Grey Headed Flying Fox Relocation Management Plan, Botanic Gardens

  • Project typeFlying Fox Relocation Management Plan
Bats in Colac Botanic Garden web.jpg

Information on this project continues to be updated, please scroll down to view the latest information from Colac Otway Shire Council on Grey Headed Flying Foxes in the shire.


Colac Botanic Gardens Grey Headed Flying Fox Relocation Project

(May 2019)

Colac Otway Shire Council’s Services & Operations and Environment teams are working with our Grey Headed Flying Fox Relocation Project Manager to develop a Colac Botanic Gardens Flying Fox Relocation Management Plan.

Council has initiated the preparation of a management plan in response to significant concerns about the impact of grey-headed flying foxes (commonly referred to as bats) within the botanic gardens and its heritage-listed trees.

Council’s intention to relocate the bats also responds to the concerns of nearby residents and visitors to the gardens about the impact on the gardens and surrounding amenity. 

We are seeking to relocate the flying foxes currently visiting the Colac Botanical Gardens by undertaking a thorough investigation of options available to it within Commonwealth and State legislation.

The objective is to seek permission to relocate of the flying foxes which have continued to increase in numbers since their arrival three years ago.

We have created this page on Colac Otway’s website keep our community updated on the progress of the Grey Headed Flying Fox Relocation Management Plan.

Council conducted community feedback on the Grey Headed flying foxes

The Colac Botanic Gardens has experienced ongoing visitation by Grey Headed flying-foxes

Colac Otway Shire Council first formally recorded the flying fox roost in December 2016 and since then numbers have peaked at approximately 6,500 in early 2019. In the winter months the number of flying foxes has significantly reduced.

The Colac Botanic Gardens are listed on the Victorian Heritage Register. Council is concerned about the health of the historic trees where the mammals are roosting and is also concerned about the amenity of the botanic gardens for visitors.

Flying-foxes are considered ‘keystone’ species in Australia given their contribution to the health, longevity and diversity among and between vegetation communities. They often roost in large numbers and, due to climate change, are increasingly moving from Queensland and New South Wales to Victoria.

Grey Headed Flying Foxes are listed as a vulnerable species under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) and are listed as threatened under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988. The management of flying-foxes and their habitat is directly guided by these legislative requirements.

Council  will be undertaking a Grey Headed Flying Fox Management Plan to ensure that best practice requirements are met and to respond to community concerns.

Community engagement

Since mid-June 2019 Council has engaged with the community to understand the local impacts of the flying fox.  The engagement has encompassed:

Media - local radio, newspaper and TV

Community meetings - Friends of the Botanic Garden

Online - Facebook and Council website plus online questionnaire

Hard copy technical information - Colac Library, Colac Otway Shire Council Customer Service Centres at Colac and Apollo Bay

Direct letters - The equine community (to provide information that flying foxes may carry the Hendra virus which can be a threat to horses.

Face to face and telephone - Council officers answering queries

Outcomes of the engagement process so far…

As at the 9 July  2019 a total number of 115 respondents had completed an online questionnaire.

The majority of respondents reside in the Colac area.

Impact of the Grey Headed Flying Fox on the Colac Botanic Gardens experience:

  • 26% of respondents found that flying foxes created a positive experience;
  • 66% of respondents found that flying foxes created a negative experience;
  • 8% of respondents found the experience to be neither positive or negative (neutral)

Graph of flying fox survey.JPG

Update as at July 19, 2019

  • Work is progressing on completing the Management Plan for the flying-fox population that has visited the Colac Botanical Gardens.
  • As of 18 July, 2019 there are 380 flying-foxes, a significant reduction from March of this year
  • Council has met with DELWP staff at a pre-application lodgement meeting to provide an update on Council’s progress with the application
  • Whilst an application has been submitted the Management Plan that provides the basis for Council’s proposed actions will be submitted in the first week of August
  • Other considerations include the recent community engagement.

Bat dispersal plan approval

(Update 29 August, 2019) 

Colac Otway Shire Council will act to save heritage-listed trees after an application for the Authority to Control Wildlife has received approval, allowing the dispersal of grey-headed flying foxes from the Colac Botanic Gardens.

Council plans to start the dispersal process next Wednesday under the supervision of flying-fox experts and Council staff. Strict adherence to DELWP licence conditions will be observed during the process as the flying foxes are listed as protected and vulnerable in state and Commonwealth legislation.

“An independent arborist report has confirmed that if the bats are not dispersed from the gardens, at least three heritage-listed trees in our Guilfoyle-designed botanic gardens will be dead within three years,” Colac Otway Services and Operations Manager Frank Castles said.

“The bats arrived in 2016 and with increasing numbers roosting at one time in just a few trees, they have caused significant damage to trees, as well as impacted the amenity of the gardens and surrounding area.

“Council has undertaken a community survey to gauge the impact of the bats at the gardens, and incorporated this data into the management plan development.

“In the warmer weather, when there have been up to 6500 bats roosting in the gardens, people have told us they have stopped visiting the area and families have avoided taking their children to the playground at the gardens.

“Colac Otway Shire has had to find the balance between managing the wellbeing of an endangered wildlife species, protecting our Botanic Gardens and acting in the interests of the public.

“Our carefully-considered plan responds to all of those issues, from finding a suitable home for the flying fox colonies to raise their young to protecting our residents’ lifestyles and ensuring they can use the playground and barbecues.

“In consultation with the Federal Government and DEWLP, Council has developed a management plan, that is incorporated into the application for the Authority To Control Wildlife.

“The intent is to create an environment that is unattractive to bats and encourages them to find an alternative and suitable place to roost in future years

“A tried and tested method involving sound, light, smoke and water will be used initially for a 15-day period to disperse the bats and then deter them from roosting in the Botanic Gardens.

“Council is seeking a further licence to continue dispersal actions, such as the use of sprinklers, to discourage them from returning to roost at the Botanic Gardens. 

 “The timing of the project aims to encourage the small number of male bats (about 100) currently roosting to find a new base for the colony before the birthing season and deter migrating bats from returning to roost at the gardens.

“Council also has a long-term plan to plant trees at preferred roosting sites in the district, such as Meredith Park and the Joseph Paatsch Nature Reserve,” Mr Castles said.

“Council must preserve the future of our National Trust-classified gardens but there is a balance we must adhere to and we will cease the program immediately if there are any signs of the bats being highly distressed during the process.”

The public is urged not to come in to contact with the bats and not to apply any initiatives outside the approved program.

Please contact Colac Otway Shire Customer Service Centre on 5232 9400 to report any unusual day-time behaviour of the bats during the upcoming dispersal process.

Grey Headed flying fox numbers increase at Colac Botanic Gardens

(Update 7 January, 2020)

An estimated 2000 grey-headed flying foxes have returned to Colac Botanic Gardens and visitors to the gardens are reminded not to make contact with the native animals.

Colac Otway Shire Council Services and Operations Manager Frank Castles said there had been no bats at the gardens from September last year until December when about 200 arrived before Christmas.

“Bat numbers increased last week and we believe there is about 2000 at the moment,” Mr Castles said.

“The bats are roosting in numerous trees including the gardens’ heritage-listed trees near the fountain and to the east side of the gardens near the playgrounds and barbecue area.

“Council had DELWP approval to disperse the bats before the nurturing period started last year however we had no need to start dispersal as the bats had moved on.

“Council currently has two applications with DELWP requesting permission to disperse and to sustain dispersal outside the nurturing period (October to March).

“DELWP will not grant permission for dispersal during this nurturing stage when they have their young.

“However, there has also been a number of reported bat fatalities in other locations and this could compromise the approval of the applications,” he said.

“Council has placed signs advising the public to not approach the bats to avoid risk to the public and the bats, and we will continue to monitor bat numbers.”


DELWP issues permit to manage wildlife & protect Colac Botanic Gardens

(Update 13 August 2020) 

After more than a year of research and planning, a management initiative to protect Colac’s Botanic Gardens and encourage Grey Headed Flying Foxes to roost elsewhere has been approved.

“We lodged the application to disperse the bats and discourage them from returning to the botanic gardens in October last year,” Infrastructure & Leisure Services General Manager Tony McGann said.

“The situation has changed dramatically for all of us, but the need to protect our heritage trees and provide an area for people to walk or jog through and enjoy remains so important for our community, while protecting the bats.

“There are a number of significant trees which will be impacted further if thousands of bats return, and our community need to be able to go for a walk in peace or have their children play at the playground or enjoy a barbecue without equipment covered in bat faeces and a terrible stench; it’s a health issue.

“Grey Headed Flying Foxes play a vital role in ecology and are a protected, endangered species, so their welfare will be a priority as we encouraged them to move on or fly past our gardens and find a more suitable treed space to roost for their breeding season.

“We understand there have been colonies in the Otways before and we have vast areas of trees with nearby waterways, away from the gardens and lake pathways.

“DELWP has granted a Permit to Control Wildlife at the Colac Botanic Gardens after extensive review and consideration by a panel of experts of our management plan which will create the most minimal impact on this important native species while allowing us to protect our trees and our valuable community asset.

“The permit is subject to a range of conditions which minimise impact on the flying foxes and community including dispersal activities only occurring between 4pm and 9am and for a maximum of 2.5 hours within any 12-hour period.

“No dispersal activities can occur when bats are heavily pregnant, dependent young are present or after a heat stress event and can only occur between 1 April and 31 August.

“There are currently only about 150 to 200 bats at the gardens, so now is a suitable time to minimise any impact on the colony, which swells to 7000 over summer.

“The permit allows Colac Otway Shire to disperse any bats and deter bats from roosting over a three-year period, with an annual review, which aims to change the bats habits and encourage them to find a new long-term place to roost.

“There had never been bats at the gardens until about four years ago and we hope that by implementing the management plan now, our heritage-listed trees will have a chance to recover and our community can enjoy our gardens again over spring and summer.

“Colac Otway Shire’s application was reviewed by an independent panel of experts, appointed by the State Government.

“Dispersal techniques, and includes a program of smoke, light and noise to make the gardens less appealing to the bats.

“The dispersal permit also allows further dispersal approval if the Grey Headed Flying Foxes were to move to another inappropriate site such as the Memorial Square or a school.

“Initial dispersal will take approximately two weeks and Council has carried out a letter drop to nearby residents to advise that they may hear irregular noises, see flashes of light and on occasions see smoke coming from the gardens.

“Dispersal activity will be overseen by an independent expert to monitor the flying foxes and we will have a local vet on standby to assist if they have any health issues,” he said.

“Any bats dispersed from the gardens may still return to private properties to feed on fruit trees and residents are advised to seek further advice on protecting their trees with appropriate netting.”

People and pets should not approach or handle Grey Headed Flying Foxes and more information about the endangered species is available here

Program to recommence to nudge Grey-headed Flying Foxes

(Published on 28 April 2022)

Colac Otway Shire Council will recommence a ‘nudging’ program of the Grey-headed Flying Foxes to encourage the native animals to roost elsewhere in Colac’s Botanic Gardens to protect heritage trees.

The nudging process, is in accordance with a Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) issued Permit to Control Wildlife, with all activity overseen by an expert who will be onsite to ensure the wellbeing of the Flying Foxes.

Council’s Manager of Services and Operations Cameron Duthie said the Flying Foxes were continuing to have an adverse impact on the health of significant and heritage listed trees the gardens.

“Over the last few weeks, the number of Flying Foxes roosting in trees in the gardens has fluctuated from between 1,200 to approximately 3,600 with noticeable damage being caused to significant trees by the native animals.

“The DELWP approved program for the nudging process will include the use of some noise, lighting effects and wind dancers to deter the Flying Foxes from roosting in the heritage listed trees when they return to the gardens after their night feeding.

“Our intention is to encourage the Flying Foxes from where they’re currently roosting, to more robust pine trees nearby in the gardens which are able to house the colony in a more sustainable way. The trees are located toward the foreshore away from the fountain, playground and BBQ area.

“Activities undertaken are in strict adherence to the DELWP licence conditions to minimise impact on the Flying Foxes and community. This includes nudging activities only occurring between 4pm and 9am and for a maximum of 2.5 hours within any 12-hour period.

“No nudging activities can occur when Flying Foxes are heavily pregnant, dependent young are present or after a heat stress event and can only occur between 1 April and 31 August.

“Grey-headed Flying Foxes play a vital role in ecology and are a protected and endangered species; Council’s aim of this program is to find a balance for cohabitation while protecting our Botanic Gardens as a much loved and well-used recreation space for our community,” Mr Duthie said.

To allow daily nudging activities to occur, Council will close the Colac Botanic Gardens to vehicle traffic from Tuesday 3 May for the duration of the 14-day program. Pedestrian access to the Gardens will also be closed from 6.30am to 9am each morning for the duration of the program.

“We apologise there will be some closures at the Gardens while nudging activities take place, however this is necessary from a community safety point of view and for the welfare of the Flying Foxes,” Mr Duthie said. 


Grey-headed flying fox nudging program complete

(Update 27 June 2022)

The 2022 grey-headed flying fox nudging program at the Colac Botanic Gardens is complete, with vehicle traffic and pedestrian access once again available for residents and visitors to the Gardens.

“We’re pleased with the positive results of the program and the colony is now well-homed in its new location,” said Services & Operations Manager, Cameron Duthie. “As the weather warms up, and the colony continues to live well in the new trees, we intend to install mulch and sprinklers in the immediate area for them.”

The nudging program was overseen by an onsite, independent expert (an ecologist), who monitored the wellbeing of the bats. Happily, no bats were harmed in the nudging program and all showed signs of good health throughout the time.

The program was undertaken in an effort to save significant and heritage listed trees in the Gardens, which could not feasibly continue to provide a home for the colony in the longer-term due to the noticeable damage being done by the bats roosting there, fluctuating between 1,000 and 8,000 at peak times, with an average of 4,000.

“Council thanks nearby residents and visitors to the Gardens for their patience and cooperation during this time and we apologise for any inconvenience this has caused,” said Mr Duthie. “Winter is a beautiful time in the Gardens and we look forward to welcoming the public back to enjoy the grounds.”