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, 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.

Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) currently issues licences to property owners to harm a limited number of flying-foxes by shooting as a last resort and only where flying-fox damage has occurred to property. These licences to harm flying-foxes 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.

From 1 July 2015, these licences to shoot flying-foxes to protect crops are only issued in special circumstances.

Special circumstance conditions

From 1 July 2015, OEH only issues licences to shoot flying-foxes as a crop protection measure where it considers that flying-fox damage to orchards is the result of special circumstances. Licences will be issued to shoot flying-foxes for the duration of the incursion, subject to strict limits.

Orchardists can only apply for a licence where the orchard is established before 1 July 2011 (as new orchardists should be aware of potential flying-fox impacts). One or more of the following criteria must also be met:

  • there is an unprecedented incursion (the flying-foxes are impacting on crop types never previously impacted in Australia)
  • the topographical or physical constraints prevent netting
  • the flying-fox impact is unanticipated and not regular (a licence for a particular orchard can only be applied for in 3 years or fewer within any 10-year period).

Until 1 July 2020, orchardists will also be able to apply for licences if they had previously been issued a licence between 1 July 2001 and 30 June 2014. This acknowledges the medium-term financial challenges faced by some small to medium-sized orchard enterprises in NSW and the historic role that shooting has played in their management of flying-foxes.

Definitions

An unprecedented incursion is defined as:

  • Flying-foxes impacting on a crop type that has never previously been recorded as sustaining flying-fox damage anywhere in Australia i.e. a crop type not listed in Table 1 below.
  • Photos from the orchardist and a site inspection from OEH staff will be required.

Letters from two netting contractors and photographic evidence is required to support an application for special circumstances such as topographical or physical constraints.

An unanticipated and not regular incursion is defined as:

  • Flying-foxes are present in an orchard impacting on fruit crops (as indicated by shooting licence applications) in three years or fewer within any 10-year period, commencing 1 July 2011. The 3 years may be consecutive or non-consecutive. After a third licence has been issued within a 10-year period for any given orchard, flying-fox damage may no longer be considered an unanticipated incursion for that orchard. OEH may take into account the number of licences previously issued to an orchardist.

OEH will maintain a register of all licences issued under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 and will publish these on the OEH website.

Table 1: Crops known to be impacted on by flying-foxes

Crop type Scientific name Reference
Stonefruit (incl. peaches, apricots, plums, nectarines, cherries and hybrids) All Prunus spp. 1998/99 annual report
Apples Malus spp. 1998/99 annual report
Pears Pyrus spp. 1998/99 annual report
Australian paradise pear Pyrus spp. Ullio (2002)
Nashi Pyrus pyrifolia (inc. subsp.) 2005/06 annual report
Bananas Musa spp. 1998/99 annual report
Grapes Vitis spp. 1998/99 annual report
Citrus Citrus spp. Ullio (2002)
Mulberries Morus spp. 1998/99 annual report
Guavas Psidium spp. 1998/99 annual report
Avocados Persea americana 2000/01 annual report
Figs Ficus spp. 1999/00 annual report
Persimmons Diospyros spp. 2001/02 annual report
Mangoes Mangifera spp. 1998/99 annual report
Paw paws (papaya) Carica papyra 1998/99 annual report
Loquats Eriobotrya japonica 1998/99 annual report
Lychees Litchi chinensis 1998/99 annual report
Longans Dimocarpus longan Ullio (2002)
Rambutans Nephelium lappaceum Ullio (2002)
Custard apples Annona reticulata Ullio (2002)
Coffee Coffea spp. 2000/01 annual report
Passionfruit Passiflora edulis DECCW (2008)
Mulberry Morus spp. DECCW (2008)
Jackfruit/breadfruit 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)
Bactris (peach palm) Bactris gasipaes Lim et al. (1993)
Waterapple Syzygium samarangense Lim et al. (1993)

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 or that damage is imminent. Orchardists will need to demonstrate this actual or imminent damage.
  • OEH may issue shooting licences on the grounds that topographical constraints prevent netting installation where the slope of the land exceeds 20° and two netting contractors have inspected the property and identified that they are unable to net.
  • OEH will only issue shooting licences on the grounds that powerlines, pipes or other infrastructure prevent netting if a contractor has inspected the property and identified that no options for netting exist, e.g. raising lines, throw over netting or lowering net heights. OEH may accept that powerlines prevent netting installation where the minimum clearance distance between the top of the netting structure and the powerlines is less than 3 metres. Licences may be issued for the area affected by the infrastructure, e.g. the powerline easement.
  • Licences to shoot flying-foxes on the grounds that topographical or physical infrastructure constraints prevent netting will be issued to orchardists for up to 3 years from the date of the first application. This provides orchardists with additional time to acquire funds to meet extra costs associated with resolving issues associated with installing nets on difficult terrain or modifying their orchards to enable nets to be erected.
  • OEH may issue shooting licences on the grounds of unprecedented incursion for un-netted crop types not previously recorded as sustaining flying-fox damage.
  • If a licence application is received for an unprecedented incursion, the crop type and date of application will be added to Table 1 and published on the OEH website. OEH may issue the orchardist with a shooting licence for that crop type for a maximum of three years within any 10-year period from the date of their first application (consecutive or non-consecutive years). This ‘3 year in 10’ condition may only be considered for orchardists who planted this crop type before it was added to Table 1.
  • 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.
  • Until 1 July 2020, orchardists will also be able to apply for licences if they had previously been issued a licence between 1 July 2001 and 30 June 2014. An application for a licence under this ‘Special Circumstance’ will need to be accompanied with adequate information to identify the previous license issued. Licenses issued under this special condition will only be issued to the same named person (or persons) as the previous license was issued to for the same property.

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 (PDF 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 (PDF 73KB). 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 86KB) requests must be in writing to the issuing NPWS office and accompanied by a Flying-fox Record Sheet (PDF 73KB). 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).

OEH commissioned an independent review panel to determine whether the current OEH 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

Download