Legislation regarding tape playback

To: Simon Mustoe <>
Subject: Legislation regarding tape playback
From: Ian May <>
Date: Fri, 05 Jun 2009 10:49:08 +1000
g'Day all

A very interesting subject and thanks Phil and Simon for the information.

Similar regulations to the relevant Qld sections are stated in most State NPW Acts. The intention is clearly to control research likely to cause "significant adverse impacts" on wildlife or to control noisy disruptive park users. If a prosecution was defended, it is unlikely a magistrate would convict anyone for playing a recording of a bird call except perhaps where it could be demonstrated that an affected animal was most vulnerable or that the noise was disruptive to the public.

However never having used bird call playback, I can only guess at the negative impacts caused by recorders but I would be surprised if it could be described as significant except for the potential risk to an animal in the most vulnerable of circumstances. I would be interested to hear examples of tape playback considered to be offending on the basis of significant adverse impact. And as a comparison of bird related activities, how does bird call playback rate as a negative impact on birdlife compared to say, cannon netting and leg flagging small waders, banding amongst nesting colonies, mist netting and banding of passerines, radio and satellite tracking etc. etc., practices very significant when measuring adverse impacts on the welfare of the targeted birds.

Tasmania The scope of Animal welfare legislation for Tasmania as described by the EIANZ site (copied below) seems reasonable and perhaps birds australia holds a licence because of its role in bird banding. That seems fair enough as banding should be treated as a much more serious animal welfare issue

Scope: Applies to any "animal research", which has a broad definition, meaning a procedure, test, experiment, inquiry or study on an animal which is undertaken to develop, demonstrate or acquire knowledge, or techniques, in an area of science or teaching; and is likely to have a significant adverse effect on the welfare of the animal. A significant adverse impact includes observational studies where the animals are handled, tagged or otherwise interfered with or the animal's immediate environment is entered or disturbed by that activity". Animal means all live, non-human vertebrates and cephalopods. 'Animal' includes juvenile forms.

Unless someone convinces me otherwise, it would appear that tape playback of birdcalls is a bit of a furphy. The impact pales into insignificance compared with chemical spraying of forests and prescribed burning during spring etc. Perhaps if we are over concerned about impact on the conservation of birdlife from tape playback, then perhaps we have nothing much to worry about.


Ian May

St Helens, Tasmania

Simon Mustoe wrote:


I agree with Phil. I also think it would be a shame if we ended up in a society that prohibited a natural right to go birding. For reasons I am about to explain, we are almost in that situation already.
Where governments / courts have determined the use of tapes to be unreasonable, 
then the same restrictions apply to approaching birds (especially with nests), 
pishing, or even walking through forest.

The following link contains a summary of the animal ethics policy situations throughout Australia. I am afraid it differs in every state, so it takes some understanding. It is noteworthy however, that most constraints apply to 'research' or'science'. In theory, anyone who is collecting data for Birds Australia or BOCA has to operate under an animal ethics approval in many states. Tasmania is one of the most draconian - Birds Australia actually maintains a licence. If you walk past a bird in Tassie, you are potentially in breach of their legislation, if you are doing so as a consequence of science.
Although I have the greatest respect for the research that people may do into 
these subjects, tape-playback is an easy target - the impact potential is 
evident, so it's just a matter of measuring it. Researchers who carry out this 
work with a view to tighter policy must understand this could affect 
conservation outcomes. Birding contributes more data to environmental control 
than any other interest group. The gradual destruction of the environment 
through land clearance etc is a much worse problem and is only addressed 
through an improved connection between society and the environment - that 
includes data gathering by volunteers. Anyone researching the topic of impacts 
on birds from call-playback, or
any other 'disturbance' caused by birders should keep in mind the
benefits versus the costs. Yes, there are bound to be potentially
serious local problems - we know this already and most wildlife
protection laws already prohibit disturbance of birds at the nest. We may not need tighter animal welfare legislation.

One would hope that this is where law meets common sense. However, the "law", 
strictly speaking is meaningless as many of these requirements are being brought in via 
policy and regulations -  this bypasses the courts. I have heard that such policies
are contributing to the closure of community conservation
groups in my area - the annual reporting requirements are quite
considerable, especially when added to the public liability issues.
Prescribing laws for individual animal welfare, if that prohibits birdwatching, 
is also (in my view) a breach of basic human rights - but then Australia 
doesn't have any Humans Rights legislation. Although I respect the need for 
animal welfare (and I am a firm believer in this) I refer back to my statement 
in the second paragraph. Stronger laws for individual animal protection is 
beginning to affect not only tape-playback but all other traditional forms of 
birding. In some states, looking through a pair of binoculars and writing down 
the sighting in a notebook is an offence without a licence. There are few who 
would believe this is actually necessary to protect birds.

Let's not lose sight of the fact that our ecosystems are suffering catastrophic changes and that we need more people out birding, not less. Personally, I think a ban on tape-playback, except at very specific locations, is likely to contribute little to conservation of birds. Time would be better spent lobbying for better habitat protection or researching methods of land management for birds.


Subject: Re: [Birding-Aus] Legislation regarding tape playback
Date: Thu, 4 Jun 2009 16:46:54 +1000



"Disturbance by radio, tape recorder or sound system
A person must not use a radio, tape recorder or other sound or amplifier system in a way that may cause unreasonable disturbance to a person or animal in a protected area.

Maximum penalty--50 penalty units." Qld's penalty units are worth $100 at the moment.

I don't know if anyone has been charged under Sect 139, but it would be interesting to see the legal arguments pro and con. The argument hinges on "in a way that may cause unreasonable disturbance to a person or animal". It would be hard to prove that an animal had not been "unreasonably disturbed" by a play-back, but then again it would be hard to prove it had.

I think most Magistrates would not look on using play-back as a serious breach and may very well dismiss the matter or only hit the defendant with a couple of hundred dollars plus costs.

I would contact the relevant department's (National Parks?) regulatory section and sound them out on the current enforcement policy on using play-back under Sect 139, they may very well decide to use their powers of discretion and turn a deaf ear to play-back.


Carl Clifford

On 04/06/2009, at 4:03 PM, Phil & Sue Gregory wrote:

Dear all,
My mate Bret Whitney is compiling a paper about the potential negative effects of overuse of tapes on birds, a growing issue as the use of digital recordings is becoming so widespread.
Here is his request:
Thanks for this info. I wonder if you could possibly find the official number of the law and date it went into effect in Queensland? Has anyone ever actually been arrested or cited to pay a fine or other penalty? It seems that we're all fearing fines and penalties from heresay or sign-postings about playback -- but is it actually a law anywhere? Would a park actually have legal grounds in a court of law for leveling a fine on someone? Perhaps so, but it's not at all clear to me, at least. Not that I want to fight any fine I or others might ever receive -- I just want to know if there is actually any written, formal legislation on the subject anywhere in the world. I'm having trouble finding anything here in the US.

If anyone can help that'd be great. Thanks
Phil Gregory

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