NO GOOD: Flying foxes have been wreaking havoc across the Southern Downs.
NO GOOD: Flying foxes have been wreaking havoc across the Southern Downs. Photo Craig Warhurst/ The Gympi

Flying foxes wreak havoc

A SECTION of Stanthorpe's Lions Park has been cordoned off because of them, but that's the least of the region's worries.

A camp of grey-headed flying foxes residing in Stanthorpe has caused heartache for the region's farmers.

Stone fruit grower Adrian Zorzi said he recognised the need to protect native species, but this should be balanced with those who grow produce for supermarket shelves.

Mr Zorzi was forced to stand by and watch as almost an entire year's worth of loquats were devoured by a ravenous family of flying foxes while he was waiting on a permit to shoot them.

They had already made a start on his ripening cherry crop by the time the permit was approved, a process that took two weeks to complete.

He sent off his application and supporting documents on Sunday, November 13 and had to chase up the application the following Thursday after receiving no communication from the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.

A full week after that, he finally received the permit.

In that time he lost hundreds of dollars worth of fruit every night. The flying foxes also destroy tree limbs needed for next year's crop.

It's a hit small producers like Mr Zorzi find difficult to wear thanks to the small, niche crops they grow.

Mr Zorzi has a 20-hectare property 20km north of Stanthorpe, withsix hectares of cherries, loquats, olives, persimmons and lemons.

While large producers can often afford the expense of netting, Mr Zorzi said at $10,000-$15,000 per acre, it was well out of his reach, making a fair and fast shooting licence system vital to his business.

He already had two scare guns running "just about 24/7” as well as an owl bird scarer and a radio with revolving lights, all to no avail.

"Like any animals, they just get used to it after a while,” he said.

This year involved a run of bad luck, with the crops ripening later than usual.

"Next year I'll just put in an application before time and hopefully it would be approved quicker,” he said.

"This year the crop was about three weeks late and coincided with the flying foxes coming in for later fruit.

"They just start stripping the trees from the top to the bottom and then you've got foxes going from the bottom to the top.”

A Department of Environment and Heritage Protection spokeswoman said she understood commercial fruit growers from around the Granite Belt had been experiencing issues with flying foxes impacting on their crops this growing season.

"EHP has received a number of enquiries from growers about the lethal control of flying foxes under nature conservation laws but has only received one application for a Damage Mitigation Permit from that area so far,” she said.

"EHP has assessed that application and issued a permit allowing a limited number of animals to be culled humanely.”

The spokeswoman said the EHP encouraged the use of non-lethal deterrents to manage flying fox impacts on crops, but understood fruit crops required additional forms of crop protection for farmers' livelihoods.

She said the permits were only issued where "non-harmful measures” had been "tried extensively and proven unsuccessful”.

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