November 17, 2022

Virtual fencing pilot on NSW South Coast aims to reduce roadkill and improve driver safety

Virtual fencing emits sound and flashing lights to alert animals. Photo © Eurobodalla Shire Council

In a first for New South Wales, a ‘virtual fence’ is being trialled on a section of road on the South Coast in the hopes that it will help curb the high wildlife road toll and improve driver safety.

One kilometre of virtual fencing has been installed along Cullendulla Drive in Long Beach – a section of road notorious for its high number of wildlife fatalities. The road was selected after being identified through roadkill records as one of the area’s most significant hotspots, with close to a thousand animals killed there in the past decade.

The project is spearheaded by local community environmental group, The Coastwatchers Association, in partnership with the Eurobodalla Shire Council and a local branch of the NSW Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service. Funding for the project is being provided through a partnership between the Great Eastern Ranges (GER) and the World Wild Fund for Nature-Australia (WWF-Australia).

The electronic protection system comprises a series of poles set at 25-metre intervals along the road in a zigzag pattern. When a vehicle approaches at night, the car’s headlights activate each pole in turn, causing it to emit a combination of sound and flashing lights, creating a ‘virtual fence’ that alerts nocturnal animals about to cross the road.

“The lights and the sound can be picked up from a distance, so it actually can stop the wildlife from coming right up to the road,” Eurobodalla Shire Council’s Natural Resource Supervisor, Courtney Fink-Downes said.

“Car headlights often startle the wildlife and then they get dazed and sometimes will go into the traffic.”

Similar virtual fencing has been trialled with great success in Australia and internationally, with one pilot study in Tasmania reducing wombat roadkill by a significant 80%. This is the first time that the fencing will be trialled in New South Wales with plans already underway to establish it in other roadkill hotspots across eastern Australia.

The virtual fence will protect native animals, such as the bare-nosed wombat, from cars. Photo © AdobeStock

“Vehicle strike takes an extremely high toll on our native wildlife, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 10 million animals every year, including koalas, Tasmanian devils and powerful owls. With habitat loss and fragmentation increasing, our wildlife are forced to put themselves at risk by crossing roads in search of food, shelter and mates,” says Gary Howling, CEO of Great Eastern Ranges.

We are behind the rest of the world in terms of putting in place structures and measures that help to reduce the impact of our roads on wildlife and improve road safety for drivers. The pilot on the South Coast is intended to be the first of many virtual fences and crossings structures that GER helps to support the establishment of.”

“Australia is sadly a world leader in extinction and biodiversity loss, so we need to pull every lever at our disposal to turn this crisis around. We hope innovative solutions like this virtual fencing can complement our longer-term efforts to reconnect fragmented habitat and buy some time for our threatened wildlife,” says Tim Cronin, Acting Head of Land and Seascapes, WWF-Australia.

The success of the virtual fence will be determined by comparing the roadkill data collected by council prior to installation with that gathered in the years after.

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