Monday, 27 June 2016

The NBMP 20 years on: Still the most fun you can have in the dark.

by By Dr Allyson Walsh, Cambridge University

In the beginning
Last night I went out and counted bats. All two of them. It was a classic NBMP evening. The rain in the Welsh marches was stuck in a repeat cycle of heavy, to light to nothing and back again in the period leading up to the count. The dreary weather provoked much debate about cancelling or going ahead, but as several of us had gathered from near and far at a significant sized roost, we opted to “Carry On Batting” in the damp. We were rewarded with a count of over 200 bats from our particular building (though not through my allocated exit to count!). The twist in this particular evening was this was the first time I have been out on an NBMP count since leaving England almost 15 years ago.

Twenty years on and still going strong makes me proud. Very proud. And given it’s EU referendum month, it may be an opportune time to reminisce on the main driver behind setting up the NBMP. It was the EU. The program was designed to directly address pressure to fulfill the UK Government’s obligations to conserve bats under European Directives, in particular the EU Habitats and Species Directive, and the Agreement on the Conservation of Bats in Europe (under the Bonn Convention). Beneath the legislative veneer however lies the important point that robust information on trends in bat populations at a range of geographic scales is essential to the long-term conservation of bats.

The BCT team from the early days

Time Proof Design 
Our world is a dynamic place, and time proofing any monitoring framework is not easy.
In exploring designs for the programme, one of our main challenges was that we knew technologies would change through time, and we would need to be able to adaptively manage this over the long term. Our goal was not to conduct a Roman style census count of every single bat, but instead to be able to compare population indices across years and look for responses to a multiplicity of factors, including climate, changing over time. Consultations with key RSPB personnel and statistician Steve Langton helped myself and my colleagues Colin Catto, Paul Racey and Tony Hutson reach consensus on a sampling based strategy to minimise bias and maximise precision, using methods that were the best available to us at the time. Sometimes starting is the biggest hurdle in project development, and we were keen to see the UK lead the way in Europe.

Citizen Superheroes
As I have watched the progression of the NBMP from the other side of the pond, I have found it remarkable, that so many citizen scientists contribute to NBMP and that so many collaborators have joined in partnership to fund the program and keep its momentum going (Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Natural England, Natural Resources Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage. Bat Conservation Ireland contributes Northern Ireland bat records collated by the Irish Bat Monitoring Programme which is funded by the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland Environment Agency). Perhaps the secret to it is in the social nature of the program. Inviting your friends over for a BBQ and bat count is certainly a unique evening’s entertainment. Or perhaps the secret is the nurturing team at BCT (notably Dr. Kate Barlow) who have continued to lead the programme, providing regular feedback to, and cherishing, volunteers. Or perhaps the magi lies with the simple mystery and love of bats. One of my future hopes is that we can quantify the social networks and wider conservation benefits of NBMP citizen science members, as I personally know many people who started out as volunteers who have carried on to invigorate local bat group bat work, initiate spin-off conservation projects, or progress into conservation careers themselves. To me, this will always remain a big success of this program, equally as important as the big data.
Allyson Walsh out with an early design detector

Back to the Future
Looking forward, where would I like NBMP to be in 20 years time? Having filled in paper forms in the drizzle last night, it goes without saying that a shift to an App based system for data recording would be a positive goal. But ultimately, rather than being the harbinger of bad or good news, I would like to see the NBMP increasingly utilized as a springboard for conservation action. Knowledge and choice gives us power. The power to make evidence based decisions and chose a different future.  It is more than likely that monitoring programs like the NBMP, designed to attain a high degree of scientific rigor in the hands of the public as well as capture and kept the attention of non-scientists, will become more prevalent in our future. And I am hopeful for this future.

My hope stems from one of my fondest memories of the NBMP. One day I received a phone call from a lady with her knickers on her head. She explained to me that she had done her washing and grabbed a pair for protection because there were bats flying around the utility room inside her home, She explained she didn’t want them getting stuck in her hair. After explaining to her that she was safe (and hence could remove the knickers from her head), and what to do about the bats, our discussion then progressed to all about bats and their conservation status. By the end of the phone conversation, she had agreed to count her bats as part of the NBMP! Probably one of the biggest impacts you can make in conservation is to influence people’s mindsets and behavior, and participating in the NBMP opens up a plethora of opportunities to do just that. So if you are wavering on whether to go out in the to do that final NBMP count of the season - please do Carry On Batting!

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Power of Light by Neil Wyatt

As both an environmentalist and an amateur astronomer, I always take my bat detector with me when I spend a night imaging the stars. But sadly there are two things that limit the pleasure I get from my hobbies – clouds, which I can’t do much about, and light pollution. I live near the edge of a medium-sized town, and looking north there are virtually no stars visible in the orange soup of the sky. To the south-west a few factories don’t help either, but I have a wedge in the sky to the south where I can get some reasonable views and pictures. But if I want to see or photograph faint objects, I have to drive to darker skies.

When you are out bat-watching, how often do you see more than a handful of stars, let alone the Milky Way?

So, I’ve decided to try and get something done to help rescue our dark skies, and am one of a number of people championing a petition to Government asking for action to be taken on light pollution.

The petition now stands at nearly 7,000 signatures, but we need at least 3,000 more over the next few weeks if we are to get a response from the Government. Such a response will be a valuable point on which future campaigning can be built. The petition is at

As I am sure bat group members are particularly aware, light pollution doesn’t just drown out the stars. It has a profound effect on wildlife by affecting the daily behaviour patterns of many species including bats, birds and many mammals. The impacts of street lighting on moths, by attracting them out of woodland areas and making them vulnerable to predation and possibly impacting on bat feeding patterns have been well documented. I have heard blackbirds singing at midnight and seen birch trees that haven’t dropped their leaves all winter - because of light pollution!

Light pollution can also disturb the sleep patterns of humans and cause anxiety, and recent research has shown even more worrying health effects from the disturbance to people’s body clocks.

But the most striking effect is how light pollution robs us all of the magnificence of truly dark skies and the sight of natural wonders like the Milky Way.

The answer is not a ban on all lighting, but serious action to make sure the right types of light are used and in the right places. For example, new LED lights are very efficient, but their light is harder to filter out and the high blue content has a bigger impact on the melatonin levels that control the body clocks of people and animals.

Please show your support by signing the petition and passing on the message to your friends -  we have been suing thr hashtag #NightBlight, which also links to the CPRE’s impressive maps of light pollution in the UK  It’s an important step towards achieving change.

Thank you.

Further information:

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Swanton Novers Woodland Bat Project - Sonia Reveley

An Introduction to the Swanton Novers Woodland Bat Project

Welcome to the first blog from the Swanton Novers Woodland Bat Project. Supported and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the project is an exciting new venture which started this year as a collaboration between Bat Conservation Trust and Natural England.

 My role in this project is the Volunteer Coordinator. I am the lucky soul who gets to go out into the woods with a group of volunteers to collect important data which will allow us to learn how bats are affected by common woodland management techniques.

The main objectives of the project are to learn how bats use the interior of woodlands that have been actively managed, to learn how bat activity differs between the understory and the canopy, and to raise awareness about a natural heritage with help from the local community. The project will focus on Swanton Novers National Nature Reserve, an 83ha ancient woodland with a long history of active woodland management dating back to the Doomsday Book.  As I don’t want to repeat myself more information about the project can be found here -

What has been happening since the project started

Since the start of the project we have deployed static detectors three times and have carried out transect surveys throughout Swanton Novers Great Wood in Norfolk during May and June.

April transect surveys were unfortunately cancelled due to cold evening temperatures and chilly winds. For May, the transect surveys coincided with the emergence of the cockchafer beetles (also known as May bugs), which provided a feast for the serotines and noctules emerging from the woods and a feeding frenzy was observed by the lucky surveyors. Within the centre of the woods we picked up a few barbastelles and of course plenty of pipistrelles, while down in the bottom part of the woods where a few active coppice compartments are located, only pipistrelles were detected.

June transect surveys haven’t been analysed yet, but barbastelles were recorded in the top section of the woods.

We also had our project launch on Saturday 28th of May at the village hall in Swanton Novers, to which sixteen people came to. The evening started at 6pm with a talk about the project by me, an introduction to bats by Helen Miller, Woodland Officer at Bat Conservation Trust, and an insight into Swanton Novers Woods by Ash Murray, Senior Reserve Manager at Natural England. This was followed by tea and cake and a brief training workshop giving everyone a chance to listen to different bat calls.

To finish off the evening we went for a walk in the woods with our bat detectors to see what we would hear and see. On approaching the edge of the woods just after sunset we stopped to get our bearings and were treated to a front row view of serotines and noctules emerging out of the woods to feed on the insects flying around. Together with a few common and soprano pipistrelles, the bats flew above and around where we were standing for the fifteen minutes, giving everyone an opportunity to listen to the different repetition rates and rhythms, and observe the difference in size between the noctule and the pipistrelle bats. Definitely one of my top highlight moments from this year so far.

We have also recruited seven volunteers from the local community and seven volunteers from further afield. And as I write this blog we have another interested volunteer who lives in a nearby town, not too far from the woods.  Volunteers who have helped us with the transect surveys in May and June have learnt how to use a Peersonic detector and observe bat activity along the predetermined routes.  Also, I would like to say a HUGE thank you to all our volunteers for all their help.  In total, volunteers have contributed 104 hours (13 working days) to the Swanton Novers Woodland Bat project so far.

Our plans for the next few months

Thanks go to our volunteer’s hard work and time, we are on track and will continue to deploy the static detectors and each month we will do four transect surveys. A call analysis training workshop is scheduled to take place on Monday 25th of July at Swanton Novers Village Hall, so volunteers can learn how to analyse the data using call analysis software.

We have a Community Day planned for Sunday 7th of August in the woods. An ideal opportunity to learn more about the woods and how bats use the area, the day will offer a butterfly walk, minibeast hunting, a bat walk and moth trapping sessions, together with informative displays and activities. It is also an opportunity to meet the seasonal warden, who holds a wealth of information about the reserve having worked in the woods for 20 years. 

We will also be running a bat walk in August in the woods and two offsite bats walks in September. Events will be posted on the Swanton Novers webpage on the BCT website at

Looking for a project which you can contribute to

We are always looking for people to help us. There is nothing better, in my opinion, than seeing the seasonal changes within the woods. The sunset shimmering through the bare limbs of the twisted oaks, the ground covered with bluebells and wood anemone, the flush of new leaves swiftly followed by a lush green carpet of bracken and of course the rush of excitement and exhilaration when you realise you have seen/heard  a rare woodland specialist like the barbastelle. So, if you are interested and would like to join our team on a journey of discovery then I would love to hear from you and can be contacted by email at

              Sonia Reveley

Thursday, 26 May 2016

My journey through BCT

My incredible journey through the world of bats and the Bat Conservation Trust began one year ago. In May 2015 I came across the BCT website and found out the National Bat Helpline was recruiting for seasonal staff and interns. I didn’t even think twice and applied as it could be my chance to finally enter the world of animal conservation (I was then working in retail).

Having an academic background in ecology and wildlife meant I was familiar with bats but it was not until I started reading through the masses of information the website provided that I realised how utterly amazing these animals are! I find all aspects of animal biology incredibly interesting and the more I read the more fascinating bats sounded. I mean, seriously they tick all the boxes:
1) Only mammal that can actually fly which in terms of evolution is incredible!
2) Their wings are elongated fingers which is anatomically super cool.
3) Despite being relatively small they are very long lived animals (small animals tend to live quite a short life because of their fast metabolism) with some species living 40 years or more! This defies many physiology “laws”.
4) They provide many ecological services; for example in the UK all 18 species feed on insects so they are thought to be great pest controllers. They are also good indicators of biodiversity and environment health.

I could go on and on about them, I often do, but this time I will stop there (but their behaviour is really interesting and their immune system is fantastic!).

Anyway, I digress. I did get an internship with the Bat Helpline and that was an amazing experience! Most of the calls to the helpline are very positive and come from people who genuinely want to help bats or just want to know more about them. It felt great to be able to give the correct advice and information about bats to callers and dispel those common silly myths about bats. This amazing Helpline counts with the support of volunteers who kindly give up their time to help bats in need. I found that truly inspiring. Alas, all good things come to an end and my internship at the helpline ended.

Preparing welcome packs for the National Bat Conference in 2015
However, my journey through BCT did not stop there! Luckily BCT were recruiting for a temporary Conference Administration Assistant to help with the National Bat Conference (the largest conference for bat enthusiasts in the UK); after applying for that position I was accepted and started my new job in August 2015. I absolutely love organising stuff so this job fit me like a glove! For 1 month I booked in delegates, un-booked them, prepared over 300 welcome packs, sent thousands of emails and got to go to the National Bat Conference in 2015. Even though I was working during the conference I had a fantastic time and had the chance to listen to some brilliant talks about bat research and conservation. Like I mentioned before, this was a temporary position but as luck would have it, another job opportunity was available at BCT…

At the Grant Museum of Zoology for a work meeting
In October 2015 I started a full-time and permanent position as a Fundraising & Membership Officer, my current role in the Bat Conservation Trust. I really do love my job; it’s very diverse, fun and it allows me to keep raising awareness towards bat conservation on a daily basis; part of my work is to manage our social media pages like Facebook and Twitter. I also get to participate in lots of events which is a great opportunity to tell people about bats and engage them in bat conservation! A very exciting event we will be doing this summer is Gardener’s World Live, where we will be exhibiting a “garden”. The theme of our exhibition will be Urban Gardening; we want to encourage everyone to plant bat and wildlife friendly gardens and explain that even a small urban garden or green space can help bats!

Part of my job is to also inform people during events or calls how easy it is to get involved in bat conservation. There are many different ways that people can help:
- We encourage people to contact local bat groups who organise lots of batty activities
- Doing bat surveys is always a great fun and extremely important as it allows us to keep monitoring bat populations. The best thing is there is a survey for every level of experience, even complete beginners with no experience in bat surveys (and you can even do it in the comfort of your garden
- Becoming a member also helps us tremendously. Not only does joining add your voice to ours but we rely on donations in order to fund our work
- Helping us fundraise by organising an even or taking up a challenge for bats
-  Volunteer for bats!
- Record your bat sighting on the Big Bat Map
-  Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, check our website and read our blog

On a training trek in Box Hill. Did 16 miles that day!

Like I said, I do love my job and I truly believe in the work the Bat Conservation Trust is doing. So much so I am actually doing a 25km trek at the Brecon Beacons in Wales this June to raise funds for bats! If you want to know more about this you can visit my Just Giving page. I have just reached my target but every donation helps so you can still donate!
So, in a nutshell, this is my journey through BCT and it’s been an incredible one! Working for an amazing organisation, with an incredible bunch of people and speaking up for bats!

Wouldn’t have it any other way.

Andreia Correia da Costa (@AndreiaC0sta)

Monday, 9 May 2016

A history of bat conservation by Professor Paul Racey

The suggestion to prepare A HISTORY OF BAT RESEARCH AND CONSERVATION IN THE UK came from John Burton who established the Bat Project at the offices of the Fauna and Flora Preservation Society in London in 1984 and later convened the crucial meeting which led to the formation of BCT.  John’s suggestion was timely as there are still enough people around to remember the early events and the authors listed provided text. We are grateful to those colleagues in BCT, particularly Simon Mickleburgh and Shirley Thompson, who checked previous drafts. Any errors remain our own and one of the reasons for putting it onto the members’ website is to provide an opportunity for errors to be corrected or omissions rectified.

When I was a schoolboy I had to decide between biology or history. I think I made the right decision – historical research is more difficult! .

The document can be accessed by all Bat Conservation Trust members from here:

Paul Racey

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Researching the impacts of cats on bats

Hi- my name is Abbie Case, I have just finished studying for an MSc in Conservation Biology at Manchester Metropolitan University. I have always been fascinated by bats so I was thrilled when the opportunity arose to be able to research them for my Master’s thesis.

The title of my project was, “Investigating domestic cat (Felis catus) predation on British bats through the use of molecular techniques” and when telling this to people it was interesting to see the amount of people who were surprised that cats were actually predators of bats! Being honest, myself included! However, domestic cat predation on British wildlife is a serious is sue as it is estimated annually cats kill up to 100 million animals, with small mammals making up 70% of that total.

It is estimated that 250,000 bats are killed by cats every year; however since research into this subject area is scarce, this figure is believed to be a massive underestimation. However, bat carers can agree with the serious impact caused by cats, since 30% of all casualties they receive are believed to have been as a direct result of cat attack; the typical evidence usually in the form of punctures/tears to the wing membrane.

The primary aim of my research was to develop a method, which was fully optimised, to ensure maximum results, to test swab samples from injured and perished bats in order to detect if domestic cat DNA was present. This in turn could then potentially lead to the better quantification of cat predation on British bat species. Also, the research could help with establishing methods for management and control of the predation, for example as a guide for cat owners regarding what time of day to avoid letting their pet outside.

To ensure I gained maximum possible sample yield, across locations throughout the UK, I took to social media to enlist the help of bat groups and carers to ask for their assistance in swabbing the wings of any casualties they received. I created a webpage ( ) with details about the project and a form to fill in where people could register their interest and get involved. With thanks to Bat Conservation Trust and bat groups nationwide I received an overwhelming number of people who wished to participate!

To all registered volunteers, I dispatched a swabbing kit which contained: instructions on how to optimally swab bat wings, gloves to minimise contamination risk, swabs, and a prepaid envelope addressed to the University for sending back samples. These kits were posted out during March/April so they were with bat carers for the bat season.

Once the basic procedures of the method had been established, I optimised stages to ensure the process was efficient as possible.  For example: testing two different swabbing techniques to see which had a higher DNA recovery, and also testing different annealing temperatures during Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) to see which gave a greater yield of target DNA.

When it came to analysing the received samples from bat carers, all samples underwent successful DNA extraction and amplification- so this showed that the method worked and was reliable!

Next, through a process called melt curve analysis it is possible to look at results and distinguish between present species- since different species have different melting temperatures of DNA fragments. The average melting temperature of domestic cat DNA was calculated, and it was therefore assumed that samples which had a temperature of equal to or greater than contained cat DNA.

The final results of my study showed samples, which could be assumed to contain cat DNA, and therefore my developed method worked! Hopefully as research into this area continues, more samples can be analysed and the impact of cat predation on British bat species can be more comprehensively understood.

Research into cats as predators of bats is still being carried out at Manchester Metropolitan University, and it is still possible to get involved! Their website gives information on the project and details of other bat research going on at the institution.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Sounding out the Lay of the Land- An Interview with Alison Fairbrass by Charlie Hearst

Alison Fairbrass is a PhD student at University College London (UCL) researching within a new and exciting branch of science; soundscape ecology. Although using sound to study nature is nothing new, as anyone who’s surveyed bats or listened to bird songs can attest, this field is novel in the sheer scale it operates on. Whilst acoustic ecology tends to be more species focussed, soundscape monitoring takes in the orchestration of all the different sounds (biological, geophysical and man-made) within a landscape in order to understand the environment on much broader terms. Although there has been recent interest in soundscape monitoring, there has not been much effort to apply this method to urban ecosystems. Attendees to this year’s National Bat Conference may have seen Alison present her work on developing technology for monitoring urban soundscapes; fortunately for those who didn’t we were able to catch her for a few words about her work.
What was your first introduction to bats?
After graduating I worked for an urban ecology research group in Birmingham. One of the projects they were looking at was the persistence of bats in the city; how the connectivity of the urban green spaces affected where they foraged. So I worked on that project, first of all analysing quite a large data set of bat recordings, processing that to identify what species they recorded and then spent a summer running around gaps and tree lines filled with different intensities of light to see whether light and gaps between tree lines caused by road constructions affected bat movement through the city.
 Can you tell us a bit about your work?
Biodiversity in cities is incredibly important. It provides plenty of services for populations. But it’s really difficult to know what we have. Monitoring biodiversity anywhere is tricky, but it’s particularly hard in an urban setting; the land is divided into tiny little parcels owned by different parties; there are plenty of safety issues; and the equipment gets stolen. I’m working on new technology for monitoring biodiversity in cities. The aim is to make it easier to monitor urban nature over large spaces and time periods by using acoustic recordings. So obviously I’m interested in bats as you can survey them by their echo location calls in the ultrasonic landscape. But there are other animals in the lower frequencies such as birds, invertebrates and land mammals. So I’m working out whether there’s a way you can stick a recorder out in your garden or park and use that to understand what you have there in terms of biodiversity.
What advantages does acoustic surveying have over more traditional visual ID methods?
One of the selling points is the reduced resources involved in monitoring. If you can make that initial investment of sticking up recorders in the first place, leave them for long periods and if you have the technology to process that data in an automated way, then you will make huge savings in the long term in getting what is a massive amount of information. The issue is it’s not as if people are doing that now with huge costs. No one’s doing it anyway. It’s not happening. So there’s been recognition that we need more understanding of ecological populations to conserve them, without that data we’re blind.
Another advantage is that you effectively have a historical snapshot of what a place sounded like acoustically. If you store that data in somewhere like the biological records centre, then it can be used by others down the line. There’s loads of things I’m sure I’m never going to do with the soundscape data I’m collecting now, but when it’s archived and hopefully publicly available, there’ll be tonnes of questions that other people will be interested to use it for.
So it’s a quicker and cheaper method of surveying. Is it more efficient and accurate?
There are a few studies where people have tried to compare the data from human surveyors and from automatic recordings; it’s as good, if not better. There’s an awful lot of human error that can be involved in doing a survey, what one person sees, hears and thinks is one thing, but that can vary a great deal between surveyors. So using technology could be a way of removing that subjectivity from monitoring.
Any horror stories?
Not me personally, but I have had the police call on me once in Birmingham. I was just doing a bat survey and someone saw me when looking out of their window and got suspicious. I guess it can look pretty suspect when lurking around a neighbourhood hiding non-descript black boxes in places. 
Could this work feed into how human generated sounds such as traffic affect biodiversity?
That’s one thing I’m quite interested in looking at from the data that I’m recording in London at the moment; how the presence of particular human sounds at a site relates to the biotic sounds that we record. Maybe there are certain anthropogenic sounds that can be used in complement to biotic sounds to tell us what the nature of the environment is as well. For example there are a few interesting studies where it’s been shown that birds and some insects change the way they call due to anthropogenic sounds. 
Are there ways around measuring the presence of species that aren’t typically noisy?
That’s one question I will be working on over the next year; what the noisy species can tell us about the quiet ones. The idea is that you should be able to use the noisy species and everything else in the soundscape to understand what the environment is like including the quiet things like plants and small invertebrates. So that’s exactly the kind of relationship I’ve been looking at everywhere I’ve made recordings by also surveying the local environment. Hopefully, I can try and understand the interaction between the two to find if sound can be reliably used as a measure of an environment as a whole. 
Back to developing your software, what does that entail?
A lot of programming. I had to improve my ability to manage large data sets and work with them to pull out information. Luckily I’ve had some help with computer scientists here at UCL. I guess it’s about understanding how you can characterise different types of sound; identifying and differentiating between natural and anthropogenic sounds; geophysical sounds like rain and wind; sounds between and within a biodiversity group and see how you can get to a more taxonomic group level. Trying to work out how I can do that is really what I’m tackling at the moment.
The next stage from that, and I’m sure this is what people are usually interested in, is getting species ID. I wouldn’t really do that, that’s a whole PhD in of itself, but my work can feed into existing tools such as iBat which can do pretty good European bat species identification.  What I’m aiming for is getting index measures of biodiversity in an urban environment, like a kind of summary or quick snapshot of the ecology of the habitat on a community scale. Those kinds of measures can be used over long periods of time to measure trends in biodiversity. 
Any surprises from your study?
What was interesting is that every location I surveyed in London, even the most central locations like right on Tottenham court road had bats. Even at sites where no birds were recorded for an entire week, we still got bats; they’re pretty amazing, almost like an urban adapted taxonomic group. Another was just how much anthropogenic sound there is in the ultrasonic frequency range, of course we dominate the lower ranges, but something like a breaking vehicle can go really high in pitch. So I think ultrasonics should also be considered when discussing conservation and noise pollution, as animals such as bats use those frequencies.