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Flying fox numbers start to dwindle after big influx during eucalypt flowering season on NSW South Coast

ABC NEWS logo ABC NEWS 26/05/2022
A flying fox camp at Batemans Bay in New South Wales. (Supplied: Bay Post/Moruya Examiner) © Provided by ABC NEWS A flying fox camp at Batemans Bay in New South Wales. (Supplied: Bay Post/Moruya Examiner)

They're an endangered animal pivotal in maintaining local environments and pollinating native trees.

They're also annoying, loud, smelly and messy.

This year, grey-headed flying foxes have stuck around longer than usual and in larger numbers on the New South Wales South Coast, as a mass flowering of eucalypts causes a feeding frenzy.

The Eurobodalla Shire Council estimates about 40,000 of the animals have been in the area.

But there are signs the bats could be moving on, with fewer of the animals reported in the past fortnight at camps in Catalina, Batemans Bay Water Gardens, Moruya Heads, Tuross and Narooma.

Eurobodalla Shire Council's flying fox officer, Natalie Foster, said the bats would leave when the eucalypts stopped flowering.

"I would think, based on the records we have, by the end of June they would be back to very small numbers," she said.

Smell, mess and noise

Catalina resident Cassie Davis is ready for the bats to move on.

"I would never wish any harm on them," she said.

"I just wish they would leave my laundry alone."

On her property she has a number of cocos palms, an introduced tree which bears fruit the bats love to eat.

It means hundreds flock over her backyard once the sun goes down.

"You can't really leave your washing out on the line because you'll face poo everywhere, all over it," she said.

"Our cars get covered, especially without a carport.

"When they drop the seeds on the pergola, it sounds like little bombs are going off."

Mass flowering event leads to feeding frenzy

The last mass flowering event was in 2016, when more than 300,000 bats descended on the area.

At the time, the council tried to move them on, going as far as playing loud rock music.

Since then, a strategy has been put in place to deal with the yearly influx.

The council provides free odour pots and pressure-washer hire for people to clean away animal faeces.

But residents are being discouraged from trying to move the animals on.

"Some people are upset, and some people who went through it in 2016 are obviously worried it will get as bad as that," Ms Foster said.

"We don't advise that people disturb them in any way – even just walking through the camps can make them very noisy. It won't move them on, it'll just upset them and make them louder."

The council has also offered to remove cocos palms for free, though Ms Davis applied for the program nearly a year and a half ago and is yet to hear back.

 "I have tried playing rock music, but it hasn't deterred them," she said.

Annoying but important

The grey-headed flying fox is listed nationally as a threatened species, vulnerable to extinction due to population decline and habitat loss.

John Martin from the Taronga Conservation Society said they were important pollinators that acted like giant bees to connect trees across the landscape.

"The reason why this species are unique is because of how far they fly," Dr Martin said.

The animals can connect trees across tens of kilometres in a 50-kilometre radius or even further, sometimes up to 200km or 300km away.

"If we think about how we've fragmented our landscape with cities and farming, these bats are actually connecting trees across our landscape despite us altering them," Dr Martin said.

Ms Foster said while the fruit bats were annoying, the abundance of food was good for the struggling species.

"They [the eucalyptus trees] haven't really flowered here since the drought and the fires," she said.

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