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the Plight of British Bats

Updated on August 3, 2015

Notes from a Lancashire Countryman

A flurry of leaves dawdle in mid air, reluctant to leave their arboreal mother. In the gathering dusk I observe a bat displaying incredible aerial skills, darting to and fro beneath the boughs ridding the air of its insect inhabitants. The bat is our only flying mammal and the most misunderstood. For the real image is far removed from the one associated with Dracula, haunted houses and the like.

The pipistrelle is Britain;s smallest and commonest bat and is the one you are most likely to encounter flitting across the night sky in search of insects. In flight pipistrelles' have a wing span of about 15cm, however, when at rest and the wings are folded, it would comfortably fit in a container the size of a match box.

All British bats are insect eaters and do more good than harm. One bat alone may eat up to 3,000 insects per night. Despite the old adage " as blind as a bat " bats can see, and they are very unlikely to become entangled in your hair { a popular misconception }. Detecting their prey by means of echo-location, a sophisticated type of sonar, makes the chance virtually impossible to happen in open spaces. Another fact not commonly known is that they are very clean animals that spend a lot of time grooming.

Bats normally give birth to one live young per season. They can live up to 30 years, and, have been around for 50 million years. But now they need our help and understanding in order to survive. I believe strongly that they deserve both from us, after all it is man alone who has persecuted them and destroyed most of the bats' natural habitat. In the last few decades another threat to bats have sprung up in many parts of the countryside in the form of large wind turbines. According to Natural England { formerly English Nature } there is anecdotal evidence of bat casualties associated with single wind turbines as well as with wind farms, particularly when turbines are located close to woods. { Natural England information note TIN059 }. Research on the impacts of both wind farms and single turbines on bats in the U.K. is in progress, however, the results will not be revealed for some time to come due to the complexities involved.

Habitat and Foraging

Bats feed on invertebrates whether caught in flight or gleaned from foliage. Therefore, it is not surprising that many species are associated with woodland, where insects are at a premium. It is not just the availability of prey that attracts many species to woodland, but also tree cavities, natural holes and ones created by avian carpenters such as the woodpecker or nuthatch.

Bats utilise a variety of habitat. Many books will give description of the 17 species of U.K. bats, thus I will mention them by name and concentrate on their habits and habitat. In the U.K. we have two groups of bat.The Horseshoe bat which belong to the Rhinolophidae and the more familiar bats that belong to the Vespertilionidae. The horseshoe bat has a distinct flap of skin around the nose and nostrils that is superficially shaped like a horseshoe. { part of it's intricate sonar system }

THE SPECIES--- GREATER HORSESHOE BAT--- As it's name suggests it is the larger { and much rarer } of our two species of horseshoe bat. It's decline is associated with the loss of pasture, hedgerows and the fragmentation of woodland where the species feed. They roost in the roof spaces of old buildings during the summer, while caves, mines and cellars are utilised in winter.

THE LESSER HORSESHOE BAT-- is found in woodland especially woodland on limestone. This species hunts close to the ground, seldom above 4-5 metres, where they feed on small insects and spiders. It is much smaller than the previous species. Although more numerous than its larger relative it is also scarce and thought to be still in decline.

While on the subject of horseshoe bats it is appropriate to mention that these two species wrap their wings completely around the body when at roost. Those of the Vespertilionidae, fold their wings down by their sides when at roost. Have you ever wondered why bats hang upside down when at their roosts ?. I will attempt to give a basic answer. The bat has evolved for flight, thus the hind legs have virtually become surplus to requirements. Because of this they cannot take off from the ground. Hence they alight on a vertical structure and use their front feet to crawl up to the required height. Once this has been achieved it is just a case of dropping off into flight which they need to do quickly should they be disturbed at the roost.

BROWN LONG-EARED BAT.--This bat feeds at well wooded areas which include parks and gardens. They roost in buildings and trees and will only take to caves and tunnels should the weather be very cold and prolonged. It gleans insects from foliage while displaying an incredible ability to hover. In general flight it is graceful. They feed on moths, spiders and other invertebrates. Studies have shown that this species takes larger moths to a feeding perch where they will remove the inedible parts. The brown long eared bat is still common and widespread. It's close relative the Grey long eared bat is very rare and restricted to the south of England

COMMON PIPISTRELLE--The smallest and most common bat in the lowland habitats which include woodland, farmland and urban locations. It is often seen in the locality of water bodies. In all these locations it feeds on small moths, midges, lacewings and other invertebrates. This species may well be observed late into Autumn when other species have begun to hibernate for the winter months. Should the weather allow a mild spell during the winter they will emerge to hunt. It is now recognised that the common pipistrelle has two species, the other being the Soprano pipistrelle, although the layman would find it impossible to distinguish the two specially in flight. Another species of pipistrlle now occurs in Britain but it is extremely rare. The common pipistrelle is associated with houses and trees for roosting.

DAUBENTON'S BAT--is a medium sized bat that feeds in open woodland areas that has access to water. Over water bodies such as canals and meres they fly low keeping a constant height. Unusually this bat is capable of taking off from the water's surface. It is commonly referred to as the water bat. They feed on flying insects. During the summer months they tend to roost in trees, buildings or even under bridges especially the stone ones so familiar along canals. During the inter months they roost in under ground situations such as caves usually those with a high humidity inside.

NATTERER'S BAT---when there are tranquil conditions this species has the habit of holding its tail in a downward manner. They feed in open woodland in particular those near wet situations. Their habit is to fly low. The flight is consistently slow and is another species that tend to hover. They feed on a diet of invertebrates especially flies and beetles. It is a medium sized bat and although wide spread they are scarce.

NOCTULE BAT-- this species is the largest of the widespread species, and often observed flying just before dusk up to an hour or so before darkness cloaks the countryside. This bat tends to feed high , above 30 meters. They feed over open woodland even in urban parks. During the summer months they roost in trees. During the winter they may be found squeezed in the crevices of rocks. They feed on large flying insects in particular moths and beetles. there have been some localised declines but they are still quite common and widespread.

SEROTINE BAT-- it may be worth observing swifts as they trawl for insects for this species is often among them when they scream around the roof tops at dusk. They also favour open or lightly wooded situations in lowland habitats. their diet consists of large flying insects, moths and the larger flying beetles. In the main they tend to roost in buildings, however, they have been located in tree holes. During hard winter months they will go underground. They are confined to southern England and the south of Wales where they are locally common.

BRANDT'S BAT---Is found throughout England and Wales and experts believe they may be more common than the whiskered bat in many areas. Both species are very similar in appearance. They roost in buildings and trees during summer while winter is spent in caves and tunnels when necessary. They feed over wooded country, often near water where they feed on moths and other small insects and spiders.

WHISKERED BAT-- found throughout England and Wales up to southern Scotland. feeding ,food and roosts see above species.

LEISLER'S BAT---found throughout the U.k. with the exception of northern Scotland. They feed in open woodland, parkland and around street lamps, where they feed on flies , moths and beetles. They roost in buildings and tree holes. They may be located in caves and tunnels during the winter.

BARBASTELLE'S BAT---they feed over deciduous woodland and also near buildings where they feed on small flying insects such as micro-moths and midges. They are known to roost in buildings and tree holes during the summer months. They will use caves in winter time. This species is restricted to southern counties of England with one colony found in west Wales. They are still precariously rare.

BECHSTEIN'S BAT---very large species that is extremely rare restricted to the counties of southern England. They feed over woodland and parkland on moths, midges and other small flying insects. It is thought that they roost in buildings and hollow trees during the summer, or woodpecker holes. they roost in caves and mines during the winter.

In the U.K. all bats are fully protected by the law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981{ as amended }, which forbids bats' being deliberately caught unless they are in the living quarters of a house and they must not be disturbed at their roosts, even if this is in your attic or cellar. it all states that should any building work be planned that could result in the disturbance of bats or their roosts the relevant Statutory Body { In England this is Natural England } must be consulted who must be consulted. They themselves will consult the relevant bat groups in the area.

The Bat Conservation Trust monitors the populations and roosts of British bats. It is my opinion that the countryside would be a much poorer place with out these nocturnal insectivorous mammals..

Pipistrelle being held


Conservation updates August 2013

The Grey Long-eared bat is one of the rarest bats in the UK, with an estimated population of 1,000 individuals, and a distribution confined to the southern coasts of England and Wales. Dr.Orly Razgour's Conservation Management Plan outlines how the British population is of a high conservation concern, because it seems to be declining and fragmented, and several maternity colonies have been lost over the last few decades.

The decline of the Grey long -eared bat in the UK, is closely linked to the disappearance of lowland unimproved grassland {meadows } its main foraging habitat. As such the Grey long eared bat is a good flagship species for the conservation of this threatened habitat.

The management Plan recommends -

* Allocating the Grey long eared bat as a 'Priority species status' thus ensuring that maternity colonies and the surrounding habitat gain full protection by law.

* Implement mandatory molecular species identifications of droppings collected from all Long-eared roosts within the species' which are pending development or bat exclusion.

* Identify and monitor roosts and hibernation sites.

* manage the landscape around and between roosts to increase the availability of suitable foraging habitat and habitat connectivity.

*The management plan also includes mitigation recommendations for development and disturbance of roosts.

{source The Bat Conservation Trust }

Grey long eared bat

The image was originally on Flickr . Materialscientist enhanced the image by cropping and brightness.
The image was originally on Flickr . Materialscientist enhanced the image by cropping and brightness. | Source

White nose syndrome hits the UK--2013

Geomyces destructans {recently changed to Psuedogymnoascus deestructans}, the fungus associated with the deaths of 5.7 million bats in North America, since 2006, has been found in the UK for the first time. The fungus as been found on a live bat in environmental samples fro five sites in Kent and Sussex {southern England}, however, unlike in North America, there has been no observed mass die off, of bats which could indicate that British Bats could be resistant to the fungus.

In North America the fungus causes White Nose Syndrome {WNS}, which has decimated North American bat populations. The fungus but not WNS has been previously confirmed at sites across Europe, but without the associated bat deaths which may indicate that European bats are somewhat immune to the disease.

In North America the disease leads to bats being aroused from hibernation more frequently during the winter hence the precious fat reserves are used up which can not be replaced because of the unavailability of food during this period. In North America this has led to the death of millions of dehydrated and under weight bats.

The UK fungus was found on a live bat at an hibernation site in Kent early in 2013 and environmental samples have been found in five sites in Kent and Sussex. The bat was swabbed by an expert volunteer as part of an Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratory Agency { AHVLA} Wildlife Group { under the diseases of wildlife scheme} and the Bat Conservation Trust surveiilance programme. The Bat appeared healthy despite the fungus and no dead bats were encountered at the colony.

The fungus is thought to have been in Europe for a very long time hence the bat populations have become resistant to it. The disease which kills millions of bats in North America may have been introduced from the European side of the Atlantic. It has caused devastation because the bats in north America have no resistance to the disease caused by this fungus.

However, the fungi here in the UK is being monitored and there is no room for complacency and funding may be required to study the fungus and to see if the spread of the fungus can be stopped from spreading to other parts of the UK.


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