Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney, Australia

Frequently Asked Questions

For 20 years, grey-headed flying-foxes have camped in the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney, causing extensive damage to the heritage landscape and scientific plant collection. Prior to this occupation, it had been 70 years since the Sydney population of flying-foxes had last used this camp site.

In the 1990s the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust used noise disturbance to reduce the numbers of flying-foxes in the Botanic Garden.When these measures were stopped in 2000, the flying-fox numbers continued to increase until they reached 22,000 in the summers of 2008 and 2010, by which time 28 mature trees, 30 palms and many understorey plants had been killed by the roosting flying-foxes.

Seven years ago the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne successfully employed a more sophisticated noise disturbance program to relocate up to 30,000 grey-headed flying-foxes from their Fern Gully. The flying-foxes have remained in alternative camps and there were no reports of animals harmed during the relocation.

The Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust decided in 2006 that, to save the botanical collections and heritage landscape, the flying-foxes must be relocated using a program similar to that used in Melbourne. Experiences from the 1990s in Sydney indicated they were most likely to join other camps frequented by the Sydney population of flying-foxes.

Flying-foxes are a protected native species and, as a result of population decline associated with habitat loss, are listed as 'vulnerable' under both State and Commonwealth legislation. For this reason, relocation must be approved by both jurisdictions.

Early in 2009, the Trust received conditional approval from the NSW Office of Environment & Heritage (formerly the Department of Environment, Climate Change & Water) for its plan to use noise disturbance to relocate grey-headed flying-foxes from the heritage-listed Royal Botanic Garden to other camps in the Sydney area. The conditions were addressed and the relocation proposal was approved 5 August 2009.

Before granting final approval, the Commonwealth Government requested the preparation of a Public Environment Report (PER). The PER was submitted in October 2009 and it was on display inviting public feedback for 30 business days from 12 November to 23 December 2009.  

Final approval was received on 14 May 2010, one of the provisions was for an Expert Panel to be appointed by the Federal Government who would advise and oversee the relocation. On advice of the Expert Panel, the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust submitted several variation requests to the Commonwealth Government’s conditions.

One, deemed to be of a significant nature by the Commonwealth, was a variation to the noise disturbance methodology. This was to vary the noise disturbance from intermittent noise during the day to only before dawn and around sunset.

This variation was assessed through a 20-day public comment period from March-April, 2012. Final approval from the Commonwealth was given on the 11 May, 2012, allowing the relocation to proceed between May-July 2012.

  1. Why does the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust want to move the flying-fox colony?
  2. The flying-foxes have been there for years. Why is it so important to move them now?
  3. Why are the Botanic Gardens of 'exceptional significance'?
  4. What is the scientific and heritage value of the tree collection?
  5. What type of damage do flying-foxes usually cause to trees/foliage etc.?
  6. Why is the Botanic Garden so appealing to the grey-headed flying-foxes?
  7. When did the flying-foxes first start coming to the Garden?
  8. How many flying-foxes currently reside at the Garden?
  9. What was the process for the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust to get approval to relocate the flying-foxes?
  10. How do you plan to move the flying-foxes from the Garden?
  11. What is the basis of the relocation strategy? Why do you think it will work?
  12. Is the successful relocation of the flying-foxes from the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne a valid role model? The Melbourne camp was reasonably new (1985) and at the edge of the flying-fox known distribution, whilst the camp at the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney is long established with records of flying-foxes in the Gardens going back to the 1800s?
  13. How loud will the noise be? Will it affect nearby residents and businesses?
  14. What impact will the noise disturbance have on the welfare of the flying-foxes?
  15. Will the noise affect other wildlife in the Garden? Will it drive away the birds as well?
  16. How long will the relocation take?
  17. When will the relocation take place?
  18. Will the public access to Sydney's Royal Botanic Garden be affected during the relocation?
  19. Where are the flying-foxes likely to go when they are relocated from the Royal Botanic Garden? 
  20. Will the damaged trees regenerate or is it too late?
  21. Will you just be moving the problem somewhere else? Won't the areas to which the flying-foxes relocate also be in danger of being destroyed?
  22. What will you do if the flying-foxes go to new areas where they are unsafe or unwanted?
  23. How can you be sure the flying-foxes won't just come back next season? Is this a permanent solution?
  24. How will the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust encourage flying-foxes to feed but not roost?
  25. Who are the experts assisting with the proposed relocation?
  26. Can't the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust plant more trees and provide a habitat for the flying-fox?
  27. Why don't you just net the heritage trees to keep them out, like farmers do?
  28. Are people at risk from diseases spread by flying-foxes such as the Lyssavirus?

1. Why does the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust want to move the flying-fox colony?

Roosting flying-foxes are killing significant trees and plants in the Royal Botanic Garden. 

So far, they have killed 28 mature trees, 30 palms and many understorey plants. Over 300 trees and palms are currently being damaged including rare, valuable and heritage species. Over 60 of these are in a critical condition, sustaining severe damage to all or part of their canopies.

Sydney tree expert, Judy Fakes, has advised us that heritage trees in the Palm Grove will continue to die unless we do something now.

As well as direct damage to the tall trees where the flying-foxes roost, palms in the lower canopy, some of which are rare or uncommon, are indirectly affected by sunburn from the loss of the upper canopy and having their fronds plastered with flying-fox guano.

This indirect impact has also caused a significant loss of understorey plants in the Palm Grove (e.g. a lot of wild sourced aroids collected from Malaysia and New Guinea have died).

The recent movement of the camp into the Australian Rainforest bed bordering the Palm Grove threatens more wild-sourced plants. Similarly, their movement into the traditional beds has resulted in the loss of wild species as well as hybrids and cultivars of begonias. Other beds outside the Palm Grove are being affected in the same way.

When the tall trees preferred for roosting are all gone, the flying-foxes will move of their own accord. By then the Garden's oldest trees and many other flora and rare specimens will have been destroyed along with the heritage landscape that they collectively create.

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2. The flying-foxes have been there for years. Why is it so important to move them now?

Flying-foxes have always visited the Garden at night to feed. However, in 1989, flying-foxes established a camp in the Garden for roosting during the day; nearly 70 years after they last roosted there.

Extensive damage to the trees began when the numbers of flying-foxes rose from the low hundreds to thousands. During the annual peak in the summer of 2010 there were 22,000 flying-foxes roosting in the Garden. Even at their lowest numbers in winter, there are usually between 4000 and 7000.

Although a few hundred flying-foxes could live in the Garden and cause minimal damage, these larger numbers in such a small area of tall trees are not sustainable. More significant trees will die and the beautiful landscapes will be destroyed.

If the flying-foxes are not re-located, the Palm Grove will have to be closed for reasons of public health and safety and loss of amenity (the plant collections will not be at a presentable standard).

The Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust wants to discourage flying-foxes from roosting in the day in the Garden but not from feeding here at night.

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3. Why is the Botanic Garden of 'exceptional significance'?

The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney Conservation Management Plan categorises the Garden as an 'exceptional national cultural landscape'.

Historic significance: The site has been under continuous cultivation since European settlement in 1788 and a botanic garden since 1816. It contains the largest and most diverse continuously cultivated plant collection in Australia.

The overall form and content of the Garden's landscape as well as the organisation of the plant collections are the largely intact legacy of the early Directors of the Garden, notably Charles Fraser, Richard and Allan Cunningham, Charles Moore and Joseph Maiden. Under these directors, living and preserved plant collections were acquired that have provided and continue to provide the foundation on which knowledge of Australian plants has been built.

The Garden is a living museum showcasing almost two centuries of taxonomy and horticultural botany on Australian native plants, in particular rainforest trees of NSW and Queensland, Eucalyptus, and plants from the Sydney region.

South Pacific flora was also a subject of collection and study. The mid 19th century exploration and plant discovery in the South Pacific by Charles Moore is represented by a wide range of broadleaf evergreen trees, Palms, and southern Conifers in the Garden. The latter includes type specimens of Agathis species (kauri pines) first studied and published in scientific literature by Moore and other scientists associated with the Garden.

Throughout the 20th century, many distinguished scientists developed and codified knowledge and understanding of Australian plants using the plant acquisitions and research of these early botanical explorers and collectors.

Scientific significance: The Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney holds an important and extensive collection of plants from all around the world. The extraordinary breadth of native and exotic plants was acquired over almost two centuries for the purpose of scientific study, including research for agriculture, ornamental horticulture and industry, and, more recently, conservation of biodiversity.

The organised study, classification and cultivation of the indigenous plants of New South Wales, Australia and the South Pacific region, remain core functions of the Garden and associated National Herbarium of NSW, and are dependent on the living and preserved collections.

(See below, question 4, for further details of the scientific value of the tree collection).

Social significance: The Royal Botanic Garden attracts around four million visitors each year. They are greatly valued by the community and are used by a broad spectrum of people in diverse ways that include rest, recreation, health and fitness, socialising, celebration, education, artistic endeavour, and tourism.

From an early date the site developed a role of increasing the public appreciation and conservation of plants. It continues to perform this important educational function through displays, public lectures, tours and social and cultural events based on the living and preserved collections and the landscape setting.

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4. What is the scientific and heritage value of the tree collection?

The Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney is recognised as holding one of the great tree collections of the world. The collection is a product of the early collection and study of Australian and South Pacific flora by Europeans and some species are now difficult to collect or rare in the wild.

The Palm Grove at the centre of the Garden - and of the flying-fox camp - includes many of the oldest trees and palms in the Garden. There are 55 species of wild-collected palms and 150 species of cultivated palms which are of scientific, conservation, educational and aesthetic value. A number of palms are rare in cultivation, e.g. Ceroxylon alpinum, Howea belmoreana x forsteriana, Jubaeopsis caffra, and Allagoptera caudescens. Our New Caledonian palms are particularly valued by the Palm and Cycad Societies of Australia.

Professor David Mabberley, in his contribution to the Conservation Management Plan for the Royal Botanic Garden, identifies the collection of kauris in the Palm Grove and the rare palm, Pritchardia maideniana, as 'trees of international scientific and conservational significance'.

The kauris, in particular, have been greatly affected by the flying-foxes and some significant specimens (including a specimen, planted in 1853, from the critical 'type collection' of Agathis moorei) have been killed.

These and many other trees provide representative specimens for scientific study by scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust and elsewhere.

The living collections are a particularly rich resource for the study of plant taxonomy and classification (systematics). Plants grow in comparable conditions, their life cycle can be observed, their DNA extracted, their variability in form documented, and so on. Much of the recent research on plant evolution and new DNA bar-coding techniques has relied on samples from botanic garden collections. Several of our kauri pines, as well as trees in the Proteaceae family (which are from known wild origins and closely monitored and documented) were sampled. Our tree waratah, for example, was used for DNA extraction, dissection of flowers and studies of wood anatomy - all part of a worldwide study of the family Proteaceae.

Several fungal species have been discovered and described from palms in the Palm Grove so these specimens become what we call 'type localities' - important scientific reference points.

The trees and other plants in the living collections that are affected by the flying-foxes also have as yet untapped scientific uses. For example, Joinvillea, a bamboo-like plant growing in the Palm Grove was the focus of a recent study of floral development with the Jodrell Laboratory at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. The brown silky oak on the edge of the Palm Grove provided an accessible source of chromosomes for another project by Trust scientists.

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5. What type of damage do flying-foxes usually cause to trees/foliage etc.?

The weight and movement of large numbers of flying-foxes, particularly when they are roosting and breeding, can break branches and strip trees of leaves and new shoots. This damage weakens the tree, and with continued pressure, may eventually result in its death.

The dramatic loss of shade when the upper canopy of trees dies from roosting flying-foxes then damages or kills trees and plants underneath that are not suited to full sunlight.

Finally, large amounts of flying-fox guano kills the living tips of palms and other plants in the lower storeys. The damage caused by the large concentration of flying-foxes living in the trees at the Royal Botanic Garden is unsustainable.

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6. Why is the Botanic Garden so appealing to the grey-headed flying-foxes?

Flying-foxes have lost a lot of their natural roosting and feeding habitat through changes in land use. The Garden provides habitat, conveniently located near reliable food sources of nectar, pollen and fruits in street trees, suburban gardens, National Park and the Garden itself.

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7. When did the flying-foxes first start coming to the Garden?

The flying-foxes have set up camp in the Royal Botanic Garden at various times since Governor Macquarie had the foresight to set aside this land for a world class botanic garden in 1816. (They may have visited the area before European settlement, but the landscape and habitat were quite different). Large numbers are recorded for 1858, 1900, 1916 and 1920 - in those times, flying-foxes were culled, something we wouldn’t contemplate today.

From 1920, there are no records of significant numbers in the Garden for nearly 70 years. In 1989, 200 flying-foxes took up residence, growing to a peak of 3200 in 1992. Other urban camps in Sydney have similarly fluctuated in size over the years. The biggest concentration at the moment is at Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve in Gordon where the camp size can reach more than 50,000 animals.

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8. How many flying-foxes currently reside at the Garden?

Flying-foxes are migratory animals that move between camps so the numbers in the Garden fluctuate dramatically, and are not necessarily the same individuals. There are generally fewer flying-foxes here over winter.

The 2008 peak was in February when numbers swelled to an estimated 22,000 which, by August, had dropped to less than 7000 before escalating again.

The 2009 peak was in April with approx. 17,300 flying-foxes which by the end of June had dropped to around 5000-6000.

In 2010 during summer numbers again reached 22,000.

Fluctuations in numbers are believed to be related to flowering and fruiting of food trees in the area surrounding the camp. Flying-foxes will follow their food sources for hundreds of kilometres, stopping off at various camps along the way. The camps of Cabramatta and Gordon emptied completely in May 2009 and numbers dropped in other camps as up to 250,000 flying-foxes were reported near Batemans Bay on the South Coast where spotted gums (Corymbia  maculata) were flowering.

The annual peak in the flying-fox population at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney is normally recorded in April; 16,000 were counted in April 2011. In 2012, a reduced number of flying-foxes was observed with a peak of 8000 recorded in March.

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9. What was the process for the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust to get approval to relocate the flying-foxes?

The grey-headed flying-fox is a protected native species and is listed as ‘vulnerable’ under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act of 1995 and Federal level under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Their population decline is attributed primarily to habitat loss.

Relocation must be approved by both State and Commonwealth Governments. The Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust was therefore required to:

  • submit an application to the NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change & Water (DECCW)
  • submit an application to the Commonwealth Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (formerly the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, DEWHA)

In February 2009, the NSW Government granted a Section 95(2) Certificate to the Trust which permitted the proposed relocation using noise and visual disturbance.

The Commonwealth Government determined that the proposed relocation was a 'controlled action' under the EPBC Act. The controlling provision under the EPBC Act is:

  • Listed threatened species and communities (Sections 18 and 18A)

The Commonwealth Government advised that the project needed to be assessed through a Public Environment Report (PER) addressing the potential impact of the relocation on matters of National Environmental Significance.

The Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust prepared a draft PER. This document and subsequent information requested by the Commonwealth was placed on public display for 30 business days from 12 November 2009 to 23 December 2009. Interested individuals and organisations were invited to comment in writing on the proposal by 5 pm, 23 December, 2009.

A total of 282 submissions were received some supporting, others opposing the proposed relocation. The PER and a Summary Report of the public feedback and the Trust’s response to the feedback were submitted to the Commonwealth for final consideration on the proposed relocation.

On 14 May 2010 Minister of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts Peter Garrett announced that the proposed relocation of the grey-Headed flying-foxes using noise and visual disturbance had been approved.

Final approval was received on 14 May 2010, one of the provisions was for an Expert Panel to be appointed by the Federal Government who would advise and oversee the relocation. On advice of the Expert Panel, the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust submitted several variation requests to the Commonwealth Government’s conditions.

One condition, deemed to be of a significant nature by the Commonwealth, was a variation to the noise disturbance methodology. This was to vary the noise disturbance from intermittently during the day to only before dawn and around sunset.

This variation was assessed through a 20-day public comment period from March to April 2012. Final approval from the Commonwealth was given on the 11 May 2012, allowing the relocation to proceed between May and July 2012.

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10. How do you plan to move the flying-foxes from the Garden?

In late autumn/early winter, when flying-fox numbers are at their seasonal low, intermittent recorded noise will be played within the central areas of the Garden to disturb the flying-foxes. The noise disturbance will be limited to 75 minutes every 24 hours,; including up to 45 minutes pre-dawn and up to 30 minutes around sunset. The strategy is based on the successful relocation of flying-foxes from the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne.

The Sydney relocation program will use a variety of mobile, moderate, and mainly percussive noises to disturb the sleeping patterns of the flying-foxes.

The noise won’t be at a level that will frighten the flying-foxes into a panicked daytime exit.

It is intended that the ‘bad hotel’ experience of interrupted sleep over days or weeks will eventually persuade the flying-foxes not to return from their nightly foraging but to seek less noisy camps.

The noise disturbance program will be carried out according to Environment Protection Agency (EPA) noise regulations and in consultation with the City of Sydney. Nearby residents and businesses are not expected to be affected by the noise at these levels and in the centre of the Garden.

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11. What is the basis of the relocation strategy? Why do you think it will work?

The relocation proposal has largely been based on the successful flying-fox relocation in 2003 by Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne. Around 30,000 grey-headed flying-foxes were persuaded to decamp from the heritage-listed Gardens using a variety of intermittent daytime noises over a two-week period. The experiences from Sydney in the 1990s have also been useful in assessing the efficacy of noise disturbance, and the probable outcome of dispersal. No new camps were reported during the 90s, and the flying-foxes are most likely to join existing camps that are already familiar to them as part of their network of migratory stop-overs. However, any relocation will build in contingencies, similar to those used in Melbourne, to further relocate camps if they settle in unsuitable areas.

When the flying-foxes left the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, they were monitored to ensure that they did not roost at inappropriate sites. Most of the flying-foxes eventually settled at Yarra Bend, where the Gardens supported the establishment with interpretive signage, pathways, and a viewing platform overlooking the new flying-fox camp site.

A small colony also established a camp at a new site in Geelong which has since been accepted by both the community and land managers. Throughout the relocation, there were no reports of any death or injury to a flying-fox as a result of the disturbance activities.

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12. Is the successful relocation of the flying-foxes from the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne a valid role model? The Melbourne camp was reasonably new (1985) and at the edge of the flying-fox known distribution, whilst the camp at the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney is long established with records of flying-foxes in the Garden going back to the 1800s?

The current camp at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney was established in 1989 after almost 70 years absence so the age of the camp is similar to the camp that was dispersed from Melbourne’s Gardens. The Sydney camp is also a similar size to that camp.

In Melbourne there were no major camps closer than East Gippsland while in Sydney there are camps within the flying-foxes normal nightly flying range that, between them, could accommodate the population from the Royal Botanic Garden.

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13. How loud will the noise be? Will it affect nearby residents and businesses?

The noise disturbance program will be carried out according to EPA noise regulations and in consultation with the City of Sydney. Nearby residents and businesses are not expected to be affected by the noise at these levels and in the centre of the Garden.

The noise levels are approximately the same as a lawn mower or other garden equipment and will be focussed in the centre of the Garden, so it is not expected to affect our neighbours in any way.

The noise disturbance will be limited to 75 minutes every 24 hours; including up to 45 minutes pre-dawn and up to 30 minutes around sunset.

If the flying-foxes need to be relocated from other inappropriate sites, pre-dawn and sunset disturbance may be required at those sites.  

The Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust is committed to ensuring the flying-foxes leaving the Garden do not establish new colonies at unacceptable locations (e.g. within 100 metres of residential areas) and to working with the land managers at existing colonies as required.

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14. What impact will the noise disturbance have on the welfare of the flying-foxes?

A noise disturbance program, if approved, will meet all requirements of the licence issued under the legislation that protects threatened species.

The noise disturbance program used by the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust in the 1990s proved to be very successful with no injuries or deaths to flying-foxes being attributed to the disturbance program.

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15. Will the noise affect other wildlife in the Garden? Will it drive away the birds as well?

Wildlife such as ibises and possums share the Palm Grove with the flying-foxes. Wildlife that is active in the Garden during the day move to other parts of the Garden to avoid the noise of chainsaws, hedge trimmers, tractors, bobcats and a range of noise created by staff and visitors, later returning when the area is quiet.

Brush-tailed possums, which are extremely common in the Garden, will be asleep in their hollows during the day, and are more likely to hide from the noise than try to run away. The flying-foxes are active at night so the noise disturbance is designed to interrupt their sleep cycle during the day, thus making the Garden an unattractive place to roost.

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16. How long will the relocation take?

It is estimated that a concerted disturbance effort will take between two and four weeks to remove all the flying-foxes from the Garden.

However our planning includes contingencies; if the flying-foxes land in unsuitable areas we need time to work with local land managers to move them on. This was done on several occasions in Melbourne’s successful relocation.

After we have relocated the flying-foxes we plan to maintain an ongoing vigil with dispersals, as necessary, before dawn to discourage resettlement in the Garden.

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17. When will the relocation take place?

Flying-fox experts, veterinary scientists and conservationists on our steering committee have agreed that between May and July is the optimum time for relocation to avoid interrupting the flying-foxes’ mating season, separating mothers from their dependent young, or stressing heavily pregnant females.

The Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust received the necessary Federal Government approval on 14 May 2010 and will attempt the re-location program using noise and visual disturbance in May 2012.

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18. Will the public access to Sydney's Royal Botanic Garden be affected during the relocation?

To ensure public safety, access to the roosting areas in the centre of the Garden will be restricted during disturbance activities. Signage will be placed at the gates and on the paths advising where there are access restrictions.

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19. Where are the flying-foxes likely to go when they are relocated from the Royal Botanic Garden?

Flying-foxes are semi-nomadic and move along the east coast between camps in Queensland, Victoria and within NSW - this species behaves differently each season and year in response to food availability (flowering and fruiting of native forest).

We know from radio and satellite tracking and band recoveries that flying-foxes within Queensland, NSW and Victoria form a continuous population - not discrete populations in isolation.

Radio tracking studies of flying-foxes in Royal Botanic Garden Sydney and neighboring Sydney camps have demonstrated that, at the local level, that there is a continuous population - readily moving between camps.

In other words, flying-foxes re-located from here will be familiar with other camp sites and regional foraging resources.

We have identified suitable re-location sites, approved by the land managers, in the Sydney area. These include one existing camp (Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve) as well as new potential sites approved by National Parks and Wildlife Service: (Lane Cove NP, Botany Bay NP, Garigal NP, Royal NP).

The Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust is committed to ensuring that flying-foxes leaving the Garden camp do not settle in existing sites already at capacity or establish new camps at unacceptable locations (e.g. in close proximity to residential areas).

A sophisticated radio-tracking monitoring and research program will be rolled-out, along with close liaison with local councils, NPWS rangers, authorities who manage parklands and the community to keep track of flying-fox movements.

The monitoring program following the re-location program will be one of the biggest of its kind ever undertaken in Australia.

If flying-foxes settle in inappropriate sites the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust has committed to work with the local land manager and re-locate them.

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20. Will the damaged trees regenerate or is it too late?

Our practice of retaining dead wood in the canopies of trees colonised by the flying-foxes has reduced the impact on the living sections of the trees.

Relatively high rainfall and continuing good tree care over the last few years has improved the prognosis for some trees. Nevertheless, more than 60 trees and palms are currently in critical condition. Many of the severely damaged palms will not survive. A few trees will also die but most will recover to some degree, and many should make a full recovery.

The Garden has also been fortunate in the generous donations by Colin Wilson and other members of the Palm and Cycad Societies of Australia of young palms and seedlings representing over 200 species, many of them rare. Most of these palms are still in our nursery waiting to be planted once the flying-foxes are relocated. Although it will take years before they reach maturity, the Palm Grove will be home to more palm species than ever before.

The Friends of the Botanic Gardens are also assisting through their Kauri Project initiative. The timber from the dead Kauri Pine (Agathis moorei) collected by Garden's Director Charles Moore and planted in the Garden in 1853 has been used by 30 wood artists to create beautiful artefacts. These objects ranging from sculpture to a small boat will be sold to raise funds to restore the Palm Grove. The Agathis moorei was killed by roosting flying-foxes.

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21. Will you just be moving the problem somewhere else?  Won't the areas to which the flying-foxes relocate also be in danger of being destroyed?

The Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust will conduct the most extensive scientific research projects ever undertaken on this threatened species, contributing to conservation work to protect them. Radio tracking of the flying-foxes will provide essential information on their patterns of movement, helping to manage the relocation.

Wherever the flying-foxes go, we will consult with the land managers to determine whether or not the site is an appropriate roosting site for the flying-foxes, whether the site is physically able to sustain the flying-foxes and whether it is acceptable to the local community. If it is determined that the new site is likely to suffer unacceptable levels of damage or be in conflict with the local community’s needs, we will commit to moving the flying-foxes on to a more suitable location for as long as is permitted under the relevant licences.

The best outcome will be for the camp to disperse amongst existing campsites and/or the approved new sites in the National Parks without overcrowding any one campsite.

The relocation is necessary to save Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden and the relocation program proposed is the only solution to a complex problem.

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22. What will you do if the flying-foxes go to new areas where they are unsafe or unwanted?

We will work with land managers and implement disturbance programs to move them on from unsuitable locations to suitable ones - this was done successfully when flying-foxes were relocated from the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne.

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23. How can you be sure the flying-foxes won't just come back next season? Is this a permanent solution?

If the initial disturbance is successful at relocating the flying-foxes from the Garden, we will monitor the trees daily. At the first sign of any further roosting by the flying-foxes in the Garden, we will recommence disturbance in order to prevent the formation of a camp.

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24. How will the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust encourage flying-foxes to feed but not roost?

Noise disturbance will not be conducted during the night-time foraging period. This will allow the flying-foxes freedom to feed wherever they choose. The Garden offers a considerable range of fruits and flowers year round.

Following an initial successful dispersal of the flying-fox camp in 1992, a further 200-300 were successfully discouraged on two other occasions. The flying-foxes did not roost but were observed to feed in the Garden.

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25. Who are the experts assisting with the proposed relocation?

Initially, a Steering Committee was formed that included flying-fox researchers, conservation agencies, wildlife care agencies and land managers, specifically:

The RSPCA, NSW Wildlife Council, OEH, Ku-ring-gai Bat Conservation Society, Ku-ring-gai Council, Cabramatta Council, Wolli Creek Preservation Society, Parramatta Park Trust, Centennial Parklands, Fairfield City Council, Sydney University (including biologists specialising in flying foxes), the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust, Friends of the Botanic Gardens and the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne.

In 2010, an Expert Panel was appointed by the Commonwealth Government to advise and oversee the relocation.  

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26. Can't the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust plant more trees and provide a habitat for the flying-foxes?

The landscape of the Royal Botanic Garden itself is considered to be of heritage importance and the composition and design of the Royal Botanic Garden is carefully planned to maintain its heritage value. The design, plant content and variety have the primary purpose of providing key plant related messages through landscape displays and the use of interpretative information. For educational and aesthetic purposes, many plantings are grouped according to scientific, geographical, evolutionary, aesthetic and horticultural history criteria.

Any new plantings take a long time to mature, and with many of our most significant tree specimens now dying, we do not have time to wait. Our thematic plantings may not even suit the requirements of a flying-fox colony, even when they have matured, as they are designed with the purpose of maintaining the heritage, plant science, and aesthetic values of the Garden in line with our Conservation Management Plan, rather than recreating habitat for wildlife.

Even if an area of new plantings or artificial roosts could be established in time and in keeping with the mission of the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust, discouraging flying-foxes from trees that they have colonised to a new adjacent area would be much harder than keeping them out of the Garden totally (our experiences under current licences in trying to protect individual trees have been largely unsuccessful).

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27. Why don't you just net the heritage trees to keep them out, like farmers do?

In orchards, trees are a uniform height (usually no more than 5 m) and planted in straight rows. In the Royal Botanic Garden netting would need to accommodate the tallest affected trees which are 30 m tall and would have to cover the entire Palm Grove as well as adjoining garden beds, otherwise the colony would simply move from the netted areas into the un-netted areas. Netting the entire area would be very expensive and not in keeping with the landscape values of the Botanic Garden. Furthermore, the flying-foxes would still need to relocate to a new habitat so the end result would be the same as using noise disturbance.

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28.  Are people at risk from diseases spread by flying-foxes such as the Lyssavirus?

The risk of a person catching any disease from a flying-fox is minimal. Although large numbers of flying-foxes have roosted at the Royal Botanic Garden for almost 20 years there has never been any reported serious injuries or illnesses caused by these flying-foxes.

However, the Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABL) is deadly to humans as well as bats, so it is important to take precautions. This disease is carried by a very small proportion of the flying-fox population; it is usually transmitted to humans via bites or scratches, which provide direct access of the virus in saliva to exposed tissue. Flying-foxes are generally quite docile animals. The best precaution is to make no attempt at handling a flying-fox unless you are appropriately trained and vaccinated. If you find one in distress, call WIRES 13 000 WIRES or 1300 094 737 or Sydney Wildlife 02 9413 4300.

If you are bitten or scratched by a flying-fox in Australia:

  • thoroughly wash the wound immediately with soap and water for approximately ten minutes
  • apply an antiseptic solution such as povidone-iodine, iodine tincture, aqueous iodine solution or alcohol (ethanol)
  • see a doctor as soon as possible to care for the wound, and to assess whether you might be at risk of infection
  • if this occurred in the Royal Botanic Garden, please report to a staff immediately; you will be accompanied to the doctor.

Post-exposure treatment involves rabies vaccine (five doses over one month) and rabies immunoglobulin (one dose). In NSW, post-exposure vaccine is provided free to doctors through public health units.

Although there is no known risk of disease transmission through flying-fox urine or faeces, in cases where flying-foxes leave behind a mess on your property, basic hygiene/cleaning practices are recommended, e.g. washing any outdoor food preparation surfaces with an appropriate cleaning solution, and cleaning with water any walking surfaces that may present a slip hazard.

Some flying-foxes carry the Hendra virus. All human infections with the Hendra virus have followed direct exposure to tissues and secretions from infected or dead horses. There is no evidence of flying-fox to human or human to human transmission.

Please refer to the follow fact sheets for more information:

  • NSW Health Rabies and Bat Lyssavirus Infection Factsheet
  • CDNA Australian Bat Lyssavirus Guidelines
  • Queensland Health Hendra Virus Infection Factsheet

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