Level 3 actions: camp disturbance or dispersal

Level 3 flying-fox camp management actions attempt to relocate a flying-fox camp by disturbance or dispersal or staged removal of roost vegetation.

Level 3 management actions should not be carried out with the aim of killing or harming flying-foxes.

They should be considered a last resort in managing flying-fox camps because the outcomes of dispersal can't be predicted with any certainty.

Plans for disturbance or dispersal actions should be developed as part of a camp management plan using the camp management plan template (DOC 355KB). You may need a licence.

This page gives more information about camp disturbance or dispersal and should be read in conjunction with the Flying-fox Camp Management Code of Practice 2018 and Flying-fox Camp Management Policy 2015 (PDF 200KB).

What to consider before implementing Level 3 management actions

Dispersal approaches are very costly, require ongoing commitment and maintenance, are often not successful and rarely result in desirable outcomes for all stakeholders.

Dispersal involves stress for flying-foxes, and may lead to increased human health risk, nuisance issues, or human/flying-fox conflict at other sites or in neighbouring local government areas.

Dispersal of flying-foxes doesn't have a certain outcome - uncertainty comes in many forms, for example: 

  • Will the dispersal be permanent, or will flying-foxes return to the camp once the source of disturbance stops?
  • Will the dispersed animals move to another established camp, or will they establish new camps nearby?
  • Will any new camps resulting from dispersal occur in areas far from or close to human settlements such as schools, hospitals or residential areas?
  • Will the authority conducting the dispersal be held responsible for the establishment of new camps in other jurisdictions?
  • Will costs run according to budget, or will ongoing management and other complications result in budget overruns?
  • Will the community be supportive of the dispersal, or will conflicting views result in difficult community interactions?
  • Will the dispersal have minimal impact on the welfare and health of flying-foxes, or will it result in flying-foxes spreading out across the landscape and thus increasing the potential for close contact and increased conflict between flying-foxes and humans?

A review of past flying-fox dispersal attempts in Australia (PDF 533KB) documents the difficulty and the low success rate of dispersal attempts.

Given the uncertainty about dispersal, any land manager considering dispersing flying-foxes must have exhausted all other options before attempting the dispersal. This approach is consistent with the hierarchy of actions in the Flying-fox camp Camp management Management Policy 2015.

For example, dispersal may not be necessary if routine camp management (Level 1) or buffer creation (Level 2) actions can adequately mitigate the impacts of flying-foxes on the local community.

Community engagement is an important part of any camp management plan. The local community should be engaged before undertaking any camp management actions.

If active dispersal is proposed, impacts on the community can be significant. It is not uncommon for industrial-level noise to be used in flying-fox dispersals for hours at a time before dawn, for many weeks.

Significant impacts on local residents can include:

  • sleep disruption between 4am and 7am on dispersal days
  • stress for noise-sensitive pets
  • irritation from the smoke used for dispersal
  • disturbance during night vegetation management
  • increased flying-fox vocalising/noise during the day.

Some impact is likely for residents within 150 metres of the roost, and possibly up to 300 metres.

Dispersal can also bring emotionally-charged responses from the community - from those opposing and from those supporting the action.

There are three dispersal methods: passive, active and a combination of the two.

Passive dispersal involves removing vegetation in stages. This gradually makes a camp unattractive as a roosting site and flying-foxes disperse of their own accord.

This method is less stressful for flying-foxes, and greatly reduces the risk of splinter camps forming in other locations.

Generally, a significant proportion of vegetation needs to be removed to achieve dispersal of flying-foxes from a camp and to prevent camp re-establishment.

Active dispersal involves creating a disturbance to deter flying-foxes from landing at the camp after overnight foraging. The disturbance can involve sound, light and other physical deterrents.

Active dispersal is disruptive for nearby residents, given the time and kind of activities. Additional risk management and welfare impact mitigation strategies are needed for active dispersal.

A combination of passive and active dispersal methods may be required to achieve a successful long-term outcome.

Because there many uncertainties involved with dispersals, camp management plans should include detailed planning for stop-work triggers and contingencies.

Triggers to stop the dispersal at the main camp could include unacceptable levels of stress, injury and death of flying-foxes. Contingency plans may be required to anticipate and manage dispersals at nearby locations where camp establishment would be problematic.

During and immediately after periods of population stress like widespread heat stress or food stress, Level 3 management actions should stop. Food stress may be apparent if large numbers of low-body-weight animals are being reported by wildlife carers in the region.

When daytime temperatures are expected to climb above 30°C, consider postponing Level 3 management actions to avoid the risk of heat stress. When daytime temperatures are expected to climb above 35°C, Level 3 actions must be postponed until temperatures fall below 35°C and ideally below 30°C.

Detailed consideration of the budget for dispersal actions and related activities will be required.

Level 3 management actions are not recommended during critical reproductive periods, from the time when the resident female flying-foxes are heavily pregnant until the time young can fly independently. This is generally from August to May for grey-headed and black flying-foxes and April to December for little red flying-foxes.

The timing of the reproductive cycle varies between species, between years and between sites. Expert assessment on a site-by-site basis is needed to make sure Level 3 management actions are timed appropriately.

For sites with grey-headed and/or black flying-foxes

Month Actions
January, February, March, April Level 1, 2 and 3 management actions not recommended
May, June, July, August Level 1, 2 and 3 management actions may be allowed
September, October, November, December Level 1, 2 and 3 management actions not recommended

The cumulative impacts of flying-fox camp dispersals can negatively impact on the conservation of the species and the ecosystem services flying-foxes provide and support.

Passive dispersal using vegetation removal requires consideration of any significant ecological impacts on the roost site.


Do I need approvals or licences for Level 3 management actions?

Public land managers must apply for a licence from the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water or implement Level 3 actions as prescribed by the Flying-fox Camp Management Code of Practice 2018.

Private land managers must obtain a licence from the department.

Land managers should take note of the following legislation:

Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979

Approval from the department to disturb or disperse flying-foxes does not remove the need to abide by the requirements of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979.

Read the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 for more information.

Approval under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979

Actions that are licensed by the department or consistent with the Flying-fox Camp management Code of Practice 2018 may also require approval under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 if they constitute 'development' for the purposes of that Act.

Read the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 for more information. 

Approval under Australian Government legislation

Camp management actions undertaken in or near camps of grey-headed flying-foxes may also require approval under Australian Government legislation.

The Australian Government provides guidance on whether management actions at a flying-fox camp are 'controlled actions' under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

How do I implement Level 3 management actions?

The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water recommends that a detailed feasibility assessment is conducted by the proponent for any proposed Level 3 management actions.

The feasibility assessment should be included in the camp management plan.

The assessment should include:

  • regional and site assessments
  • proposed methods and timing
  • cost estimates
  • stop-work triggers
  • contingency plans
  • assessment of environmental, social, health and safety, financial and legislative risks.

The assessment will help to determine if the results of a dispersal attempt are likely to be successful and permanent.

Flying-foxes have a preferred foraging radius of about 20 kilometres.

A regional assessment should be undertaken to identify existing camps within a 30 kilometre radius and potential flying-fox camp sites within a 6 kilometre radius of the dispersal site. A recent study showed that flying-foxes generally relocate within 6 kilometres of the original camp when dispersed (Ecosure and Griffith University, unpublished data).

Existing camps nearby may be the most likely recipients of any dispersed flying-foxes, and land managers for those camps should be identified and notified about the proposed dispersal.

Suitability of potential roost habitat near the dispersal site should be assessed on the basis of detailed criteria including availability of dispersal corridors, availability and accessibility of food and water, size, plant species composition, canopy structure, proposed developments, and proximity to sensitive areas such as schools, hospitals and residential areas.

The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water recommends using a rigorous and systematic decision-making process to identify potential habitat and exclude non-suitable habitat. Use GIS-aided identification, aerial photographs and computer modelling for establishing weighted criteria and determining site suitability scores.

Any potential roost habitat in close proximity (less than 300 metres) to human settlements can be contentious if occupied by flying-foxes dispersed from the dispersal site. The potential roost habitat should be clearly identified in the camp management plan and contingency plans developed and costed for each site if they become occupied as a result of the dispersal. Discussions and agreements with neighbouring councils are likely to be required where potential habitat is identified in their areas.

Any potential roost habitat that occurs more than 300 metres from human settlements should be investigated to determine its suitability as an alternate roost site. The camp management plan should consider whether these sites could benefit from habitat enhancement to make them more suitable as roost sites. Habitat enhancements could include improving water availability, establishing protective ground cover, or planting with future roosting trees. These should be implemented well before the proposed dispersal.

A detailed plan of the proposed dispersal site should be developed and include high-resolution mapping that identifies the approximate total area of the camp and the approximate area occupied by flying-foxes, both now and in the past.

The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water recommends a site visit before starting any management actions to ground-truth the mapping and to have a suitably qualified/skilled person conduct an assessment of the camp.

The site assessment should include a population assessment of the camp to determine population numbers, presence/ratio of dependent young (flightless and flying), presence/ratio of lactating or late-pregnancy females, as well as a visual assessment of the health of grey-headed flying-fox individuals.

If vegetation clearing is the proposed method of dispersal, the location and size of the area, and the vegetation type that would need to be cleared or altered once flying-foxes have left the site should also be identified.

An assessment of the likely ecological consequences of any clearing should be conducted by a suitably qualified expert.

If active dispersal is used, disturbance must be carried out using non-lethal means, such as acoustic, visual and/or physical disturbance, or smoke.

Disturbance activities must be limited to a maximum of 2.5 hours in any 12 hour period, preferably at or before sunrise or at sunset. Disturbance should stop at least 30 minutes before sunrise to allow the flying-foxes to find a roost.

If passive dispersal is used, make sure that trees are not felled, lopped or have large branches removed when flying-foxes are in or near a tree and likely to be harmed. The action must not involve clearing all the vegetation supporting the flying-fox camp. 

Before starting Level 3 management actions, conduct a health and safety risk assessment to determine the appropriate levels of personal protective equipment required and to identify protocols to minimise risks to both the public and flying-foxes.

Workers should be made aware of the potential health risks associated with working with flying-foxes. Refer to the Flying-foxes and Human Health fact sheet for more information.

A public communication program should be established to notify local residents of the proposed dispersal and other information as appropriate, including health and safety advice. A copy of the program should be provided to the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water.

A protocol based on the NSW Code of Practice for Injured, Sick and Orphaned Flying-Foxes (PDF 85KB) should be developed and made available to all relevant council staff, local residents and volunteers before the actions begin. Also contact local wildlife rescue and rehabilitation groups before the actions begin.

To minimise risk and avoid detailed planning requirements, any dispersal proposed during a time of significant population stress should be postponed. Instead, Level 1 and Level 2 management actions could be used to mitigate any human-flying-fox conflicts until the population is no longer under significant stress.

Dispersal actions must be supervised by a person with knowledge and experience relevant to the management of flying-foxes and their habitat, who can identify dependent young and is aware of climatic extremes and food stress events. This person must make an assessment of the relevant conditions and advise the supervisor/proponent whether the activity can go ahead.

Notification of the dispersal start date must be provided to the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water and any land managers of flying-fox camps within 30 kilometres of the dispersal site within business hours, and at least 48 hours before actions are to begin

To ensure appropriate management of noise issues, liaison with the NSW Environment Protection Authority may be required.

The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water will generally stipulate a number of conditions for licensed dispersal actions. These conditions set limitations on when the dispersal is allowed, identify stop-work triggers and define monitoring and reporting requirements.

Conditions can include:

  • The establishment of a dispersal team of appropriately experienced, trained, inducted and vaccinated personnel.
  • The presence of an appropriately qualified flying-fox expert during dispersal activities to monitor the behavioural response of the flying-foxes to the disturbance.
  • The presence of a licensed wildlife carer during dispersal activities in the event of any injury to flying-foxes.
  • The presence of a representative of the proponent (for example a council officer) during dispersal activities to ensure that licence conditions are met.
  • Instructions for the nature and timing of disturbance allowed during dispersal activities.
  • The establishment of a designated rest area within the flying-fox camp as a refuge for flying-foxes during disturbance, to be reduced in size over the course of dispersal activities.
  • Limits on the nature, timing and extent of vegetation clearing to be used in passive dispersal.

Past dispersal attempts have shown that continued disturbance may likely be required to ensure that flying-foxes don't return to the dispersal site. The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water may allow maintenance dispersals to be implemented at the original camp to prevent the camp from re-establishing.

Maintenance dispersals may be carried out between March and December, provided there are no dependent young or individuals in visibly poor health in the camp. This should be determined by a suitably qualified flying-fox expert.

If, despite maintenance actions, flying-foxes continue to persist in numbers comparable with pre-dispersal numbers the program should be reconsidered in consultation with the department.

Nearby residents must be notified of any maintenance action, in a timeframe agreed to by the residents.

The action must be supervised by a person approved by the department and with knowledge and experience relevant to the management of flying-foxes and their habitat, who can satisfactorily identify that flightless young or individuals in poor health are not present. This person must make an assessment of the relevant conditions and advise the site supervisor whether the activity can go ahead.

Land managers must contact the department during the planning stage of any maintenance dispersals.

When flying-foxes are dispersed from a camp, it's likely they will find alternative roost sites within 6 kilometres of the original camp.

Appropriate contingency plans and associated budget and resource planning are essential to address the likelihood of implementing actions at other sites, and if relevant including discussions and agreements with neighbouring councils.

The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water must be notified if the proponent of the dispersal becomes aware of new flying-fox camps (splinter camps) establishing or if there is an influx of flying-foxes at nearby established camps. If this occurs, an assessment will be made about whether the site is an appropriate flying-fox roost site in consultation with the proponent and the relevant land owner/manager.

An alternative roost site may be suitable if:

  • The camp is unlikely to negatively impact on any threatened species, populations or ecological communities or their habitats.
  • The neighbouring land owners or land managers accept occupancy within their land or neighbouring areas.
  • There is a minimum 300-metre buffer separating the camp from residential dwellings, or if the buffer is less than this, only with neighbouring land owner and land manager approval.
  • There is capacity to provide a large enough area of suitable roosting habitat.

If the splinter camp or the influx at an existing camp is deemed inappropriate according to these criteria, then a dispersal at that site may also be required, provided:

  • More than 50 flying-foxes have settled at the site for more than 3 days. This is unless the flying-fox expert is satisfied that the site is unlikely to be a temporary refuge that may be naturally abandoned, in which case the action can be undertaken if fewer than 50 flying-foxes have settled at the site for less than 3 days.
  • Stakeholders (including land owners and land managers) have agreed to the timing and duration of disturbances.
  • All costs associated with the dispersal, including community consultation, are the responsibility of the original proponent.

If there is an influx of flying-foxes at nearby known camps, and the department considers it likely that these impacts have been caused by the action at the dispersal site, but a dispersal is not considered appropriate, then the proponent will provide assistance to the relevant land manager to ameliorate impacts of the displaced flying-foxes on amenity issues, and impacts on the displaced flying-foxes.

Details of this assistance are to be developed in consultation with the department.

To avoid or mitigate unnecessary impacts on flying-foxes, roost habitat and local residents, triggers for adaptive management should be clearly outlined in the camp management plan.

The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water should be notified if any of the trigger points are reached.

Triggers to stop the dispersal program can include:

  • Unacceptable levels of stress, fatigue, injury or death of flying-foxes.
  • A certain number of noise complaints.
  • Impacts are created or exacerbated at other locations, including existing flying-fox camps, and there are unlikely to be sufficient resources available to manage these impacts.
  • Splinter camps become established at inappropriate locations and the Department or the proponent considers that for ecological, social or other reasons, a dispersal at the splinter location is not appropriate.
  • An ongoing proliferation of splinter camps in unsuitable locations.
  • More than 50% of the total grey-headed flying-foxes occupying the camp during pre-dispersal monitoring are still present after a nominated period of dispersal activity.
  • More than a nominated number of maintenance or splinter camp dispersals are required within any 12-month period.
  • A camp is recolonised despite ongoing maintenance dispersals.
  • Budget or other resources are exhausted.

If the dispersal program is stopped, the proponent should reassess the program in consultation with the department.

Monitoring, evaluating and reporting

Dispersals are likely to require significant monitoring and evaluation effort, involving dedicated capacity and funding.

Monitoring is essential to assess the effectiveness of actions trialled and what has and hasn't worked when managing flying-fox camps. It will help the development of more effective management actions in the future and help other land managers or landholders manage their flying-fox camps.

Monitoring is likely to be included in licence conditions. Conditions can include:

  • Identifying existing camps within a 30 kilometre radius of the dispersal site and conducting population surveys at these sites in the week before, daily during the dispersal, and 1 week, 1 month, 6 months and 12 months after the dispersal.
  • Identifying potential flying-fox roost sites within a 6 kilometre radius of the dispersal site, assessing suitability as potential roost habitat and conducting population surveys at these sites daily during the dispersal, and at least once in the 12 months after the dispersal.
  • Mapping the flying-fox camp where dispersal is planned, including key features and how they are used by flying-foxes in the week before dispersal, during dispersal activities, and 1 month after the dispersal. This may include mapping of the structure and composition of the vegetation in and around the camp.
  • Conducting detailed flying-fox counts at the dispersal site including species present, numbers, condition of animals, and the presence of pregnant females or females with young in the week before dispersal and daily during dispersal activities. Also conducting counts of the number of injured, orphaned and dead flying-foxes during the 7 days following the principal dispersal event. Attention should be given to whether the breeding status of the animals has changed as a trigger for stopping dispersal activities. Surveys should also be conducted 1 month, 6 months and 12 months after the management actions are complete to understand the long-term impact of the actions.
  • Measuring the area and composition of roost vegetation removed through clearing, and any area of additional habitat identified or revegetated.
  • Recording details of flying-fox behaviour during management activities, including signs of visible distress, injury or death. Any deaths should be assessed by a vet to determine the cause. Working with wildlife carers to monitor any increase in the number of flying-foxes being taken into care or showing signs of stress, including aborted young.
  • Surveying affected neighbours and the local community before and after management actions to monitor their response to the outcomes is an integral part of the community engagement strategy. Surveys may also be required at other sites that receive an influx of flying-foxes from the dispersal. Recording any responses or complaints about the dispersal activities from residents or other individuals or groups.
  • Recording the details of the disturbance methods, timing, spatial extent, daily duration, triggers and contingencies for each site where activities are conducted. Assessing any outcomes of the dispersal activities, including community responses.

Monitoring datasheets are available for monitoring Level 3 management actions. Information should be sent to flying.fox@environment.nsw.gov.au, and used by the land manager to inform future management decisions. 

Need help or more information?

The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water helps local government, public authority land managers and individual land holders to choose the right level of intervention for their situation.

Contact us at Flying-fox Mailbox.