Nature conservation

Threatened species

Why was the grey-headed flying-fox listed as vulnerable? How does this affect me?

In May 2001, the NSW Scientific Committee made a final determination to list the grey-headed flying-fox as a vulnerable species under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act (TSC Act). On this page, you'll find answers to some frequently asked questions about this decision.

In December 2001, the grey-headed flying-fox was also listed as vulnerable under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. For more information, visit the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities website.

What does the final determination mean?

In making its final determination to list the grey-headed flying-fox as a vulnerable species, the NSW Scientific Committee reviewed all the available scientific information about the species and considered all submissions made regarding the preliminary determination.

The committee bases its determinations on scientific evidence on the conservation status of the species. Under the TSC Act, the committee is not required to consider social or economic factors.

Why are grey-headed flying-foxes vulnerable when there are still lots around?

Evidence indicates that this species declined by around 30 per cent in the space of 10 years, from more than 560,000 animals in 1989 to estimates of approximately 400,000 at the time of listing.

The decline in grey-headed flying-foxes may not be obvious in some places. As their natural habitat is lost through clearing, these animals become more concentrated in localised areas where feeding and roosting habitat is still available. Also, as flying-foxes move along the east coast of Australia in response to feeding resources there may be large influxes of animals at certain times of the year, for example when a favoured eucalypt species is flowering.

The NSW Scientific Committee has identified habitat loss as the primary reason for the decline - particularly the important feeding habitat on the coastal plains of northern NSW and southern Queensland.

The continuing loss of these natural food resources means that grey-headed flying-foxes must search elsewhere for food. Farmers may find increasing numbers of flying-foxes in their fruit crops, even though the overall population numbers are declining. This may be particularly obvious in years when native food is scarce due to unsuitable climatic conditions.

Other factors also impact this species such as:

  • shooting and electrocution
  • disturbance at roosting sites
  • destruction of roosts.

How will the listing affect me?

The final determination means that grey-headed flying-foxes are protected under the TSC Act. Anyone wanting to do anything that is likely to harm a vulnerable species or its habitat (for example, by shooting grey-headed flying-foxes, or disturbing roost sites) must have a licence.

Any development requiring consent must, in its application to a local council or other consent authority, take into consideration the potential impacts on grey-headed flying-foxes or their habitat through the application of an assessment of significance. Your council will be able to provide more information about this process.

The harming of grey-headed flying-foxes or their habitat without a licence or a valid development consent could result in prosecution under the TSC Act.

What alternatives are there to harming the animals?

Netting is now widely used by orchardists throughout the state to protect crops. Full crop netting is advocated by Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water, Department of Industry and Investment NSW and the Commonwealth Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Populations and Communities as the only effective way of preventing crop damage by flying-foxes, birds and hail.

The NSW Rural Assistance Authority provides assistance for growers wanting to net in the form of a low interest loan. For more information on netting and assistance, contact the Rural Assistance Authority.

In some limited instances netting is not feasible due to cost and topography. Other non-lethal alternatives to shooting have been trialed with mixed success:

  • Noise deterrents, such as the Phoenix Bat Wailer and Birdfrite shell crackers, have been used.
  • Olfactory (smell) and visual deterrents also have some potential for success.

There is a need for research into non-lethal crop protection methods to reduce the number of flying-foxes killed. DECCW supports Industry and Investment NSW and industry bodies wherever possible to evaluate new non-lethal technology.

What is DECCW doing to help protect the grey-headed flying-fox?

DECCW is working with a range of organisations to improve our knowledge about these important animals. 

DECCW supports the Australasian Bat Society website in their annual counts, which have been used to estimate the number of grey-headed flying-foxes throughout Australia. The current population in Australia is estimated at 350,000-400,000 and this will be used as a baseline to compare future data and determine if the numbers are increasing or decreasing.

In July 2002, the NPWS, the Department of the Environment and Heritage, Queensland Environment Protection Agency and Victorian Department of Natural Resources and Environment conducted a count of grey-headed flying-foxes throughout their range. Over 400 volunteers participated in the count, including government staff, students and staff of universities, environmental consultants and members of conservation organisations. A further count is planned for April 2003.

The TSC Act provides for the preparation of a Threatened Species Priorities Action Statement (PAS) which outlines actions to recover species and manage threats. The NPWS is required to prepare a recovery plan for all endangered and vulnerable species listed on the TSC Act. A draft national recovery plan for the grey-headed flying-fox.

Recovery plans provide information on what activities are threatening the species and outline what measures will be taken to prevent the species from becoming endangered or extinct. Recovery plans must consider the social and economic implications of their implementation, and they are put on draft exhibition to allow all stakeholders a chance to comment.

As a first step toward preparing the recovery plan, the NPWS has initiated a conservation strategy. The first stage of this has been to map flying-fox roost sites in NSW and to investigate ways of providing protection for roosts. The NPWS is also preparing a flying-fox camp management policy to assist in the conservation and management of flying-fox camp sites. The NPWS will also be looking at identification and protection of important areas of foraging habitat, and identifying areas for rehabilitation and replanting of habitat.

The NPWS is also supportive of any research initiatives into non-lethal methods of crop protection. The NPWS will seek to phase out licensed shooting of grey-headed flying-foxes as alternative crop protection measures become available and encourages a 'shoot to scare' approach at all times.

More information

Find out more about flying-fox management in NSW

Find out more about threatened species protection in NSW

Contact the Scientific Committee for more information

Find out more about the Scientific Committee

Go to the Australasian Bat Society website to find out more about grey-headed flying foxes.

Page last updated: 13 December 2013