Working with communities living with flying-foxes

A flying-fox camp in or near residential and public areas can provoke high levels of concern across the community and impacts need to be managed.

This page will help land managers and communities determine how they deal with flying-fox camps and manage the impacts that are causing greatest concern.

It should be read in conjunction with the Flying-fox Camp Management Policy 2015.

People often find living close to wildlife challenging and living close to flying-foxes is 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. Here the key messages are considered from the different perspectives of land managers and community members.

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
  • need support to design 'fit for purpose' approaches to camp management
  • need 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 have 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.
  • The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment 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, the Department 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.
  • The Department has guidelines for management actions undertaken at flying-fox camps. Licences may be required for some activities.
  • 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 eaten.
  • Land managers and the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment want to involve you in selecting the solutions that will help in your situation.
  • Preventing flying-foxes from 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.

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 5 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.

Step 1
Step 2

 Step 3

Step 4

Step 5

Gain internal commitment to engagement
Understand community perspectives
Select the level of engagement
Define the decision and engagement perspectives
Design your engagement strategy

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

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.

The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment 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.

The Department can also help present 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 help land managers choose the appropriate level of engagement and identify tools or methods to use. 

Step 4: Define the decision-making 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 kind 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.

The Department can help land managers with this scoping process.

Step 5: Document the community engagement strategy

The community engagement strategy should be documented. 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.

There is a range of products and services that may assist communities reduce the impacts of flying-foxes on their amenity. For example, temporary covers for vehicles, clotheslines and swimming pools may prevent droppings from soiling these assets. Alternatively, outdoor areas can be protected by installing a carport, shade cloth, marquee or pergola. High-pressure water cleaners or cleaning services may assist with cleaning droppings from property and the installation of double-glazing on windows may reduce the amount of noise inside dwellings.

Some land managers have implemented subsidy programs to help communities access products and services to reduce the impacts of flying-foxes on their amenity.

The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment carried out a Review of Subsidies for Products and Services to Assist Communities Living with Flying-foxes.The insights from this review are useful for land managers considering how to design subsidy programs and what products and services to offer.

More information

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

The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment is committed to working with land managers and communities to raise awareness about how to effectively manage the challenges of living with flying-foxes.

More information is available from the Department at 1300 361 967 or email info@environment.nsw.gov.au