Flying foxes have moved in at Maclean High.
Flying foxes have moved in at Maclean High. Amanda Balmer

Bats endanger NSW schoolkids

SPECIAL precautions have had to be implemented at Maclean High School to protect students, staff and visitors from diseases carried by flying foxes.

Since the start of the school holidays flying foxes have returned to the school en masse and some estimate the population in a rainforest adjacent to the school is around 15,000-20,000.

Vast numbers have also moved into an area between the school and residential areas, known as the gully, and the total population could be as high as 40,000-50,000.

Between 1999 and last year the Department of Education and Training had a licence to disturb the bats and move them on from close to the school, but the Federal Department of the Environment now requires the production of a public environment report before a licence will be issued.

That report could cost tens of thousands of dollars and months to prepare, with no guarantee of approval after completion. So there is little likelihood the bats will be able to be moved on soon.

A spokesman for the Department of Education said yesterday the school had introduced a designated drop-off and pick-up area at the front of the school, and determined that access to the school should be from the front entrance only. He said parents and students had been reminded not to enter the rainforest area and to avoid contact with the animals.

“A temporary car park has been created on council land adjacent to the school,” he said.

“Additional cleaning will continue to be undertaken as required.”

Maclean High School P&C president Lorraine White said a special meeting had been called for Monday night where concerned parents would consider what action they could take to get authorities to have the bats moved.

That could include a walkout by parents and teachers.

“If all other avenues have been explored, the P&C would probably support it,” she said.

“It is not a nice thing for kids to go to school and have bat excreta all over the place.

“The school is having to pay for additional cleaning to get some of the excreta off handrails and the like before kids get to school.”

Member for Cowper Luke Hartsuyker said he had written to Environment Minister Peter Garrett, urging him to push through the relocation of the colony.

“I have also written to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Health Minister Nicola Roxon, asking them to work with Mr Garrett in the interests of the people of Maclean,” he said.

“I've been to see the mess for myself and, apart from the health risk, the colony is noisy and smelly and prevents residents enjoying their gardens, hanging out washing or leaving their cars outside.”

A spokeswoman for the Federal Environment Department said it had received no application to disperse the bats.

She said the department met with the Clarence Valley Council earlier this year to explore options the council could pursue to manage the flying fox situation.

“The council undertook to work with the NSW Department of Education and Training and the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water to consider those options and choose the most suitable course of action,” she said.

“The council withdrew its proposal in September and advised it was exploring longer-term management arrangements.”

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