Flying foxes are back and Casino is being driven batty
EVERY year about this time, complaints about bats, also called flying foxes, start coming into Richmond Valley Council.
Currently there is an influx of red bats in Casino and their large numbers are swelling along the riverbank.
They are nomadic and will move on in a few weeks according to WIRES bat co-ordinator Lib Ruytenberg.
"They have come from inland NSW Central Tablelands," Ms Ruytenberg said.
"They stop at Tabulam for a while and come to Casino for the flowering spotted gums."
They started coming to Casino eight years ago and they move like clockwork, Ms Ruytenberg said. "They go to Central Queensland and have their babies in May. They present no health problem whatsoever."
Because the bats fly distances of 30km each night, a lot of Ms Ruytenberg's time is spent rescuing the red flying foxes from barbed wire fences.
Ms Ruytenberg said without bats we wouldn't have rainforests, as they carry seeds for long distances and seed that only germinates at night.
Not everyone is thrilled about the presence of the red bats in Casino.
The case of Richmond St residents
THE stench of bat droppings stays in your nostrils long after you've left the home of Maureen Lupton and Ray Flindell, on Richmond St in Casino.
The red bats have invaded the river bank at the back of the house and Ms Lupton is concerned about the impact on her health.
"I have a lung problem and it could be fatal if I got something from the bats," she said.
It is worse after rain and when it heats up.
"The bat poo is killing the 300-year-old Moreton Bay fig," she said.
"Even the dog won't go down the back."
Ms Lupton is forced to keep the windows of the house closed all day because of the smell.
"The smell is so bad you want to heave," she said.
Ms Lupton and Mr Flindell came from Maclean six months ago and settled in at the Richmond St house.
As well as Ms Lupton and Mr Flindell, many residents find the smell and bat droppings restrict their activities and make local parks unusable.
Night time spectacle
At 8 o'clock every night when the Casino sky is filled with the darkness of bats, visitors gather on the bridge to film the spectacle.
Principal of Casino Public School Gary Carter has had to deal with the bat issue for many years.
Mr Carter has spoken to North Coast Area Health to ensure he could respond correctly to parents' concerns.
"We tell children not to touch a sick or injured bat," he said.
"It is through biting and scratching that you can get a virus."
The influx of red bats has created a few changes at the school.
The sand pit will remain covered until the red bats leave and every morning the general assistant cleans tables and eating areas in the playground.
"On humid and rainy days, we noticed for the first time this year that we could smell the bats," Mr Carter said.
"We're lucky though, when they leave to roost, they fly south and up the river and over to Elizabeth Park."
Wash your hands
The children at the school have been taught to wash their hands with soap before eating and while that is done all year round, "we up the ante on that" when the bats are here, Mr Carter said.
Richmond Valley acting general manager Vaughan Macdonald said the council's bat management plan is almost complete.
"We will be the first council in NSW to have one," Mr Macdonald said.
The plan is expected to be released in the next three months.
Council staff have been out to the properties affected to clear overhanging branches and create buffer zones if required.
"Some people have said no, they understand it is seasonal," Mr Macdonald said.
"It's a challenge. There are two sides to the debate. It is natural for bats to migrate and the impact on the urban environment is significant. We want to find a happy medium to manage the bats and the fact they are protected."