The annual fox baiting program has begun on the North Coast from South Wall at Ballina to approximately 6.5km south of the 4WD access at Black Rocks in Bundjalung National Park.

National Parks says that, now in its 10 year, the program, a joint initiative of the Department of Lands, National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and Rural Lands Protection Board (RLPB), has been successful in increasing fledgling numbers of one of the most significant bird populations in the State, the pied oystercatcher.

The fox is the pied oystercatcher’s main predator, as they seek out clutches of eggs laid in shallow depressions in sand dunes just above the high tide mark and also target chicks.

The baiting program aims to reduce fox numbers prior to the pied oystercatcher’s breeding season, which begins in August/September.

NPWS Richmond River Area Manager Mark Pittavino said that the State population of pied oystercatchers is only about 250 individuals and the South Ballina to Bundjalung National Park population was identified as a Statewide priority in the Fox Threat Abatement Plan.

“The 26 breeding pairs between South Ballina and Bundjalung National Park are therefore extremely significant for preservation of the species,” Mr Pittavino said.

“1080 baits will be laid in the coastal area between the Richmond River and 10 Mile Beach in Bundjalung National Park until 19 December 2008.

“The 1080 baits are designed to kill foxes but will also harm dogs if they eat them.

“It is important that people only take their dogs to areas that are designated dog exercise areas.

“1080 baits will not be laid in or in the vicinity of these dog exercise areas to ensure responsible pet owners are able to exercise their dogs safely.

“Beach areas that are baited will be signposted.

“The co-operation of beach users in avoiding disturbances of shorebirds on the beach or dunes is crucial to the survival of this endangered bird.

“Temporary signs will be placed on the beach to alert visitors to nesting sites and ask that they remain clear of these areas.

“In particular four-wheel-drive vehicles should time their trips to the beach to ensure they only drive at low tide to avoid driving above the high tide mark where pied oystercatchers nest.

“This is common sense, but it is not uncommon to see drivers caught out by incoming tides.

“They should also keep an eye out for pied oystercatchers chicks that may shelter in wheel ruts or beach debris such as seaweed.”