MULTIPLE groups have sounded alarm bells about flying foxes in submissions to a Victorian parliamentary inquiry into ecosystem decline.
They say the parliament must take action to protect the threatened species - which has a camp in Rosalind Park - as conservationists notice drops in numbers at sites around the state following last summers' catastrophic bushfires.
One group has gone so far as to describe declining flying fox numbers as a central plank in a larger extinction threat, because the species is central to the future of many plants and animals.
That is because one flying fox can spread as many as 60,000 seeds in one night, the Australian Wildlife Protection Council says.
The group's wide-ranging submission - which is among 101 published so far on the inquiry's website - includes a warning that flying foxes are being hit hard by heatwaves that climate change has intensified.
"Flying foxes are a group of species that show extreme vulnerability to climate change because of mass die offs in heat events," the council said in its submission.
"This group of species is also harassed and still shot 'legally' in other regions of Australia. Populations of flying foxes are declining very quickly."
Wildlife rescuers in town have consistently reported caring for flying foxes suffering heatstroke in summer, especially during heatwaves and as many as 100 died during hot weather just in April this year, and 170 during one heat event last January.
The Friends of Bats and Bushcare's president Lawrence Pope warned the inquiry that even if climate change was resolved, flying foxes would still be under threat because of threats including land clearing.
He told the Bendigo Advertiser he was seeing less flying foxes at camps near Melbourne, likely because many that migrated through central and metropolitan Victoria had starved to death after arriving in Gippsland to find huge tracts of bush destroyed.
It was one reason urban camps were so important, Mr Pope said.
"These camps are like little jewels that allow flying foxes and other species to survive. These bats will then go on to rebuild the forest. That's their job.
"They can't do it if they are dead."
More on the inquiry: Central Victorian ecosystems in 'severe and ongoing decline', council warns
Rosalind Park's resident population can drop to 200 flying foxes over winter. Numbers generally surge by summer as colonies migrate south and west through Victoria.
One estimate last October put the number at 20,000.
The parliament's inquiry will focus on whether state protections and funding for entire ecosystems are adequate, not only issues related to flying foxes.
It is yet to hold public hearings but has offered government departments the chance to give input after closing public submissions.
The Wildlife Protection Council has suggestions for parliamentarians to consider, including splitting the Department of Land, Environment, Water and Planning and creating a new group solely responsible for protecting plants and animals.
Both groups have also included recommendations for more land be set aside - an idea that have the support of Bendigo wildlife rescuer Vicki Fox.
"Enhancement of habitat is always important in helping any species, for example, planting more vegetation," she said.
Ms Fox also supported Friends of the Bats' push for more water sprinklers to be set up in urban flying fox camps, like ones used at Rosalind Park on hot days.
She said even more sprinklers could be added in camps including Bendigo's, and authorities could consider ways to thicken foliage in them to make some areas cooler.
Mr Pope said camps were increasingly important "life-rafts" for endangered and declining species and that parliamentarians should take note of proactive work Bendigo's council and wider community had done in Rosalind Park.
"It doesn't take a huge amount to increase the conservation value of parks and gardens. Some fencing to keep dogs away from being underneath bats, some nice paths and interpretive signage," he said.
"There needs to be a revisioning about how we think about these camps - and parks and gardens in general - to think of them as part of an entire landscape that can contribute to the survival of species."
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