The outrage of the shooting of Black Swans in Bairnsdale saw some unlikely coalitions of people come together to convince Victorian Minister Gavin Jennings to change the legislation — and the East Gippsland Region of his Department’s approach.

Unless you live in the bush a long way from capital cities you would probably have no idea just how many native animals and birds are shot. However the shooting of Black Swans with permits issued by Victoria’s Department of Sustainability and Environment was clearly too much — even for the locals.

It revealed a colonial side to Australian culture that was still reflected in legislation. The old Wildlife Act protected animals unless they interfered with the efficiency or productivity etc. of farming in which case it offered only one remedy — shooting them.

None of us should be surprised that it goes on. We all know that more than a million kangaroos are shot annually across all states because they ‘impede’ agricultural production for cattle, sheep or wheat and other crops. The kangaroos are therefore shot on our behalf — even if we are vegetarians.

There are smarter solutions that do not kill animals and better protect crops and pasture — and the locals of East Gippsland worked it out for Black Swans. After a flurry of publicity and despite strangely equivocal statements from the regional staff of the Department of Sustainability and Environment no more permits to shoot swans were issued.

It turns out that water boards had had similar problems with swans and worked out that wire slung about 1m above the pond (or paddock) stops swans who will not land without a clear runway to take off from. The farmer at Bairnsdale with the original problem tried it and it worked — his lucerne is booming.

Before:

After (same paddock):

Other farmers employed commercially available deterrent devices that worked as well.

An FOI request by the Herald Sun revealed the number of protected native animals killed or ‘controlled’ with permits from the Regional DSE offices was around 60,000 per year. Mostly Grey Kangaroos but there were also thousands of wombats, wood ducks, red necked and swamp wallabies and even wattle birds and butcher birds likely killed with permits.

Local conservation groups from Gippsland worked with Sporting Shooters, the RSPCA, The Victorian Farmers Federation, research staff from DSE, researchers from universities and other government agencies to come up with a long term solution to this problem. It was discovered that there are actually a wealth of non lethal deterrents to keep various native animals off you farm and away from your crop. It was suggested to Minister Jennings that the Department establish a website that at least staff could refer to before they issued permits.

Minister Gavin Jennings responded quietly and efficiently. He changed the Wildlife Act so that non lethal deterrents had to be considered before permits were issued and put some of the states best wildlife managers in charge of establishing a website of deterrents. There is a lot more that can be done but the Ministers actions provide a solid base to work from. It has also kept an unlikely coalition of people working together and reigned in what the public perceive as arrogant regional managers.

One of the best deterrents came from garlic farmers who had wombats ploughing through their patch. Six rocks were used, starting with the flatest placed 2m from the crop on the first night. The wombats poo on the rock and “defends new territory”. The next night the nest rock just a bit higher a further 2m away sand so-on until defending the poo marked rocks provide a total distraction from the crop.

Somehow this seems an appropriate political metaphor for achieving political change too these days.

Peter Fray

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