Monday, 12 February 2018

Daubenton's on ice!

From BCT's Scottish Officer, Liz Ferrell, comes a fascinating story of winter bat behaviour:

Graham White, a nature enthusiast, had never seen a Daubenton’s bat before and certainly not during daylight hours! He therefore felt very lucky to see one (on two separate occasions) over the festive period where he lives in Coldstream, the Scottish Borders. Graham told us he had been walking along a section of the River Tweed on the 4th December. It was south facing and the bank was getting a lot of warmth - even on a very cold day. The old mill weir also meant the river was slow flowing and about a metre deep. The result was like a mirror with not even a ripple on the water. The only movement came from insects which dotted the surface. And then there it was, a Daubenton’s bat flying over the water at one o’clock in the afternoon!
By pure chance, on the 7th January, Graham saw another Daubenton’s. This time 1.5 miles from the River Tweed flying over Hirsel Lake along with the geese, swans and goldeneye he had been watching. The bat flew right next to Graham and for a further two minutes he watched and photographed the bat before it disappeared into the waterside trees. Graham mentions that the most astonishing thing this time around was that the lake was 95% covered in thin ice! The bat of course had found the other 5% unfrozen water (all thanks to some very clumsy geese after they had landed on the lake).
It led Graham to ask what exactly the bats were doing – were they drinking, actively foraging, both, or neither! In truth, it is hard to say. It was certainly a very surprising encounter with this little hunter. I think this story just goes to show that we have so much to learn about bats' activities through the winter and perhaps climate change is also going to have its effects. We all hope that these two bats were able to survive the winter.
Thank you Graham White for sharing your story and photos!

Have any readers seen anything similar? I'd love to hear about it!

Monday, 15 January 2018

Mysteries of the night

Mysteries of the night by Helen Hayes MP (species champion for the common pipistrelle)

Everyone finds different ways of coping with the shorter days and colder winter weather but some British wildlife have come up with enviable methods of getting through the worst of this season. As species champion for the common pipistrelle bat I have been discovering more about how this tiny creature, which weighs less than a pound coin, copes with the harshest of winters. Their tactic is to sleep, or rather hibernate, through the worst of the weather and start afresh when the warm weather returns. I am sure many people would quite like to spend winter that way!

Helen Hayes MP at the start of her bat walk
A lot of my knowledge about this tiny flying mammal comes from a bat walk I took part in last October. The bat walk was in West Norwood Cemetery where I was lucky enough to be accompanied by Jo Ferguson who is the Built Environment Officer for the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) and Ian Boulton, who is the Environmental Compliance Officer for the London Borough of Lambeth. Both of these ecologists provided me with an array of interesting facts about these fascinating and important animals.  All 18 UK resident bat species eat insects and in winter these are just too scarce to be a reliable source of food so all of our bats spend the winter hibernating. Once the weather warms up enough they awake to restart their nightly chase of flying insects again.

The common pipistrelle, a species I am very proud to champion, is found right across the UK including in my London constituency of Dulwich and West Norwood. It is by far the most common bat species in the UK although its numbers are thought to have declined dramatically throughout the 20th century. I am happy to report that the work of the National Bat Monitoring Programme run by BCT shows that there are some promising signs of recovery in the common pipistrelle bat and some of the other 10 bat species they are able to monitor. Bats are a great indicator of the quality of our environment, so these signs of improvement should be welcomed by all of us.

Despite being the most common bat species, it remains a mystery as to where most common pipistrelle bats hibernate. This mystery is not restricted to the UK and researchers in the Netherlands were surprised to find that large numbers of pipistrelles were hibernating in the expansion gaps in the balconies of tower blocks.  Could some of Londons pipistrelles be hibernating in tall modern buildings? I am sure with the ongoing dedication of all the passionate volunteers involved in bat conservation we may eventually find out their secret but for now much about their lives remains a mystery.

On my bat walk I learned that there are steps we can all take to make cities more welcoming for bats and other wildlife. There is growing evidence that taking this approach is not just good for them but good for us too. Do take a look at the BCT website ( to find out more about bats and how to get involved in their conservation. There are local bat groups right across the UK including the London Bat Group.

This year I will not only be looking forward to the warmer spring weather but will also be keeping an eye on the night skies so I can spot a different sign of spring, the acrobatic flights of the common pipistrelle bat.

Helen Hayes MP receiving her common pipistrelle poster from Kit Stoner (Joint CEO)

To find out more about the Species Champion Project go to: 

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Bats about Habitat First Group

Over the last 20 years Lower Mill Estate has concentrated its efforts on providing artificial roosting sites for bats by installing bat boxes on buildings, under bridges and at various locations around the site, as well as converting the roof voids of several bin store buildings on site into bat roosts. With an abundance of foraging habitat and a good population of insect prey, it is no surprise that these artificial roosts are regularly used by species including the Common pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus), Soprano pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmaeus) and Natterer’s bats (Myotis nattereri).

 Lower Mill Estate by Luxury Marketing House
Excitingly, in recent months the Estate has discovered that the Habitat Houses on site are living up their name and are being regularly used by roosting bats. Bat droppings discovered at specific sites on the outside of the Habitat House were sent to Ecowarwicker Ecological Forensics for DNA analysis to confirm the species. The results of the analysis came back as positive for Natterer’s bat. Known for using small cracks and crevices in buildings and trees for roosting, the species has been using the gaps behind the wooden cladding on the Habitat House for roosting.  It is now intended to carry out bat surveys over the summer months in the villages on the Estate to determine which other species are present and where they may be roosting.

 Lower Mill Estate by Luxury Marketing House
With similar style of housing being built at Habitat First Group’s Silverlake site in Dorset it is hoped that the local bat population there will also benefit from new roosting sites. Meanwhile the bats are already making good use of the bat boxes installed on the boat stores in the villages and the unique bat loft created for Brown long-eared bats (Plecotus auritus) has recently been used by both Brown-long eared bats and Common pipistrelles. Perhaps the only bat loft in the country built from an old quarry sandhopper, this bat loft is a super example of HFGs commitment to sustainability supporting the Reduce, Reuse and Recycle principle.

Habitat First Group has a great reputation for building alongside nature and Lower Mill Estate is thought to support the largest House martin colony in the UK thanks to installing 60 artificial house martin nests 12 years ago. The artificial nests were soon used by the House martins arriving in the summer from Africa and year on year the number of birds has increased until there are now on average of 200 nests annually.  In coming months 150 nest boxes designed to support House sparrows (Passer domesticus) are to be installed around the buildings on the Estate. These birds are now on the Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB) Red-list of birds of conversation concern following a decline of over 65% in their population numbers population over a 30-year period. It is hoped that the new project at Lower Mill Estate will help boost the numbers of these gregarious birds. Silverlake is set to follow suit and be a leader in building alongside nature as it progresses over the coming years.

For more information on Silverlake, Lower Mill Estate and the Habitat First Group, visit 

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Papping Bats on Social Media by Liz Vinson

Do you remember the days of taking your precious roll of film to be developed? Did you spend the extra £££ for an hour’s developing or were you able to wait the three days to see what you had captured?

Oh! gone are those days; I remember the thrill of opening the paper wallet in the shop, like Charlie Bucket carefully unwrapping the Wonka Bar – how many photos would be in focus? How many would have been graffitied by the developer with a sticker saying it was over exposed or suchlike? And had you got away with accidentally opening the back of the camera before the film had rewound?

Then there would be the hours spent first showing all your friends and family the photos (“don’t put your fingers on the image, Grandpa, please”) followed by carefully placing your treasured images into an album, editing the best and writing a caption, “If only I had remembered to put the flash on” or “in the distance you can see…”

I remember the first time I saw a digital camera being used, I thought I would never use one because it would spoil the excitement of waiting to see what you had captured! Also, I thought the images would be so grainy they would be like the old Disc Cameras (remember them?!).

My first digital camera was actually a Nokia mobile phone – it boasted a 10 megapixel camera, and I happily filled its memory with random images – none of which, had I taken them with my trusty old point-and-click, would’ve made it past the album cutting-room floor!

After a very short time the novelty of printing out every image petered out, and my albums fell into a dusty retirement.

With the age of the smartphone came social media – somewhere for you to post every image you like for all your friends and complete strangers to look at and critique!

So where do bats come into this do I hear you ask?

“In the United Kingdom it is an offence to intentionally disturb bats or their roosts and this includes any photography without an appropriate license. As a licenced batworker / bat carer I have always exercised extreme caution when photographing bats out on surveys, and have never once used a flash. But then I wonder: should I share the photographs? If I do, who’s to say that unlicenced or untrained people will think it’s ok to start “papping” bats too?

With the ease of snapping just about everything thanks to smartphones, together with the recent flood of social media sites purely for sharing photographs (Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, etc.), it is inevitable that unsuspecting members of the public across the world will happily share photos they have taken of bats: bats on walls, bats on the ground, bats in their natural habitat. And who wouldn’t? How many people actually get the chance to get up close and personal with a bat? 

Many of  these images (in the UK and further afield) come from people who have found the bat during the daytime and need some advice or identification, and so have taken to social media for assistance – something the Bat Conservation Trust is excellent at responding to in a timely fashion.

And then there are the sad images I have found whilst searching #bat on sites such as Instagram – most recently a horrific photo from the US of a bat trapped in a toilet bowl, and a vitriolic comment saying they had “flushed the beast back to the depths of hell where it belonged”.

So, for me, there will be no more searching for bat-related images on such sites, as it only makes me cross to see images and statements like that – no matter how ignorant the user.

But as a bat carer I want to spread bat knowledge far and wide, and I do photograph every rescue which comes into my care, although I don’t photograph deceased animals or animals with terminal injuries, as I find them distressing enough to deal with.

Rescued soprano and common pipistrelle (photo by Liz Vinson)
How to transmit these images safely in social media terms?

I am often asked whether bats bite, and I say that we always recommend anyone rescuing a bat wears gloves or at least wraps the animal in a tea towel. If asked, I confirm that I cannot recall ever being bitten by a bat that had come into my care – which is the truth. However, these are wild animals and if they feel threatened they may act like it, hence the necessity for gloves or other protection.

I was trained never to handle without gloves, even if they were long term care bats, and, although it can make things a bit tricky, I manage. I was also told to never publish any photographs of bats in the hand unless I was wearing gloves. 
Rescued brown long-eared bat (Photo by Liz Vinson)

Rescued Common pipistrelle and pup (Photo by Liz Vinson)
Even if the person handling bats in a photo is trained and vaccinated, publishing pictures of them holding bats in un-gloved hands gives members of the public a clouded view of what is safe and recommended. I understand that batworkers wish to show that bats are not threatening, but would simply popping on a pair of gloves really undermine that message?

I find that white cotton gloves, which are available from most good pharmacies, are ideal a. for handling the smaller species and b. for photography purposes. (Although having said that, I have usually just been feeding the bat when I take a photo, and nine times out of ten I have the remnants of their supper somewhere visible on my gloves.) I also like to wrap bats in a soft cloth as it makes them more secure and less wriggly – something every bat carer dreads whilst trying to hand-feed the insides of mealworms to a tiny pipistrelle!

For larger species, such as serotines, I would not recommend anything thinner than a good gardening glove! Cumbersome as they are, I would not want to run the risk of having the bat’s jaw clamped onto my little finger, all for the sake of a good photo!

The pen is mightier than the sword

Almost more important than the image (of a bat in a gloved hand) which you post are the words that you choose.

Put a little statement about the bat, what species, why you have it and what people can do to help if they find a grounded bat.

Choose your #’s wisely!

If they’re not already there, consider adding the hashtags #licencedbatworker and/or #trainedbatcarer to your bio on social media sites. Other useful hashtags are #batsneedfriends, #batconservation, #batcare, #notapet and #protectedspecies.

Tag your local bat group and BCT so that they can like and share your image, helping to spread bat awareness.

And finally try to respond to any comments you may receive, especially those that ask if the bat is a pet!! – I have seen many comments on bat images on social media like “oh I want one” “I need a pet bat” “where can I get one?” and the original poster hasn’t replied at all.

So we can all do our bit for bat conservation awareness on social media, in a manner which should be the norm. It would be extremely detrimental to bat conservation if a member of the public picked up a bat, was bitten and tragically contracted rabies, and then pointed the finger at a bat carer who shared lots of images of bats in un-gloved hands. Food for thought…

Finally, returning to where I started – film canisters – now there was a useful piece of equipment to take on a roost survey for bat poo sample collection!

Gone are the days….

Liz Vinson
VBRV and registered Bat Carer
Self-employed marketing and social media manager

For more information about how to get involved with Bat Rehabilitation:

For more information about the importance of wearing gloves when handling bats see:

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Twilight Bat Walks at Mid-Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust – A summary of 2017

by David Jackson

Now that the autumn season is upon us, it provides a great opportunity for the Mid-Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust (MEHT for short) to reflect on another hugely successful Bat Walk Programme.
All bat species in the UK are endangered, with populations declining over the past decades; these fascinating mammals are protected by law.  Bats are also a biological indicator species, meaning their presence illustrates high ecosystem functionality and good environmental management.  At the MEHT, we are proud to have high bat activity around the Broomfield Hospital site, with a bat roost of soprano pipistrelles known within our Estates building.  Both soprano & common pipistrelles have been found foraging within our natural areas, feeding on insects during their summer months and highlighting our effective natural management.
Bat walks offer a unique educational opportunity to experience these intriguing creatures, and in 2016 we launched an inaugural Twilight Bat Walk Programme, led by a local bat enthusiast.  The walks proved to be a huge success, providing education in an endangered species whilst promoting healthy walking alternatives within Broomfield Hospital.  Following on from these walks, a larger Twilight Programme was produced for the summer of 2017.

A staggering 400% increase in participation occurred, with over 100 individuals expressing interest, comprising of staff, patients and members of our local community.
Marium, a former Trust Doctor stated ‘I and my three friends thoroughly enjoyed the bat walk, the guide was incredibly knowledgeable.  We heard about the opportunity after a friend was enthusiastically posting about it on Facebook after attending a previous walk!’
Carol, a member in the local community quoted ‘It was a fascinating evening using the monitoring equipment and identifying the sounds.  It's excellent that the hospital invites the public and hosts community events.  The guide’s enthusiasm and passion for bats was lovely to see and it's great to be able to share knowledge’
David Jackson, the bat enthusiast, and now the Trust’s Sustainability Project Coordinator said ‘It’s been great to see the walk participation increase so quickly…educating those in our community about endangered species is hugely valuable to their future conservation, whilst achieving it through the promotions of an active lifestyle.’
Bats are now moving to their hibernation roosts, but keep a look out for promotional materials when the Twilight Bat Walk Programme returns next year.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Bat House extraordinaire!

Darren Henwood contacted the National Bat Helpline recently with a desire to find out more about creating an ideal residence for bats. Darren has now created an extraordinary bat house which he is hoping will be appreciated and used by bats in the area of Essex where he lives. We decided to do an interview with him for this blog to find out more.
Darren Henwood with his 7.5m wide bat house in the background. 

Darren created roughly 21 square meters of accommodation for bats!
1. Can you remember seeing your first bat?
Yes, I saw my first bat when night fishing with my dad when I was about 5-6, made me jump at first but he said to relax and keep and eye around the bushes hanging over the waters edge, my first bat was part of a considerably large amount of bats! :) Looking back there must have been hundreds that night...

2. When did you first contact Bat Conservation Trust and why?
I had recently built a wooden garage at our home, and as we were keen to expand from the chickens we had to more livestock and some conservation factors too, we decided to build a bat roost/home on the flank end, also we had become privy to knowledge that a derelict, old, old pub on the corner of our road (the only other building on it in fact) was due for demolition, so this inspired me to "go big" and try to encourage any residents there to re-home here, I suspected there may have been horseshoe bats and pipistrelles as the roof damage looked promising for both to be there, from what research I had done anyway :) I wanted to basically re-iterate these findings and researched info with a nexus of the right info, so the BCT seemed a logical choice, and Grace was fantastic help sending info to answer all my questions and with some varied plans, so I used this information with that I had researched to try and couple all the elements into what you have called the BHE (which we love here btw!)

Darren is looking forward to the bats moving in
The design is based on the Kent Bat Box

3. What inspired you to create this magnificent bat box/house?
Most of what I said in question 2 is covered for this question, however I also have a keen technology mindset and wanted to be able to get cameras and bat listening devices set up in the BHE so that when (hopefully) it is occupied and I can no longer "intervene" things would be in place to enable the family and I to observe from the house, phone or even at school/college... :) Also once this is in place, if there is any data or information that would be of use to the BCT or other people keen to home bats, then that would be equally fantastic!

4. Do you have a favourite UK bat species? 
I have no favourite species, although my first memories are that of what I now know to be Pipistrelle bats, so would be keen to see them again, and have built a fair %age of the BHE for them to hopefully enjoy, also the lesser horseshoe bat has been accommodated for with plans from both the BCT and other online shares by enthusiasts, I kept the options lower for them as I believe there is a less habiat for the pipistrelle around us, but with all the essex clad barns etc, I think the horseshoes have a good shout in our area.. but then I'm only a few months into checking this all out, so.........
That said, any species would be welcomed as there is the added bonus that we can spend more time outside at night with less chance of being munched on by annoying biting insects :D

5. Any weird/wonderful bat facts or bat experience that you want to share with us?
Nothing that's going to turn heads sadly, but have previously had a bat fly into my landing net when it was set up to dry in the breeze at dusk, I now leave my nets on the ground till daylight/bat free hours :D

6. Why do you think bats are misunderstood or undervalued by so many people?
Late 50's horror films, old wives tales and Christopher Nolan. I would say they are undervalued by people as I feel there is very little useful information generally available, people have to actively seek information, and I suspect many people don't understand or know half of the species (all animals) in this country that could really do with a little help from us Humans... If you asked 100 people if they would have bats roosting in their eves or an eves/wall box they would probably shun them thinking they are blood sucking dirty monsters,,,

7. In your opinion, what is the biggest threat faced by bats?
Ignorance to their need for safe, undisturbed habitat/s and destruction without thought of existing habitat, as we think happened just up from us here.

8. Huge thank you for what you are doing. What advice would you give others who might consider following your example.
Ask questions, no matter how stupid you think they are to recognised bodies such as yourselves at the BCT, I had no practical/useful knowledge of bats so I immediately searched for a good, reliable source of information, as I said earlier Grace was very helpful and I would say anyone wanting to help maintain and help with propagation of bats should ask first, asking isn't a silly thing to do!

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

A Friend’s Appreciation of Maurice Melzak by Chris Morphet

Maurice was a Zoology graduate with experience working as a researcher for films with Sir David Attenborough and Gerald Durrell. So I came across him as the researcher on a film I was shooting as a cameraman about wildlife in disused power stations. The director badly needed a shot of a fox with a background of a power station, so Maurice was duly instructed to find one, which he was able to do. On the day of the shoot, the fox was released from the cage it had arrived in and I felt really chuffed, as although it all happened in a flash, I managed to pick the fox up in close up, then zoomed out to reveal the power station background. This was all in the days of 16mm film, so on ringing the production company the next day to enquire about the printed rushes,     I heard there had been a kerfuffle. My camerawork and the shot were perfect, but unfortunately on close inspection it was discovered the supposedly wild fox was still wearing its collar. Poor Maurice. The director could be heard shouting in the background “You Left The Collar On Maurice”.

Things progressed upwardly from then on and Maurice soon established himself as a director with his own company Nautilus Films. This was a generally very happy and successful time with Maurice making a good number of mainline TV documentaries. In the year 2000 Maurice made a very positive program for the BBC, “Josie’s Journey”, with Josie Russell and her dad Shaun Russell, about Josie’s recovery from trauma, her burgeoning creative artistic talents, and love of wild animals. On just hearing the news about Maurice, Josie emailed “Oh gosh that’s really sad to hear. It is terribly unhappy news. Maurice was such a nice man and we were hoping one day to make another programme together.” And her father Shaun Russell said “Maurice was the only film-maker who Josie really connected with as a friend, not least because he was always so tender and protective towards her. I think he may have fallen out with the BBC partly as a result of resisting them always seeming to want a more intrusive exploration of Josie’s private life. Josie and I feel a great debt to Maurice for his friendship and the sympathetic way in which he told Josie’s story.”

Around this time Maurice also made several 50 minute C4 documentaries on Rabies and Aquariums, and a memorable C5 series about an academy for crime investigators in Knoxville, Tennessee, with its pioneering body farm. This led to a wonderful film with the brilliant forensic botanist Patricia Wiltshire “The Natural History of Murder”, where we followed how Pat had skilfully nailed various murderers like the Soham murderer, by linking microscopic samples in the ditch from where the bodies were found, to the car tyres and clothing belonging to the perpetrator Ian Huntley.

Maurice continued to do well and we together did a whole run of TV films examining aspects of urban wildlife often featuring experts like pest controllers, zookeepers, and vets.  Pet Patients at The Blue Cross Animal Hospital, London Zoo, Urban Pigeons, Lice, and City Rats were all delved into. Who knew there was a rare colony of rattus rattus, the black tree climbing rat with a long tale, in the vast grain store at Tilbury Docks, where fat pigeons feasted on grain spills from offloading boats, some later to be filmed trapped in large numbers by our pest controller.

Sadly though, the TV world started to change and be taken over by reality TV, celebrity presenters, and more prescriptive and set up film making and programs. Maurice did not have the right skills and personality to sell his often excellent ideas in this new environment. He was also never that interested in either the technicalities or the artistic or stylistic aspects of filmmaking, but rather he had a real passion and interest for the subject matter itself.

Around 2010, disillusioned with the broadcast TV world, Maurice with great enterprise started a new chapter with his website Petstreet. With basic and minimal equipment he shot and edited by himself many terrific short films for showing online. These covered fish, cats, dogs, rabbits, horses, monkeys, lizards, parrots, and snakes, and featured organisations like The RSPCA, The Mayhew, The Dogs Trust, and The Feline Advisory Bureau. There were also useful instructional videos featuring the aptly named vet Cat Henstridge. Not to mention The Snake That Ate The Neighbour’s Cat, another stand out short video at the time.

Petstreet in due course closed down, but Maurice as a solo operator continued to do films like the yearly Animal Wetnose Awards for animal charities. Also, still in hope, he kept finding great subjects about which he made so called teaser or taster tapes to send to TV commissioners with subjects like the wonderful Jenny Clark MBE the Sussex bat rescuer. When I told Maurice we had 2 bats coming out at dusk in the alleyway of our Kilburn house, he was keen to lend me a bat listening device, which was a revelation, as it enhanced and amplified the otherwise inaudible bat sounds.

Although Maurice was now mainly doing the filming himself, I did help out when asked. We made a film with his sister Sheila for her Baobab Centre for Young Survivors. Also a very early short film for The Womens Equality Party here founders Catherine Mayer, Sandi Toksvig and Sophie Walker, were recorded chatting informally sitting around Maurice’s kitchen table.  And when a large and rare species of cave spider called Meta Bourneti was found in the vaults of Egyptian Avenue in the nearby Highgate Cemetery, Maurice called me in to film some big close ups. Also in the cemetery around this time Maurice successfully applied for a grant to put over 100 safe nesting boxes for the birds and the bats up on the trees.

Strangely, we never made a film about the great love of Maurice’s life, his bees and the beehives located in the cemetery. He was very proud, along with fellow beekeeper Ian Creer, of producing such excellent quality honey of impeccable provenance from the many and varied local flowers. Maurice enjoyed his distinctive honey jar label with an image of Karl Marx and underneath the words “Workers Unite”.  A reference to worker bees perhaps.

Maurice also loved walking on the nearby Hampstead Heath and tending his back garden, where he grew some of his own vegetables and even cannabis to try out as an alternative to relieve his pain from cancer. I never did try the cannabis, but we met up regularly to chat either in his kitchen for tea or at one of the local Highgate restaurants. Although on different sides of the North London divide we often watched quite amiably together the keenly contested Arsenal v Spurs derby on his large TV.

In October 2013 perhaps the most bizarre and memorable event, which involved Maurice being interviewed, and his footage used on the news, was the mysterious and sudden appearance of 3 Bennett’s Wallabies in the cemetery. It was a bit of a saga at the time whose outcome was not altogether positive, but for those of us who know the full story, maybe best kept secret, it somehow epitomised the man that was truly Maurice. His intelligent and informed passion for animals, nature, and life itself carried him through.

© Chris Morphet