involve the clearing of all vegetation supporting the flying-fox camp.

Prior to implementing dispersal

Before starting Level 3 management actions, conduct a health and safety risk assessment to determine the appropriate levels of personal protective equipment required and identify protocols to minimise risks to both the public and flying-foxes.

Workers should be made aware of the potential health risks associated with working with flying-foxes. Refer to Flying-foxes and Human Health.

A public communication program should be established to notify local residents of the proposed dispersal and other information as appropriate including health and safety advice. A copy of the program should be provided to Office of Environment and Heritage.

A protocol based on the NSW Code of Practice for Injured, Sick and Orphaned Flying-Foxes (PDF 85KB) should be developed and made available to all relevant council staff, local residents and volunteers prior to the action commencing. Contact should be made with local wildlife rescue and rehabilitation groups before actions commence.

To minimise risk and avoid detailed planning requirements, any dispersal proposed during a time of significant population stress should be postponed. Instead, Level 1 and Level 2 management actions could be used to mitigate any human-flying-fox conflicts until the population is no longer under significant stress.

Dispersal actions must be supervised by a person with knowledge and experience relevant to the management of flying-foxes and their habitat who can identify dependent young and is aware of climatic extremes and food stress events. This person must make an assessment of the relevant conditions and advise the supervisor/proponent whether the activity can go ahead consistent with these guidelines.

Notification of the dispersal start date must be provided to Office of Environment and Heritage and any land managers of flying-fox camps within 30 kilometres of the dispersal site at least 48 hours prior to commencement, within business hours.

Liaison with the NSW Environment Protection Authority may be required where acoustic disturbance is proposed to ensure appropriate management of noise issues.

Undertaking the initial dispersal

Office of Environment and Heritage will generally stipulate a number of conditions to licensed dispersal actions. These conditions set limitations on when the dispersal is allowed, identify stop-work triggers and define monitoring and reporting requirements.

These conditions may include:

  • The establishment of a dispersal team of appropriately experienced, trained, inducted and vaccinated personnel.
  • The presence of an appropriately qualified flying-fox expert during dispersal activities to monitor the behavioural response of the flying-foxes to the disturbance.
  • The presence of a licensed wildlife carer during dispersal activities in the event of any injury to flying-foxes.
  • The presence of a representative of the proponent (for example a council officer) during dispersal activities to ensure that licence conditions are met.
  • Instructions on the nature and timing of disturbance allowed during dispersal activities.
  • The establishment of a designated rest area within the flying-fox camp as a refuge for flying-foxes during disturbance, to be reduced in size over the course of dispersal activities.
  • Limits on the nature, timing and extent of vegetation clearing to be used in passive dispersal.

Maintenance (follow-up) dispersals

Continued disturbance may be required to ensure that dispersed animals do not return to the dispersal site. Office of Environment and Heritage may allow maintenance dispersals to be implemented at the original camp to prevent the camp from re-establishing.

Maintenance dispersals may be carried out in March-December, provided there are no dependent young or individuals in visibly poor health in the camp, as determined by a suitably qualified flying-fox expert.

If, despite maintenance actions, flying-foxes are found to continue to persist in numbers comparable with pre-dispersal numbers then the program should be reconsidered in consultation with Office of Environment and Heritage.

Nearby residents must be notified of any maintenance action, within a timeframe as agreed to by the residents.

The action must be supervised by a person approved by Office of Environment and Heritage and with knowledge and experience relevant to the management of flying-foxes and their habitat, who can satisfactorily identify that flightless young or individuals in poor health are not present. This person must make an assessment of the relevant conditions and advise the site supervisor whether the activity can go ahead consistent with these guidelines.

Council must contact Office of Environment and Heritage during the planning stage of any maintenance dispersals.

Actions at other sites

When flying-foxes are dispersed from a camp, it is likely they will find alternative roost sites within six kilometres of the original camp.

Appropriate contingency plans and associated budget and resource planning are essential to address the likelihood of implementing actions at other sites, including discussions and agreements with neighbouring councils where relevant.

Monitoring of camps and potential habitat identified in the regional assessment will be essential during and after dispersal activities (see Monitoring, evaluation and reporting).

Office of Environment and Heritage must be notified if the proponent of the dispersal becomes aware of new flying-fox camps (splinter camps) establishing or if there is an influx of flying-foxes at nearby established camps. If this occurs, an assessment will be made on whether the site is an appropriate flying-fox roost site, in consultation with the proponent and the relevant land owner/manager.

An alternative roost site may be suitable if:

  • The camp is unlikely to negatively impact on any threatened species, populations or ecological communities or their habitats.
  • The neighbouring landowners or managers are accepting of occupancy within their land or neighbouring areas.
  • There is a minimum 300 metre buffer separating the camp from residential dwellings, or if the buffer is less than this, only with neighbouring landowners' and managers' approval.
  • There is capacity to provide a large enough area of suitable roosting habitat.

If the splinter camp or the influx at an existing camp is deemed inappropriate according to the above criteria, then a dispersal at that site may also be required, provided:

  • More than 50 flying-foxes have settled at the site for more than three days (unless the flying-fox expert is satisfied that the site is unlikely to be a temporary refuge that may be naturally abandoned, in which case the action can be undertaken if fewer than 50 flying-foxes are present, or in less than three days).
  • Stakeholders (including landowners and land managers) have agreed to the timing and duration of disturbances.
  • All costs associated with the dispersal, including community consultation, are the responsibility of the original proponent.

If there is an influx of flying-foxes at nearby known camps, and Office of Environment and Heritage considers it likely that these impacts have been caused by the action at the dispersal site, but a dispersal is not considered appropriate, then the proponent will provide assistance to the relevant land manager to ameliorate impacts of the displaced flying-foxes on amenity issues, and impacts on the displaced flying-foxes. The details of this assistance are to be developed in consultation with Office of Environment and Heritage.

Triggers and safeguards

To avoid or mitigate unnecessary impacts on flying-foxes, roost habitat and local residents, triggers for adaptive management should be clearly outlined in the camp management plan. Office of Environment and Heritage should be notified if any of the trigger points are reached.

Triggers to cease the dispersal program may include:

  • Unacceptable levels of stress, fatigue, injury or death of flying-foxes.
  • A certain number of noise complaints is received.
  • Impacts are created or exacerbated at other locations, including existing flying-fox camps, and there are unlikely to be sufficient resources available to ameliorate these impacts.
  • An ongoing proliferation of splinter camps in unsuitable locations.
  • Splinter camps become established at inappropriate locations and Office of Environment and Heritage or the proponent considers that for ecological, social or other reasons, a dispersal at the splinter location is not appropriate.
  • More than 50 per cent of the total Greyheaded flying-fox occupying the camp during pre-dispersal monitoring are still present after a nominated period of dispersal activity.
  • More than a nominated number of maintenance or splinter camp dispersals are required within any 12 month period.
  • A camp is recolonised despite ongoing maintenance dispersals.
  • Allocated resources are exhausted.

If the dispersal program is stopped, the proponent should reassess the program in consultation with Office of Environment and Heritage.

Monitoring, evaluation and reporting

Monitoring is essential to assess what has and what hasn't worked when managing flying-fox camps. This will aid the development of more effective management actions in the future. Monitoring conditions will often be stipulated in licence conditions, and may include:

  • Surveys of potential habitat for flying-foxes for roosting activity in the weeks prior to commencing the initial dispersal activity and the weeks after the dispersal activity, including known and previous roosts within 30 kilometres of the site, and any areas identified in the camp management plan as 'potential flying-fox habitat' within six kilometres of the site.
  • Daily monitoring during dispersal and maintenance dispersal activities, at the original site and any splinter sites, to determine population numbers, the camp extent, signs of morbidity or mortality, and whether the breeding status has changed.
  • Liaison with wildlife carers to monitor any increase in the number of flying-foxes being taken into care or showing signs of stress, including aborted young.
  • Details of the camp prior to management action.
  • Details of the community engagement process.
  • Details of the disturbance methods, timing, spatial extent, daily duration, triggers and contingencies for each site where activities are conducted.
  • An assessment of the outcome of the action, including reactions of flying-foxes.
  • The results of pre- and post-action population monitoring, including behaviour of flying-foxes during disturbance, numbers of injured, orphaned and dead flying-foxes located during the seven days following the principal dispersal event, numbers of flying-foxes returning to the site at one week, one month, six months and 12 months after the main disturbance event.
  • Any information on new camps that established subsequent to the action, and population numbers of camps in the local area.
  • A summary of any responses or complaints to the action from residents or other individuals/groups.
  • Details of any associated Level 1 and Level 2 management actions.
  • Expenditure (financial and in-kind costs) on the dispersal program.
  • Evaluation of change in conflict at disturbance site as indicated by community surveys.
  • Evaluation of sites that received influx of flying-foxes from disturbance event including contentious issues as indicated by community surveys.

Quarterly monitoring and evaluation reports must be submitted to Office of Environment and Heritage for at least the first year following the dispersal activity.

Do I require approvals or licences for Level 3 management actions?

Office of Environment and Heritage requires approvals to be sought for Level 3 management actions.

To obtain approval, land managers will submit their completed camp management plan to Office of Environment and Heritage. Office of Environment and Heritage will then guide the applicant through the necessary process for licensing. These statutory processes are set out in the 2015 Flying-fox Camp Management Policy.

Level 3 management actions can be licensed by Office of Environment and Heritage in a variety of ways and land managers are advised to take note of the following:

Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995

  • If the camp contains Grey-headed Flying-foxes dispersal will require a Section 91 Licence under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (TSC Act).
  • Where Level 3 actions are proposed in a camp management plan, a licensing decision will be made within forty working days of application.
  • See more information on licences.

National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974

  • In some cases a camp may only include Little Red Flying-foxes. Where this is the case a licence under section 120 of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 may apply.
  • Where Black Flying-foxes are found, they usually co-occur with Grey-headed Flying-foxes which are covered under the TSC Act.
  • See further information on wildlife licences under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974.

Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979

  • A licence or approval to disturb or disperse flying-foxes does not remove the need to abide by the requirements of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (POCTA Act).
  • Read the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979.

Approval under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979

  • Actions under a management plan may also require approval under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 if they constitute 'development' for the purposes of that Act. Further information on administration and operation of that Act is available from the NSW Department of Planning and Environment.

Approval under Australian Government legislation

  • Camp management actions undertaken in or near camps of Grey-headed Flying-foxes may also require approval under Australian Government legislation.
  • The Australian Government provides guidance on whether management actions at a flying-fox camp are 'controlled actions' under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
  • The NSW Government is continuing to work closely with the Australian Government to ensure streamlined environmental approvals. See further information on the Commonwealth approval regime.

Seek assistance from Office of Environment and Heritage

OEH supports local government, public authority land managers and individual land holders to select the appropriate Level of intervention for their situation. As outlined in Section 3 of the Camp Management Policy, activities may be low impact such as trimming vegetation in the camp, more active in terms of modifying vegetation and habitat, or targeted at disturbing or dispersing populations in certain circumstances.

When required, Office of Environment and Heritage will assign a support officer to provide advice on statutory requirements and assist land managers or local governments in developing flying-fox camp management plans and engaging with the community.

Useful resources

Page last updated: 07 December 2015