East Cessnock Flying Fox Colony

East Cessnock appears to be just one of many areas across the State where people are currently suffering from having a flying fox colony near their homes. Whether they are known as flying foxes or fruit bats, these animals have been destroying the habitats in which they reside and generally making life uncomfortable for nearby residents. Currently, east Cessnock has a colony that is very conservatively estimated at 30,000. The colony consists of both grey-headed flying foxes and little red flying foxes. I keep getting told that the little reds will move on as they follow the eucalyptus flowering; the only problem is that, with the continuing hot weather, the flowering keeps happening so the little red ones are still there.

The colony has been at east Cessnock for about four to five years. I know this is far less than Singleton’s colony, which racks up 16 years this year, but they have been in both areas for far too long. The trees are being stripped and destroyed. Yet nothing can be done because we have what is considered by many to be a catch 22 situation as both the flying foxes and the trees in which they currently reside are protected species. So which species wins out? Currently, in Cessnock at least the needs of the flying foxes are overriding the needs of the trees because, quite frankly, the bats are destroying the protected tree species in a way that if the destruction were caused by the act of a human it would see Joe Citizen either heavily fined or possibly even imprisoned.

The stench coming from the colony can only be described as nauseating and toxic. Imagine 30,000 animals defecating in, on and around people’s home and surrounds, including in the marshy and wet swamp-like ground of the Crown land on which they are residing? No matter how hard you try and no matter how vivid your imagination, you simply cannot get a true sense of the appalling conditions that surround the colony unless you actually visit the site and you are brought to your knees by the stench, you hear the ear-piercing and relentless screech of the animals, and you see the stained and ruined property and assets of those existing in the nearby surrounds.

It is not just residents who are suffering. A local primary school immediately bordering Crown land houses the main colony—I say “main colony” because it has grown so much that it now has a satellite colony across Old Maitland Road to the north-west and Cessnock Road to the south-east. Students and staff of the primary school have to endure the stench, noise and excrement from flying foxes on a daily basis. Parts of the playground are directly under nesting areas. As such, those areas of the playground, including climbing equipment, are unusable. To date, I have sent more than 70 letters from residents who are directly affected to the Minister for Lands and Water, who passed them on to the Minister for the Environment. I sent the letters to the Minister for Lands and Water because the main colony is on Crown land. I thought it was a no-brainer because he looks after Crown land, but he appears unable to help my community. The Minister for the Environment has advised:

The Office of Environment and Heritage has offered to assist the Department of Primary Industries, which is the manager of affected Crown land, and Cessnock City Council to develop a flying fox camp management plan for the east Cessnock camp. I understand that DPI is in the process of securing funding to prepare the plan.

My office contacted the Minister for Primary Industries, and Minister for Lands and Water nearly three weeks ago to inquire about the funding, but I have had no response. To date, I have received two doctors’ certificates from the medical practitioners of two residents, stating that the flying fox colony is having an adverse effect on their health. I have forwarded those letters to the Minister for Health together with a health warning notice that outlines what the risks are. I have also written to the Minister for Education about the effect the flying fox colony is having on the school and its students.

Residents living near the colony can no longer eat the vegetables from their gardens and the fruit from their trees or spend time in their gardens and backyards because of flying fox defecation. Pools can no longer be used for swimming, bikes and toys can no longer be left outside, cars are having their Duco stripped from them, and Colorbond fences are having paint stripped from them because of the defecation of the flying foxes. The noise at times is unbearable. The screeching from so many animals continues to have a detrimental effect on everyone, particularly shift workers from coalmines and other industries who cannot sleep during the day or night. Residents have to stay in their homes with the doors and windows shut to keep out the noise and smell coming from the colony, but this only works some of the time.

I ask anyone to take a drive to east Cessnock with their car windows down. A global positioning system will not be needed because the location of the flying foxes will be known before they are seen hanging from the trees. The Government is investing plenty of money in response to the activity of sharks, which are acting naturally in their own habitat. Little action in the same vein is being taken regarding the flying fox colonies that are terrorising communities across New South Wales. I ask the Government to turn its attention to this issue just as it has the shark phenomenon.