'Pure torture': Tree netting hurts our most vulnerable animals

For ACT Wildlife volunteers, work is often brutal and around-the-clock.

Denise Kay sits with Marg Peachey in the backyard of her home in Kambah. There's ducklings behind a short fence, an Eastern Koel in the aviary, and bats on the balcony and in the main bedroom.

Grey-headed flying foxes, which are vulnerable because of their declining numbers, are being choked and injured by tree netting. Photo: Karleen Minney

Grey-headed flying foxes, which are vulnerable because of their declining numbers, are being choked and injured by tree netting. Photo: Karleen Minney

Just minutes earlier, Ms Kay and Ms Peachey were scaling trees to free grey-headed flying foxes, which are a type of bat vulnerable for their declining numbers, from cheap tree netting.

Since September, the organisation has rescued 60 of the animals from netting. Several have died, choked by the netting, and numbers are rapidly rising as babies leave the colony to forage for themselves.

Nine grey-headed flying foxes had been rescued one day alone recently.

ACT Wildlife flying fox coordinator Denise Kay has nine in her care. Photo: Karleen Minney

ACT Wildlife flying fox coordinator Denise Kay has nine in her care. Photo: Karleen Minney

"I was called to a house in Palmerston that had this netting, and when I climbed the ladder there were two grey-headed flying foxes, a mother and a baby. They were both dead," flying fox coordinator, Ms Kay, said.

"They'd obviously been there since the day before and they'd spent so much time trying to get out. The [mother's] whole face was mangled, the netting was all around the baby. It's pure torture."

This year, there are more than 5000 flying foxes in the ACT - some of the highest numbers the territory has had since they began migrating here en masse in about 2003. As trees begin to fruit, locals have sought to protect them from animals.

But an increase in the popularity of cheap, low-grade netting, purchased online, is achieving just the opposite, Ms Peachey said.

"It's a real problem with people using the wrong nets, and even if they're the right nets they're not being put on properly. They need to be put on a frame and stretched, or stretched around the tree and tied in tight," she said.

Nets should be white rather than black so they were more visible to wildlife and rescuers, Ms Peachey said. Holes should be no bigger than five millimetres - too small for your finger, or anything else, to get through.

However, no netting was the best option to protect wildlife.

"I say just take the netting off and share [with the animals]," Ms Kay said.

Some Canberrans refused to opt for white, tightly-woven netting because it looked more obvious on trees. But the results of using the opposite could be devastating, particularly when residents tried to free animals themselves.

A grey-headed flying fox stuck in tree netting. Photo: Supplied

A grey-headed flying fox stuck in tree netting. Photo: Supplied

Anyone who comes into contact with bats should immediately seek medical attention as they can get the Australian bat lyssavirus, which is related to rabies.

"It's unreasonable for volunteers to come out to the same place three times because the owner doesn't like the look of [safer] tree netting," Ms Peachey said.

"It's dangerous for us, it's dangerous for them, and it's dangerous for the animal."

The ACT government has no regulations about tree netting, including in the 110-page ACT Tree Protection Act 2005. It is understood there are no plans to introduce formal regulations.

"I would like to see the product banned but that is almost impossible. We might be able to convince [bricks and mortar retailers] to limit the sale of the nets but how can you police it online?" Ms Kay said.