A reported two-million strong colony of Grey-headed Flying Foxes have changed everything for Yetman residents.
While the vulnerable species have historically roosted in the town, this time the Christmas guests are still there eight months on, and locals are at their wits’ end. According to Inverell councillor Kate Dight, an office of environment and heritage officer estimated the colony was up to around two million.
“We can’t use our rainwater, we’ve got to be careful of our water for our animals - our whole way of life’s had to change because of these bats,” Iris Barry said.
“They’re dropping dead in town, they’re dropping in people’s yards. They’re hitting the power line and they’re causing brown outs.”
Mrs Barry said the animals were having a negative impact on tourism in the town, and that one visitor to the caravan park she owns with husband John complained of a severe chest infection as a result.
The couple, who have lived on the riverbank for 11 years, can no longer access their water pumps. Mrs Barry said several trees and branches were broken under the weight of the bats, which made the bank difficult to reach.
“It’s just a mess,” she said.
“That’s what Yetman is. People come to Yetman to fish, and they can’t get down to the beautiful river, and the beautiful river isn’t looking very pretty at the moment with the devastation from the bats.”
She said that much of the native bird life had been driven away by flying foxes who had taken over their nesting areas.
Mrs Barry said the Inverell Shire Council were not to blame and were struggling to solve the issue in the face of state and federal restrictions. The bats are considered vulnerable by the Department of Environment and Heritage, and are currently living on Crown lands.
“They’re bending over backwards, but their hands are tied. It’s just so frustrating,” she said.
Last Wednesday Inverell councillors voted to challenge state legislation on bat management.
“It resembles a war zone or scene out of a horror movie,” Tamela Barry said, shocked at the transformation of her parents’ once rainforest-like backyard into a sparse collection of stripped trees.
“It is heartbreaking to say at the least. Nobody should have their quality of life and health put at risk for something like this.”
Little Athletics organiser Kelly McCosker said she worried about the health risks for the children as they play on the oval.
“The smell is just horrendous, I do not know how they’re living in town,” she said.
The bats react every time the starter’s pistol is fired, and fly directly over the children when they finish their Friday afternoon practice at 5.30pm. She said the situation was making her rethink the possibility of a gala day in the future.
“I don’t know what the solution is but what ideally we would like is to have them relocated somewhere away from the town,” she said.
A Crown lands representative visited the town on Monday and Inverell Council civil and environmental services director Brett McInnes said he felt they understood the complex challenges involved.
In particular, tree clearing which may encourage the bats to move on could prove difficult due to their riverbank location, with erosion an issue of concern.
The Crown lands representative will explore the possibility of obtaining public reserve funds to help form a management plan with the office of environment and heritage.
Mr McInnes said it was a step forward in “what will undoubtedly be a long and involved process.”