With Halloween just around the corner, we wanted to take a furry close look at one of our most feared and mythologised critters - bats. Angelena Efstathiou of Nottinghamshire Bat Group tells us about the work they do to better understand our local bats, and how you can help protect them…
Bats are one of the most feared and misunderstood animals on the planet, with many myths surrounding them. They are often associated with spooky times and vampires, but they are very important to healthy ecosystems, providing many economic and ecological services including seed dispersal, plant pollination and biological pest control. For instance, did you know that over 500 different foods we eat are pollinated by bats and only bats? This includes species of mango, banana and agave (which is used to make Tequila!) but on a more local level, bats aid us with organic pest control, as all our UK species of bats are insectivores.
Many bat species declined dramatically during the latter half of the twentieth century. Much of this has been caused by the destruction of roost sites, chemical pest control and habitat loss. Whilst legislation has helped some species stabilise or recover, this recovery is in jeopardy.
The Habitat Regulations, which were a part of EU legislation that the UK helped shape and drive forward, have played a huge part in saving precious places for wildlife in the last thirty years. These laws cover a number of vital pieces of legislation, including some that protects bats and their roosts as well as rules for pesticides and the designation of some of our most precious natural sites, and we still retain many of them post-Brexit for now. However, the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill 2022 will enable the UK Government to wipe away these laws from the 31st December 2023.
Locally, Nottinghamshire Bat Group (NBG) has been doing the painstaking background research that underpins our understanding of bat life. We’re made up of volunteers from across the county who come together to protect and promote the conservation of bats, their roosts and feeding areas. Here in Notts we’ve recorded twelve of the seventeen species of bats found in the UK, including some of the rarer species like the Barbastelle bat and Serotine bat. Both these species are listed on the official IUCN Red List for British Mammals as at risk of extinction.
Back in 2015 to 2018 we undertook a Heritage Lottery funded project called the Echolocation Location project. Our aim was to record bats in as many tetrads as possible during the three years of the project. A tetrad is an area measuring 2km x 2km. By using a bat detector, we can record bat echolocation calls which are too high in frequency for human hearing (over 20kHz). Over the three years we managed to record bats in 90.4% of the county, or 556 tetrads. This great effort led to the publication of a book The Bats of Nottinghamshire.
In addition to the bat detector work, some of the Group’s volunteers undertook harp trapping and radio tracking surveys through which they discovered the first roosts of barbastelle bat in the county. Since then, we have identified more locations where this species is present in a variety of locations across the county and have found more roosts of this elusive woodland bat.
We also managed to pick up Serotine bat calls, a species which hadn’t been recorded in the county for over two decades through our Echolocation Location project. Our more recent project involvement with Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust on the Miner 2 Major project meant we located more areas with Serotine bats, which we hope to find out more about in 2023 through further radio tracking surveys.
As we have seen over the last few years, changes have not been carefully considered and either rushed through hastily or scrapped. So this vital legislation protecting wildlife and their habitats could be at risk. The Bill doesn’t just affect bats but countless other local species, and the sites they call home. This is why we’re asking you to defend nature and write to your local MP or local councillor to ensure they bring these issues to parliamentary attention, and for the government not to backtrack on promises previously made.
“There is a big task ahead of us but it is vital that we build on all the great work of all volunteers, communities and local groups to safeguard nature for the species that live there as well as for future generations. Our own wellbeing depends on the natural environment,” says John Parker, Chair of Nottinghamshire Bat Group.
Nottinghamshire Bat Group is made up of volunteers and there is no previous experience required to join in and take part and anyone is welcome to join and become a citizen scientist. Some of our members are experienced conservationists, ecologists and scientists from all walks of life. So if this has pricked your ears (pointy or otherwise) and you want to get involved and learn more about bats, public engagement and citizen science, please join us.
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