Case study: Northern Sydney regional fox baiting program

The northern Sydney region features a substantial area of interconnecting bushland reserves and parks, which host a diverse range of native animal species and an increasing population of pest animals. Fauna surveys done in the area suggest that predation by foxes is a major cause of the decline in some species of native animals. Fox control programs using box traps have been attempted in the past but have been limited in their success. Shooting and baiting with 1080 were not able to be done as they posed safety risks to the general public and pets, and their application was restricted.

In 1998, the Urban Feral Animal Action Group was formed and a regional feral animal management strategy was developed with support from government agencies, local councils, catchment management committees, wildlife care groups, heritage and conservation societies and the general community. The NSW Fox Threat Abatement Plan (Fox TAP) was also developed at this time. Two priority Fox TAP sites were identified in the area: the first in Ku-ring-gai Chase and Garigal National Parks to protect the threatened southern brown bandicoot (Isoodon obesculus), and the second at North Head to protect endangered populations of little penguins (Eudyptula minor) and long-nosed bandicoots (Perameles nasuta).

A special permit was sought from the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary  Medicines Authority (APVMA) to shorten distance restriction requirements and allow 1080 fox baits to be laid within specific bushland reserves across the region. This pest control order (PCO) was approved in 1999, and the first cooperative baiting program began in February 2000. A number of changes to the PCO in later years has allowed for baiting in all reserves, with distance requirements reduced, continuous baiting programs allowed in specific areas for biodiversity conservation, and notification requirements simplified to allow public notices to be used when there are more than 25 neighbours.

Aims

To reduce the number of foxes in the Sydney North region for the long term and minimise their impact on native animals, including threatened species.

The program also aims to:

  • reduce fox attacks on animals in zoos, refuges and research facilities
  • raise community awareness of urban foxes and the problems they cause
  • investigate the effectiveness of fox control methods in urban settings
  • complement existing bushland management activities across the region.

Partners and management

Originally six councils (Hornsby, Ku-ring-gai, Pittwater, Ryde, Warringah and Willoughby) and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) were involved in the program. In later years, this expanded to include another seven local councils (Parramatta, Lane Cove, Hunters Hill, Mosman, North Sydney, Manly and Hills Shire), and many other organisations such as NSW Forests, Taronga Zoo, Macquarie University, Bidjigal Reserve Trust, Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, Cumberland Livestock Health and Pest Authority, Sydney Metro Catchment Management Authority (CMA), Hawkesbury Nepean CMA, Roads and Maritime Services and Railcorp.

Funding for the program is provided by the Fox Threat Abatement process in NPWS and individual council funds.

Process

Baiting programs are run by the NPWS and participating councils twice a year at most of the bushland reserves and parks across the area. The priority Fox TAP sites are generally baited four times a year and some sites, such as the Ku-rin-gai Wildflower Garden, are baited continuously.

Reserves are closed during baiting. Warning signs are erected at entrances and along boundaries of reserves and officers regularly patrol the areas. Neighbours are notified through public notices and letterbox drops.

Baits are buried about 10 cm deep and at least 400 m apart in established sand plot baiting stations, adjacent to tracks and trails. Free-feeding occurs at all sites for a minimum of three days to identify if any non-target species are going to take baits. Baits are checked daily in most council reserves. Where baiting is continuous, baits are laid every six weeks. All bait programs are subject to a risk assessment, with the most significant risk being the taking of baits by domestic dogs and native wildlife.

Both baited and non-baited areas within the priority Fox TAP sites are regularly monitored. Fox activity is monitored 2–4 times a year using sand plots. The southern brown bandicoot population is monitored using trapping in spring and cameras in autumn, and the long-nosed bandicoot population is monitored using cage traps twice a year. Little penguin colonies are checked fortnightly throughout the breeding season (June—February) to collect information on active nests, number of breeding pairs, eggs, chicks and fledglings.

Features of the study

This program involves considerable coordination and cost sharing between agencies. Community relations are a priority, with widespread notification campaigns and thorough risk assessment procedures and protocols. Strict baiting procedures are followed, with regular training programs for all agency staff. Monitoring is also an important component, with scientific surveys of threatened native animals and local fox populations done regularly.

Results

Due to the small population sizes of the threatened species in the area, monitoring results from the priority Fox TAP sites have been unable to provide any conclusive evidence of the recovery of these species.

However, there has been an increase in the number of sightings of swamp wallabies, bandicoots, possums, lyrebirds, brush turkeys and quail by staff, park visitors and neighbours. There have also been fewer attacks reported in zoos and animal refuges.

What worked

  • Coordination and cooperation between councils and other agencies has been a highlight of the program and has meant that costs can be shared.
  • Extensive community consultation, along with a strong risk management plan, has helped minimise any unwanted outcomes or negative publicity.
  • Reduced distance restrictions of 1080 baiting has increased the efficiency of the program.

What didn’t work

  • There is limited opportunity to control areas outside of bushland reserves (eg industrial estates and residential areas), and the ongoing recruitment of animals from these non-baited areas reduces the effectiveness of the program.
  • Wet weather regularly interrupts the program, causing bait breakdown and limited access to many of the baiting sites, reducing the effectiveness of the program.
  • Increased public awareness of the fox problem can lead to an unrealistic expectation that fox control will be immediate.

Conclusion

This program has achieved its aim of raising community awareness about urban foxes and the problems they cause.  Although there is only anecdotal evidence that threatened species populations might be recovering, this program has provided many opportunities to improve fox control methods, particularly in urban settings.

Fox control is not the core business for many of the partners involved in this project, which, along with competing priorities, makes it difficult to get long-term commitment of resources, staff and budget. The cooperation of partner organisations is influenced by many factors, including the opinions of their managers, as well as public and political opinions of the day. The turnover of staff and their mixed level of knowledge and skills make training a constant priority. These issues will need to be addressed to secure the long-term future of this program.

Author Invasive Animals CRC
Year 2012
Publisher Invasive Animals CRC
Pages 2
ISBN/ISSN PestSmart code: FXCS7
Control method 1080 (sodium monofluoroacetate)
Region NSW
Documents PestSmart Case Study: Northern Sydney regional fox baiting program  [330kb PDF]
Links PestSmart toolkit: Foxes