Gliding to safety - new research shows fauna protection measures a huge success

11 July 2018

A new study has shown initiatives being used by Roads and Maritime Services to protect wildlife during major highway upgrade projects are paying off.

A three year monitoring program of glider poles and rope-canopy-bridges, along the Pacific Highway confirmed they were helping wildlife to move safely across highways.

A  Roads and Maritime spokesperson said the agency has had a long commitment to ensuring the best welfare outcomes for wildlife during highway upgrades.

“It’s important that wildlife can move freely to other areas to access food, water and mates so when highways are upgraded or built, opportunities are provided for wildlife to safely cross the highway,” the spokesperson said.

“Roads and Maritime has been monitoring wildlife and collecting data for more than 14 years to help inform current and future highway upgrade projects. Wildlife includes some of our iconic native species such as koalas, kangaroos, sugar gliders, quolls and the long-nose potoroo to name a few.”

The research published in Australian Mammology monitored poles and a rope canopy-bridges used by glider mammal species along the Oxley Highway Port Macquarie, on the NSW mid north coast between 2013 and 2016.

The study, led by Associate Professor Ross Goldingay from Southern Cross University’s School of Environment, Science and Engineering said the findings opened the door to further conservation initiatives.

“We high-fived when we saw our first photo of a yellow-bellied glider on a pole. This extends the range of species previously documented using glide poles and confirmed we have a conservation tool with huge potential,” he said.

On the Pacific Highway, between Sapphire and Woolgoolga remote cameras and a catch-and-release method have also shown the structures are working, recording regular use by Sugar gliders, Feathertail gliders and Squirrel gliders.

“The use of a glider pole by a Feathertail glider was considered unexpected, given the species’ small size and vulnerability in open areas, and a gliding capability not as strong as other larger species,” he said.

All three species, including the threatened Squirrel glider, were recorded moving in both directions, confirming they’ve not only crossed the highway, but also showing there isn’t a behavioural limitation and the gliders are readily willing to use these structures to cross the road.

The fauna crossing measures, including vegetated medians and glide poles, were installed as part of strict environment measures on the Sapphire to Woolgoolga upgrade project. An Ecological Monitoring Program led by Dr Brendan Taylor, Ecologist from Sandpiper Ecological, was established to study the area known to house a number of threatened species, including the Squirrel glider.

"We want animals to cross the road in the first instance, but also to feel safe enough to cross and to breed, so glider populations become connected and avoid an isolation of population,” Dr Taylor said.

Roads and Maritime will be installing similar measures on the Woolgoolga to Ballina upgrade as part of the project’s compliance for the management of threatened species.

To view video footage of fauna using the structures visit the Pacific Highway Environment News web page.

To read more about the research go to the CSIRO web site.

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