Friday 31 July 2009

A brilliant batty weekend

Me helping out at the bat box building. (c) BCT

Last weekend I helped to organise the Bat Weekend at the Natural History Museum , writes BCT’s Count Bat Project Regional Officer, Ed Santry.

The event was a result of all the hard work of staff and volunteers at the Natural History Museum, Open Air Laboratories (a Big Lottery Fund initiative) and the London Bat Group.

It was a great day out for all the family and I am happy to say that we seem to have lots of fans out there who came along to see the BCT team and of course the bats. In fact, nearly 1000 visitors came along over the weekend and got to be part of the fun which included the batty arts and crafts tent where kids (and some adults – including BCT staff, ahem!!!) created bat hats, masks, and got their face painted. We also held bat box building sessions and visitors got the chance to see some bats up close.

Our lovely trustee, Kate Jones, also brought along some ‘bat ears’ for children and adults alike to have a play with. They mimicked the actions of a bat echolocating whilst flying at night, using sonar sound to help the people trying them out to get around without any sight (see photo). These provided much amusement to those watching people try and not bump into things…it just goes to show how clever bats really are!

I myself undertook the bat box sessions, which were great fun and there seemed to be some really good craftsmen and women amongst the future generations. Most people even managed to put them together without help from their parents (which is more than Sarah and Steve from our Communication’s Department did on their test run last week!). Everyone also got to take home their boxes to put them up and help encourage bats into their gardens.

But of course, the stars of the weekend as we suspected, were Jenny Clark from the Sussex Bat Hospital and her bats. Jenny kindly brought along nearly all of the ten species which can be found in the London area. As always, with her knowledge and wonderful presenting skills, Jenny made even the most skeptical of people bat lovers by the time they had been into the Wildlife Shed to visit her and see the bats up close.

It was such an eventful weekend and on the Saturday afternoon, we had London Tonight come down and film some bat box building and Jenny with her bats. I sneakily managed to avoid being filmed on camera, but all the people squeezed in the Wildlife Shed helped highlight the importance people are placing on wildlife conservation nowadays and the interest from the general public in bats– which is great news for us all here at BCT!

BCT staff were out in full force for the festivities. Our own Communications Officer, Sarah Wallace even got into the spirit of things by donning her Batgirl outfit on the Sunday to try and chivvy people along to the Wildlife Garden (where all the fun took place). She was seen swooping around the Garden throughout the day guiding people along to all the different activities we’d put on.

Our Education Officer, Shirley Thompson and Ken and Zoe Greenway from the Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, gave inspiring discussions as part of the Natural History Museum’s Nature Live talks about bats. They covered topics such as where bats live, what they eat and the best time and places to go bat watching.

Most importantly though, aside from all the excitement of course, the weekend also provided the opportunity for our team here at BCT to reach out to the public about bat conservation and talk to them about the importance of helping us to monitor bats and how they can get involved through our Sunrise/Sunset Survey. Aimed at beginners, the surveys couldn’t be easier. The Sunset Survey simply asks members of the public to spend the evening in their garden and watch out for any bats that fly past. Record how many bats they see, which species they are (if known) and, most importantly, which direction they are flying from. The Sunrise Survey involves going out just before dawn to look for bats swarming before they return to their roost. All information then goes into our National Bat Monitoring Programme.

All in all it was wonderful weekend and, as with many of these sorts of events, it was great to see the support from bat fans and the general public alike. Seeing the change in people’s perception of bats - particularly when they see how small and cute they really are – is a real positive experience and spreads the word of the importance of these unique mammals.

Here’s to many more successful events in the future!

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