Working with communities living with flying-foxes

The presence of a flying-fox camp in or near residential and public areas can provoke high levels of concern across the community.

This document sets out information to help land managers and communities determine how they deal with flying-fox camps and manage the impacts that are causing greatest concern.

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

Key Issues

People often find living close to wildlife challenging and flying-foxes are no exception. Flying-foxes are wild animals and part of a complex and interdependent natural system. Their behaviours are hard to predict. Management actions that work on one occasion at one camp may not reliably work at another. This can be the source of much frustration and concern among communities who are experiencing problems with flying-fox camps.

The magnitude of problems varies according to the location and size of the camp, and is influenced by the local community's capacity to live with wildlife. Concerns include reduced amenity in the vicinity of the camp from odour, faecal droppings, noise, defoliation of vegetation and concerns about risks to human health. Orchardists also become concerned about potential damage to their crops. Attitudes towards flying-foxes usually vary across the community from highly supportive to strongly negative.

For these reasons, successful community engagement by land managers is crucial where flying-fox camps are found near human settlements. It is the means by which communities develop their understanding of the issues and address their concerns. Engagement can also help overcome the sense of having no control of their situation when communities are involved in coming up with solutions that work.

In describing the key issues for managing flying-foxes, it is important to understand that they are very different depending on the perspective held. For the purposes of this document, the key messages are considered from the perspectives of:

  • Land managers responsible for managing the flying-fox camp:
    • must balance social, economic and environmental pressures in managing flying-fox camps, including responding to impacted communities and dealing with conflict
    • require support to design 'fit for purpose' approaches to camp management
    • require resources to actively manage flying-fox camps over a long period of time.
  • Community members affected by flying-fox camps:
    • can struggle to reconcile that flying-foxes are a threatened species if they frequently see large numbers in the local area
    • frequently hold the misconception that flying-foxes are a significant threat to people's health
    • have difficulty with the loss of amenity as a result of noise, odour and faeces when located in close proximity to large camps.

Key messages for land managers

  • Office of Environment and Heritage works in partnership with land managers to develop flying-fox camp management plans to suit their community.
  • Engaging the community early, before camps become well established, is the best approach.
  • Well planned person-to-person engagement with the most affected residents supports their contribution to camp management strategies.
  • Where there are existing camps causing concern, Office of Environment and Heritage will work with land managers to find the balance between protecting flying-foxes and supporting communities to live with urban wildlife.
  • Camp management plans need a combination of proactive community education and practical management options that may include seasonal lopping of trees to prevent flying-foxes roosting and covering community spaces such as playgrounds, community centres and recreation facilities where there are established camps.
  • Office of Environment and Heritage has guidelines for management actions undertaken at flying-fox camps. Licences may be required for some activities.

Key messages for communities

  • Flying-foxes are part of living urban ecosystems and, just like all urban wildlife, they bring benefits and challenges to the way we live.
  • Flying-foxes live in social groups, and set up 'camps' near food sources and to birth and raise their young.
  • Flying-foxes are roosting more frequently near towns and in urban areas because much of their habitat has been cleared across eastern Australia.
  • Where and when flying-foxes set up camp depends on the season and where there are fruiting and flowering trees. The camp may be temporary, only while the food lasts.
  • There are no health risks from flying-fox camps unless you make direct contact with live animals. Flying-fox urine or droppings pose no health risk to humans unless ingested.
  • Land managers and Office of Environment and Heritage want to involve you in selecting the solutions that will help in your situation.
  • Preventing flying-foxes continuing to roost at an established camp is a difficult and fraught task. It involves using continuous loud noise at dawn and dusk to deter them from their daytime roost. Dispersal may also involve removing neighbourhood trees and vegetation, which will require approval under council regulations and/or NSW legislation.
  • Any relocation of flying-foxes after disturbance is largely unknown, and ultimately may not resolve the problem. The flying-foxes are just as likely to set up camp in another residential neighbourhood and cause similar concerns, or return to the original site in future.
  • Flying-foxes are protected native wildlife. Grey-headed Flying-foxes are listed as vulnerable by the Australian and NSW governments as they have greatly reduced in numbers over the years. This means that you may not harm them in anyway without a licence.

Engagement approach

Because each community and each camp is different, no single approach to engagement is suited to every community. Land managers should develop engagement approaches that are fit for purpose in each circumstance.

The following steps may be useful for developing an effective community engagement strategy, based on principles from the International Association of Public Participation. Each step has been interpreted in the specific context of managing flying-fox issues. It is common to loop back between steps as the engagement approach is refined.

Steps in engagement

Step 1: Gain commitment within the land manager's organisation(s) to a strategy of community engagement

Commitment to ongoing community engagement is particularly important in the context of flying-foxes. Camps often develop over many years and the relationship between the community, the land manager and the flying-foxes is similarly long-term. One option is to convene an internal working group, bringing together people from parts of the organisation that need to be involved at the initial stages and those who need to be involved as the management plan develops.

Office of Environment and Heritage can help land managers develop a common understanding across the organisation of the nature of flying-fox camps and the role of community engagement by providing:

  • accurate and easy to understand information about flying-foxes
  • case studies from other communities experiencing flying-fox issues
  • advice on community engagement techniques
  • advice on camp management approaches.

Office of Environment and Heritage can also help in presenting information to key decision makers.

As part of gaining internal commitment to engagement, the land manager should:

  • develop a preliminary list of issues and stakeholders
  • develop a preliminary statement of the issue, and outline the decisions that may need to be made, and ways in which the community can be involved in decision-making.

Step 2: Understand community perspectives

Land managers should enhance their understanding of the issues in the community by scanning existing information, such as prior correspondence with the community and stakeholders, logs of complaints and media coverage. Informal stakeholder meetings can also be useful at this stage.

Understanding community perspectives will help to:

  • scope the issues, level of controversy and level of support for conservation
  • form a view of who the stakeholders are and their interests, and
  • gauge community expectations around their level of involvement in managing flying-fox issues.

Step 3: Select the level of community engagement

Not all community members need to be engaged at the same level for every issue. Choosing the appropriate level of engagement for each audience at various stages of the project helps clarify expectations about what the community is being asked to contribute, and how these contributions will influence decisions.

The IAP2's Public Participation Spectrum can assist land managers to select the appropriate level of engagement and identify tools or methods to use:

  Decision making process
  Inform Consult Involve Collaborate Empower
Public participation goal To provide the public with balanced and objective information to assist them in understanding the problem, alternatives, opportunities and/or solutions. To obtain public feedback on analysis, alternatives and/or decisions. To work directly with the public throughout the process to ensure that public concerns and aspirations are consistently understood and considered. To partner with the public in each aspect of the decision including the development of alternatives and the identification of the preferred solution. To place final decision-making in the hands of the public.
Promise to the public We will keep you informed. We will keep you informed, listen to and acknowledge concerns and aspirations, and provide feedback on how public input influenced the decision. We will seek your feedback on drafts and proposals. We will work with you to ensure that your concerns and aspirations are directly reflected in the alternatives developed and provide feedback on how public input influenced the decision. We will work together with you to formulate solutions and incorporate your advice and recommendations into the decisions to the maximum extent possible. We will implement what you decide.
Example techniques Fact sheets, web sites Public comment, focus groups, surveys, public meetings Workshops, deliberative polling Citizen advisory committees, consensus-building, participatory decision-making Citizen juries, ballots, delegated decision

Step 4: Define the decision process and engagement objectives

Land managers need to be clear about what role the community can take in decision-making and how their contribution will influence flying-fox camp management.

Engagement objectives should be defined in terms of what the organisation is seeking when involving the community, such as building understanding of flying-fox issues in the community, generating management options, or prioritising and costing management options.

To establish the decision-making process, land managers should consider:

  • how the flying-fox camp might change or develop over time and the community concerns that might arise as a result
  • the nature of management decisions that may need to be made and who is accountable for those decisions.

To establish community engagement objectives, land managers should consider:

  • how the community can participate in decision-making
  • the level of control required by the decision-maker.

Office of Environment and Heritage can help land managers in this scoping process.

Step 5: Determine the strategy to engage the community

It is preferable to document the community engagement strategy. The document should detail the agreed approach for working with the community on flying-fox issues. It serves as an implementation guide by:

  • recording the engagement objectives
  • providing a detailed list of stakeholders and their interests
  • explaining community engagement methods and techniques that will be used to reach the target audiences, including available resources, budget and timeframe
  • including a list of success criteria and methods for evaluating success.

The strategy should be updated throughout the project to maintain relevance and deal with emerging issues.

Further information

The Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government has developed an online database of community engagement resources, including techniques, principles and guidelines.

Office of Environment and Heritage is committed to working with land managers and communities to raise awareness about how to effectively manage the challenges of living with flying-foxes.

Further information is available from the Office of Environment and Heritage 131 555 or email

Page last updated: 24 April 2018