Licences to harm flying-foxes

Protecting commercial crops from flying-fox damage.

Flying-foxes are important to native Australian ecosystems as they spread seeds and pollinate native plants. New South Wales has 3 species of flying-fox. They are the grey-headed flying-fox, the black flying-fox and the little red flying-fox. All 3 are protected native species. The grey-headed flying-fox is also listed as Vulnerable to extinction under the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 and the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

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. The scheme was introduced to eliminate the need to issue shooting licences to mitigate flying-fox damage to crops.

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 5 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. The netting subsidy program closed on 30 June 2017.

Obtaining a licence

Shooting flying-foxes to mitigate commercial crop damage may be licensed in NSW under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016.

From 1 July 2015, the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (formerly Office of Environment and Heritage) 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.

The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment currently grants licences to commercial orchardists to shoot flying-foxes as a last resort and only where flying-foxes are impacting crop yield. These licences are a class of biodiversity conservation licence granted under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016.

An independent review was commissioned in 2008 to assess the validity of the NSW licensing policy for the legal harm (including killing) of flying-foxes. The key findings of the NSW Flying-fox Licensing Review Panel released in 2009 were that:

  • the animal welfare issues arising from shooting flying-foxes are ethically and legally unacceptable
  • shooting is ineffective at reducing crop damage when large numbers of flying-foxes visit orchards. Full exclusion netting provides the most effective protection against flying-fox damage
  • the NSW fruit-growing industry could rely solely on exclusion netting as the means of flying-fox crop damage mitigation.

Since 1 July 2015, licences have only been granted under special circumstances, subject to strict limits.

The Department will maintain a register of all licences granted under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 and will publish these on the Department website.

Special circumstance conditions

From 1 July 2020, the Department only grants licences to shoot flying-foxes where it considers that flying-fox damage to orchards is the result of the following special circumstances: 

  • the orchard is established before 1 July 2011 (new orchardists should be aware of potential flying-fox impacts)
  • flying-foxes are impacting on crop types never previously impacted in Australia
  • there are topographical or physical constraints preventing the installation of exclusion netting
  • there has been fewer than three licences granted for a particular orchard within the last ten years.

These special circumstance conditions will expire on 30 June 2021. From 1 July 2021, licences to commercial orchardists to shoot flying-foxes will no longer be issued. 

Definitions

Crop types never previously impacted in Australia exclude the crop types in Table 1, for which there are existing reports that flying-foxes may feed on them.

Table 1: Crops known to be impacted by flying-foxes
Crop type  Scientific name  Reference
 Peach, apricot, plum, nectarine, cherry, hybrids Prunus spp. Eby 1995, NPWS 1999
 Apple Malus spp. Eby 1995, NPWS 1999
Pear, Australian paradise pear, nashi Pyrus spp.  NPWS 1999, Ullio 2002
Banana  Musa spp.  Eby 1995, NPWS 1999
Grape  Vitis spp.  Eby 1995, NPWS 1999 
Citrus  Citrus spp.  Eby 1995, Ullio 2002 
Mulberry  Morus spp Eby 1995, NPWS 1999 
Guava  Psidium spp. Eby 1995, NPWS 1999 
Avocado  Persea americana  NPWS 2001 
Fig  Ficus spp.  NPWS 2000 
Persimmon  Diospyros spp.  Eby 1995, NPWS 2002 
Mango  Mangifera spp.  Eby 1995, NPWS 1999 
Papaya  Carica papyra   Eby 1995, NPWS 1999  
Loquat  Eriobotrya japonica  NPWS 1999 
Lychee  Litchi chinensis  Eby 1995, NPWS 1999 
Longan  Dimocarpus longan  Ullio 2002 
Rambutan  Nephelium lappaceum  Ullio 2002 
Custard apple  Annona reticulata  Eby 1995, Ullio 2002 
Coffee  Coffea spp.  NPWS 2001, Waples 2002 
Passionfruit  Passiflora edulis DECC 2008 
Jackfruit  Artocarpus heterophyllus  Lim et al. 1993 
Breadfruit  Artocarpus altilis  Lim et al. 1993  
Starapple  Chrysopyhllum cainito  Lim et al. 1993 
Hogs plum  Spondias mombin  Lim et al. 1993 
Cashew  Anacardium occidentale  Lim et al. 1993 
Sapodilla Manilkara zapota  Lim et al. 1993 
Peach palm  Bactris gasipaes  Lim et al. 1993  
Waterapple  Syzygium samarangense  Lim et al. 1993  

Topographical or physical constraints are situations where installing exclusion netting is not practical due to the following physical constraints. Applications claiming topographical constraints preventing exclusion netting are required to be supported by letters from two netting contractors and photographic evidence.

Table 2: Topographical or physical constraints and thresholds
Constraint  Threshold for consideration
 Steep slope 20° or more, or professional opinion of netting contractors 
Obstructions from powerlines  Unable to achieve minimum clearance of 3 m between netting and overhead powerlines, or professional opinion of netting contractors 
Obstructions from pipes and other infrastructure Professional opinion of netting contractors

Procedure

  • Orchardists will notify their local National Parks and Wildlife Service Area Office that fruit trees (including fruit and/or branches and twigs) have been damaged by flying-foxes. Orchardists will need to provide evidence of this damage.
  • The Department may issue a shooting licence if there are reasonable grounds that meet the special circumstances outlined in this document.
  • Orchardists may consider modifying orchards to resolve topographical or physical constraints that prevent installing exclusion netting.
  • If a licence application is received for a crop type that has not previously been affected by flying-foxes, the crop type and date of application will be added to the above table and published on the Department website. The Department may grant a shooting licence to the orchardist for that crop type, as well as other orchardists who planted this crop type before it was added to the table.
  • If a local council declines a development application for installing full exclusion netting, a letter from council detailing the reasons must accompany the licence application.

Only one application per property is required to license up to 5 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 (DOC 86KB).

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 National Parks and Wildlife Service (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 and the requirements to fill in and return Flying-fox Record Sheets (DOC 84KB). 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 (DOC 86KB) requests must be in writing to the issuing NPWS office and accompanied by a Flying-fox Record Sheet (DOC 84KB). 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.

Technique Method Success/comments
Netting – full exclusion netting Netting held firmly in place by a rigid structure of poles and tensioned cables over the entire orchard. Very high.

Method is initially expensive to set up and may be damaged by cyclones, high wind and hail.
Netting – tunnel netting and throwover netting Netting that is supported by light frames or draped directly over trees and vines. Nets are reusable and removed after harvest.

See Wildlife Friendly Netting.
Less successful than full-canopy. Often suitable where full exclusion netting is not, due to ease of set up.

Fruit touching the net can be damaged by flying-foxes on the outside of the net.

Initial outlay may be less expensive than full-exclusion, however set-up time must be repeated each year.
Bags Fruit protection bags placed over fruit. Reasonably successful. Has been used on banana crops.

Labour intensive and costly. Not feasible for most commercial farmers.
Sound Replaying recorded sounds including loud sudden noises, natural predator calls or sonic sounds. Reports of medium success in the short-term. However flying-foxes may become accustomed to the sound if no danger presents.

May be more successful if combined with other methods such as light and radar detection systems (e.g. Phoenix Wailer).

Also more successful if sound, light and scaring options localities are rotated around the property (avoiding deterrent desensitisation).
Lights Flashing strobe lights and bright light grids over orchards; long wavelength lasers. Medium success in the short-term. However flying-foxes can become accustomed to the sound if no danger presents.

May be more successful if combined with other methods.

Also more successful if sound, light and scaring options localities are rotated around the property (avoiding deterrent desensitisation).

The NSW Government commissioned an independent review panel to determine whether the current Department licensing policy for the legal harm (including killing) of flying-foxes in NSW remains valid (environmentally, economically and socially), particularly for the threatened grey-headed flying-fox. The review panel considered whether:

  • the animal welfare issues that result from shooting are acceptable legally and ethically
  • shooting of the threatened grey-headed flying-fox is impacting on the viability of the species
  • shooting is effective in reducing levels of crop damage, compared with other available, nonlethal techniques (including full exclusion netting)
  • industry has the capacity to solely rely on netting

The panel concluded that:

  • the animal welfare issues that result from shooting as a method of mitigating crop damage caused by flying-foxes are unacceptable ethically and legally
  • it is highly probable that the Grey-headed Flying-fox population is in decline and that any additional mortality can only increase the rate of decline. No matter what the causes, all death, mortalities are additive. Therefore any orchard shooting will hasten decline of the flying fox population, albeit by only a relatively small amount
  • shooting is ineffective when larger numbers of flying fox visit orchards. Full exclusion netting provides the most effective protection against damage from flying fox
  • the industry could rely solely on exclusion netting, as the means of Grey-headed Flying-fox crop damage mitigation. It is considered unlikely that netting would be erected to any large extent, in the Sydney area, without adequate government grants

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