Protecting commercial crops from flying-fox damage

Flying-foxes are nomadic animals found mainly along northern and eastern Australia. They are important to native Australian ecosystems as they spread seeds and pollinate native plants.

Three species of flying-fox are found in NSW. They are the grey-headed flying-fox, the black flying-fox and the little red flying-fox. All three are protected native species. The grey-headed flying-fox is also listed as Vulnerable to extinction under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 and the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Protecting commercial crops

On 1 July 2011, the NSW Government introduced a $5-million scheme funded by the NSW Environmental Trust to subsidise the cost of installing flying-fox exclusion netting for commercial orchardists in the Sydney Basin and Central Coast regions, where impacts occur every year. The scheme was introduced to eliminate the need to issue shooting licences to mitigate flying-fox damage to crops. Once a netting subsidy was received, the orchardist was no longer eligible for a shooting licence for the netted area of the property.

The netting subsidy was then extended to cover the whole of NSW, not just the Sydney Basin and Central Coast. This extension recognised that since the netting program began, unusually high numbers of flying-foxes had been occupying areas around Orange and other areas west of the Great Divide, and damaging crops. Funding was also made available to upgrade non-compliant netting. A further $2.1 million was made available, bringing the total investment in the scheme to $7.1 million.

Full-exclusion netting is the most effective method for protecting fruit crops from flying-fox damage, but orchardists have found the cost of such netting can be prohibitive. As a result the NSW Government expanded the netting program to allow the use of throw-over netting with an aperture size no larger than five millimetres. This netting must be properly fitted to reduce the risk of harm to wildlife. This type of netting can provide adequate protection from flying-foxes and is better suited to some orchards.

Funding for this scheme is now fully allocated and no more applications will be accepted.

Obtaining a licence

Shooting flying-foxes to mitigate commercial crop damage may be licensed in NSW under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974.

From 1 July 2015, Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) will only issue licences to shoot flying-foxes as a crop protection measure where special circumstances are met. Licences will be issued to shoot flying-foxes for the duration of the incursion, subject to strict limits.

Read the special circumstances for issuing licences to shoot flying-foxes (PDF 1MB).

Section 120 general licence application forms (PDF 235KB) can be downloaded here and are also available from NPWS offices. Licences can be submitted in person or by fax, email, or post.

Only one application per property is required to license up to five shooters to shoot a strictly limited number of flying-foxes. All potential shooters must be identified on the application form, including personal details and signatures. Should you be required to vary the names of persons intending to shoot on your property, you will be required to complete a licence variation form (PDF 151KB).

Property inspection

Before an application is approved, a property inspection must be undertaken by NPWS staff to confirm damage by flying-foxes. Where this is not possible within 48 hours of an application being made, an interim licence may be issued. Landholders should contact your local NPWS office for information.

Animal welfare

Shooters should have sufficient experience and be proficient at accurately shooting moving targets with a shotgun. No shooting is to proceed until the relevant licence has been approved and received by the landholder.

The landholder and licensed shooters should ensure they are familiar with, and adhere to the licence conditions, including the number and species of adult flying-fox allowed to be killed (by shooting), the Standard Operating Procedure (PDF 461KB) and the requirements to fill in and return Flying-fox Record Sheets (PDF 164KB). Shooters should ensure they are able to accurately identify the different flying-fox species.

Failure to comply with licence conditions may result in prosecution. The success of future licence applications is also subject to previous adherence to licence conditions.

Commencing shooting

Once a licence has been obtained and prior to the commencement of shooting, the landholder should ensure neighbouring properties are aware of the licence and intention to shoot flying-foxes on the licensed property.

Where the flying-fox shooting quota has been reached, and orchard damage by flying-foxes is still occurring, a variation to the licence may be sought. This variation may allow for an additional number of flying-foxes to be killed.

Licence variation (PDF 151KB) requests must be in writing to the issuing NPWS office and accompanied by a Flying-fox Record Sheet (PDF 164KB). Clear justification for the variation must be provided. An additional property inspection will take place.

Planning crop management

It is recommended that landholders attempt to net a portion of their crop each year.

Flying-fox safety

Catching a disease from a flying-fox is extremely unlikely. However, flying-foxes may carry Australian bat lyssavirus. Therefore the following precautions should be undertaken:

  • Thick protective gloves should be used when moving dead flying-foxes.
  • If you are bitten or scratched by a flying-fox, thoroughly wash the wound, apply an antiseptic solution and see your doctor immediately.
  • Live flying-foxes should not be handled.

Documents to download

The policy applies to all species of flying-fox known to occur in NSW, including the threatened grey-headed flying-fox, black flying-fox, and the little red flying-fox.

Annual reports of licences issued

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Page last updated: 22 February 2017