A Batty Tale

Rhiannon Hawthorn has been a member of the scouting organisation since she was 10 and most recently has completed the prestigious Queen’s Scout Award. For this she had to produce an environmental report for which she chose to research the conservation of bats in Warwickshire. In this guest blog (which first appeared on our youth blog) she tells us about her experiences finding out more about these enigmatic creatures.

One of my favourite story books when I was very young was Stellaluna – a tale about a bat. I have always been a fan of the bat, never finding them scary like many friends did. After going on an organised bat walk at a country park, I got more interested and involved. I became a member of the Warwickshire Bat Group with my family and attended lots more events and made bat boxes for the garden.

When I was about 10 or 11, I fostered a couple of pipistrelle bats that had been rescued by the bat group but could not be released, as injury prevented them from flying properly and therefore unable to survive again in the wild. I prepared mealworms for meals – they didn’t like the dried type you can get for birds. They had to be live or recently killed! I made a lining for an old fish tank and a roost out of an old glasses case. A pop up tent was adapted to become a larger exercise area. I also gave talks at school and scouts about my interest to raise awareness. I bought a bat detector so I could pick up their communications when out and about.

Bats make up about a third of the land mammals in the UK. They are an essential part of our environment here and round the world. They help control pests, help with pollination and can indicate wider ecological problems, if their population is changing. Unfortunately bat numbers in the UK are in decline, one cause being a loss of their habitat. Since bats rely on buildings for roosts, there is a lot that people can do to help reverse this trend. Roosting bats do no harm to the buildings they occupy and if you would like to find out more about how to help bats then click here.

In August, I went to Brandon Marsh Nature Centre (headquarters for the Trust) and met Matt Cox who is the Youth Engagement Officer at the Trust. We had a chat about my ideas for a project and Matt offered the chance to visit for a bat walk and other helpful ideas. He gave me useful contacts so I could offer to help on bat surveys.

After making some enquiries I got the chance to assist Warwickshire Bat Group on a survey/trapping exercise around Draycote Water, near Dunchurch. They were especially interested in the area as there had been sightings of rarely recorded Nathusius pipistrelle bats, roosting in farmhouse/buildings bordering the reservoir. The group had not been able to get permission to survey at the house as the owner was away on holiday. They decided to set up a survey and nets next to the reservoir as it is a good foraging area for the bats because of the many insects.

Positioning the nets - copyright Rhiannon Hawthorn
Positioning the nets – copyright Rhiannon Hawthorn

We met at the site at 5.30pm and set up nets. We had to search for the best place to locate them. It was quite a breezy night so a sheltered area was important. The nets stayed down until just before it was dark so birds wouldn’t fly into them. Also the bats would see the nets before it was completely dark, especially if they moved in the breeze. It was a clear, cold night. It had been raining for the previous couple of nights so this worked to our advantage. Bats find it difficult to navigate and feed in the rain, so they were out in force on this night.

Bats in nets, carefully removed by a licensed bat handler - copyright Rhiannon Hawthorn
Bats in nets, carefully removed by a licensed bat handler – copyright Rhiannon Hawthorn

The survey was led by experienced ecologist Jon Ross and licensed bat handlers. I used my own bat detector and set the frequency to pick up the species we were seeking. As there were more nets than people, some stayed posted by a net. Others, including myself, moved between them, checking as we went. If we found a bat in the net, one would stay at the site while the other fetched a licensed bat handler over. Then the bat was carefully removed from the net – slightly grumpy but unharmed! The team then checked species, gender (and if female, whether it had produced babies this year). Less common bats were weighed and measured (wrist to elbow as this measurement helps to identify the species). Some species may be tagged for tracking. The Nathusius pipistrelle wasn’t caught in the nets that night but one from the roost had previously been tagged. Their echolocations were also picked up on detectors that evening, so they are definitely present.

Checking and identifying the bats - copyright Rhiannon Hawthorn
Checking and identifying the bats – copyright Rhiannon Hawthorn
Checking and identifying the bats - copyright Rhiannon Hawthorn
Checking and identifying the bats – copyright Rhiannon Hawthorn

Although the primary aim of the survey that night was to tag other Nathusius Pipistrelle bats, it was also a chance to keep a track of the population numbers for different species in the area. Other bats netted or detected that evening included Daubentons (who favour feeding over water), Soprano pipistrelle, common pipistrelle and Whiskered bats. We finished at approximately 10pm then carefully packed away, making sure the area was left clear and clean.

It is good to see how effectively different groups work together to monitor and protect the species. The education work that is carried out by Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and Warwickshire Bat Group makes the public more aware and interested in conservation and hopefully encourages more members of the public to become actively involved by volunteering themselves. For me, it was a great opportunity to get to identify some less common bats and see them up close.

Rhiannon 

Rhiannon is 20 years old and studies at University of South Wales. She has grown up with a close interest in the natural world, in part by going to many of the activities run at Brandon Marsh by Warwickshire Wildlife Trust. To find out more about events and activities at Warwickshire Wildlife Trust then click here.

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