Flying fox conservation – Nancy Pallin, Gordon

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A group of dedicated volunteers have been helping to restore habitat for a colony of Grey-headed flying foxes for nearly 30 years.

Nancy Pallin has been involved since the very beginning and continues to help out every week at the flying fox camp in Gordon, becoming a passionate advocate and practical expert along the way.

How did you get involved with flying foxes?

In 1982 a flying-fox baby fell from its mother at my children’s school here in Lindfield. I brought it home to take care of it until it could be returned to the wild. I’ve taken a great interest in their welfare ever since.

Tell us about the colony in Gordon

The flying fox camp at Gordon is one of many in the Sydney region and is recognised as nationally significant. Grey-headed flying foxes are a threatened species because of serious population decline. Yet they play vital roles in our ecosystems as pollinators of eucalypts, paperbarks and banksias and as well as dispersers of rainforest seeds.

In the mid-1980s, there was a lot of controversy with the land at Gordon occupied by the flying-foxes. It looked like it would be sold off. Following strong community pressure, Ku-ring-gai Council and the NSW Government stepped in to save the site.  Some of these people formed the Bat Colony Committee, which today is the Ku-ring-gai Bat Conservation Society.

The locals can be divided on the issue at times. There are those who don’t understand the importance of this colony and dislike the noise or smell of the animals and then there are others who are very proud and very protective of the colony and want to see it thrive.

It can also depend on the year. The numbers can vary enormously as the colony goes ‘on holiday’ to other locations. It can be as low as zero or as many as 70,000, so its profile as an issue varies accordingly.

What changes have you seen?

After the site was saved we started to look at restoring the native vegetation. It had been overtaken with weedy vines and the flying foxes would clamber around on the outer limbs of trees and break them. They need tall trees to roost in, a moist understorey and a shrub layer where they can hide from sea eagles and take shelter in extreme heat events.

Council has adopted a Management Plan for the 15.5 hectare reserve. It is a sensitive area, particularly in breeding season. Access is restricted and it is a serious offence to harm flying-foxes or their habitat.

Volunteers have been rewarded by seeing the flying-foxes survive and also a great variety of birds – pardalotes, thornbills, tree creepers, yellow robins, rufous and grey fantails, powerful owls, brush turkeys, even lyrebirds. It’s a very special location.

What do you do at the site?

I’ve been turning up on Tuesday for almost 30 years. We’ve removed weeds especially vines, privet and lantana, and trad - a pesky succulent that escapes from gardens. Bit by bit, the vegetation has come back.

In recent years the Bushcare volunteers have done a lot of work on fencing to prevent the swamp wallabies from destroying young trees like turpentines and eucalypts which have germinated on site or others we have planted. Within the fenced areas native ground covers and shrubs are forming moist refuges. We have been greatly cheered by the natural regeneration of native trees inside enclosures. 

Ku-ring-gai Council provides funds from the Environmental Levy to employ qualified bush regenerators to tackle the most difficult weed threats in various parts of the reserve beyond the capacity of our Bushcare volunteers.

The aim is to restore roosting habitat for the flying-foxes on the lower slopes of the reserve further from the residential boundary as well as maintaining a diversity of habitats for other wildlife.

What’s the best part of being involved?

Getting to know the colony and the site and seeing the changes over time. I can visualise what the space will look like when we’ve done the work and that vision keeps me motivated. I’ve learned so much over the years and we have adapted our approach accordingly.  It is necessary to adapt to the weather as well as the time availability and skills of the Bushcarers.

It keeps me fit and I really enjoy the other volunteers. People who help the environment are always good company and always interesting.

Over three decades, more than 150 people have helped, but the group is smaller these days and we could use a few more pairs of hands.

Learn more about the Ku-ring-gai Bat Conservation Society.

Learn about the management of the Ku-ring-gai Flying Fox Reserve and Grey-headed Flying Foxes.