Warning: Some images in the above gallery may upset some readers
A Bega Valley farmer is defending his right to rid his property of “pests” after the bodies of wombats shot dead were photographed by conservationists.
A mother wombat and her baby were in plain sight, left lying dead side by side in a cow paddock near Candelo.
Their bodies could easily be seen from a public access road. The road leads to the Bega Valley’s most notable conservation site, and slices through the private acreage of one of the valley’s most well respected dairy farming families.
First on the scene after the shooting were volunteer wombat carers.
They took photos, and now call for action.
And standing defiant is a patriarch farmer, who says “enough’s enough”.
Conservationist Lenore Taylor was arriving at Cowsnest Community Farm early Wednesday morning, August 3, when she noticed something from Moreings Rd.
“I thought it was a calf at first, so I got out of the car to investigate,” Ms Taylor said.
“I saw two dead wombats, one with a bullet hole in the rear of its back.”
Following on from another sighting in a similar area a few months ago – of a wombat with its “head and foot blown off” – Ms Taylor decided to call the police, with two officers arriving on the scene shortly afterwards.
“One of them walked over and looked at them. He said he didn’t know how they were killed. He didn’t see the gunshot wound. I immediately knew that I was dealing with people who weren’t interested.”
Ms Taylor was “reprimanded for trespassing” before the police departed. She called fellow Cowsnest worker Leo Bunyan, who later drove along Moreings Rd and photographed the dead wombats.
“I think defining this as trespass is a fine line,” Mr Bunyan said. “I walked across property, without doing any harm, to investigate a suspected crime.”
Mr Bunyan pointed out wombats are protected Australian fauna, so any shooting may be illegal unless a permit is given.
“I support shooting, but I support sticking to the law,” Mr Bunyan said.
Dairy farmer Roger Heffernan has his own perspective. He was clear in saying he did not shoot the two wombats photographed, but admitted he allows shooters on his property to clear feral animals. Although he will not identify the shooters, he defends his right to “eliminate” animals he regards as pests.
“I’ve been on this property for 55 years and my family were on the land prior to that, and wombats are just a bloody nuisance,” Mr Heffernan said.
“If we go back to my childhood, wombats were not part of the makeup of farms at all. But come the 1960s when the pasture improved and farmers started using better fertiliser and made better pasture, the wombats have just come in and thrived. And they cause so much erosion.”
Mr Heffernan said the course of his river has been altered by wombat burrows and the collapse of the burrows after heavy rain.
“Hundreds of tons of soil was washed away in the last big flood, and it widened the creek by at least 40 per cent. The water took away good loam soil.
“If I’d been an entrepreneur I could have taken that soil and sold it and retired to Bermuda. But instead it’s washed into the Tasman Sea.”
Mr Heffernan estimated the number of wombats killed by shooters on his farmland over the past 35 years is “in the triple figures”.
While permits are available for culling wombats, Mr Heffernan said they are more hassle than they are worth and only allow for the removal of a handful of wombats.
“If they want to lock me up for it they can lock me up,” Mr Heffernan said.
Framed by the lush, grassy 1000 acres of his vast property, Mr Heffernan said it was “hard to quantify” the extent of the wombat problem.
“It’s probably not much in the big scheme of things, but it accumulates over time,” Mr Heffernan said. “The wombats also eat a hell of a lot. It’s never ending.”
Well-known local identity and long-term conservationist Alexandra Seddon – who established Cowsnest Farm at the end of Moreings Rd – said erosion on farmland is principally caused by land-clearing along water courses, and said killing wombats will never result in a happy solution for farmers.
“The sad thing is that farmers are actually creating a problem for themselves.” Ms Seddon said.
“Not only do any younger ones then dig everywhere and create havoc, wombats from neighbouring properties simply move in.”
Ms Seddon said this then gives the false impression there is a higher population of wombats, inspiring more shooting. And what gets forgotten is the actual vulnerability of the species.
“We think we have plenty in the Bega Valley, but that is because we are lucky and live in the wombat centre of the world,” Ms Seddon said.
“But the area occupied by the bare-nosed wombat has shrunk and shrunk. And the northern hairy-nosed wombat (of Queensland) became rarer than pandas, down to 70 individuals.”
Ironically, the latter’s population was decimated by cattle trampling their burrows, Ms Seddon said.
Ms Seddon notified the Sapphire Coast branch of the RSPCA, but was advised that the local branch did not deal with cases of possible animal cruelty and was advised to refer the matter to Sydney head office.
Ms Seddon said she also spoke with a police officer at Batemans Bay police station, seeking a report identification number for the incident.
Police have been contacted for comment.