Tuesday 21 September 2010

The National Bat Conference: A first-timer’s perspective

By Kelly Gunnell, Bats and Built Environment Officer

It was a tough decision to make: a week’s windsurfing in Tiree or a chance to attend my first National Bat Conference? Well, of course I chose to go to the Bat Conference and I have no regrets!

As a first-timer to the conference, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The stories from previous years had really built up my expectations and the buzz in the office gearing up to it certainly added to the excitement. When the Friday came along, there was the usual hive of activity involved in trying to get things set-up. Lots of BCT staff (and thus equipment) had been delayed in traffic which meant that the membership stand and even aspects of the registration desk was a last-minute scramble. Luckily we all handled it with cool suave and I don’t think anyone noticed (right?).

The Talks...

As BCT organises and runs the conference not all BCT staff get to see many of the talks presented. However, as the new Built Environment Officer for BCT, I had a keen interest in many of the talks and was lucky enough to see most of the programme (in return I had to do a lot of microphone duty, but that is a small price to pay!). All of the speakers did a great job and the range and diversity of topics kept the audience interested and awake - despite the evenings being spent discussing bats (and drinking) long into the night!

The first talk, on the long-term bat monitoring project in Finemere Wood, set the bar high. I was most interested to hear that Daubenton’s, Brown Long-eared and Natterer’s seem to prefer shady roosts, whereas Pipistrelle’s will go for sunny and exposed bat boxes.

Roger Ransome’s presentation on his ten years’ worth of involvement on the Combe Down Stabilisation Project was fascinating. The amount of time and effort that has gone into the project is staggering. It was good to hear about the importance of ventilation for bat hibernation. I also learnt that foam concrete takes an amazing 6 months to cool.

It was a real eye-opener to learn about Turkey’s extensive cave systems from Emrah Coraman. Both the caves and the bats are under threat from cave-tourism and it was fascinating to hear how Emrah and his colleagues are tackling the problem. This talk was complimented by Dave Anderson’s talk on Sunday, which described the great lengths he has gone to discover and uncover caves in East Lancashire.

One of my favourite talks was by Emma Rigby which used Social Network Analysis to study the population ecology of Daubenton’s bats. Not surprisingly it was found that bats that roost together are almost exclusively found associating with each other during foraging.

There were two talks that looked at bat activity in the urban environment. James Hale showed how key landscape variables could be used to predict bat activity in Birmingham. He found that the NSL guild activity is highest where there is: lots of water within 100-200m; lots of natural landscape within 1000m; and low levels of buildings within 1000m. For common and soprano pips there was a strong relationship with total connectivity. Cath Laing used GIS tools to show that in Brighton bats are more likely to occur in areas with bigger gardens. Larger gardens are more likely to have greater insect assemblages because of the bigger trees. However, bat activity was not associated with street trees. This raises interesting questions for urban greening projects.

Workshops and dancing the night away...

The conference wasn’t all talks though. The workshops gave the participants a chance to engage more fully on a range of topics from Bat Identification to Sound analysis, Planning, Churches, Mitigation and even Wildlife Drawing. I did hear there was even a gate-crasher to the conference that came just for the Wind Turbine workshop!

No one could complain that the Conference Dinner was anything except entertaining. The very pink berry pyramid raised the odd eyebrow, the wine flowed pretty freely, Richard Crompton (one of BCT’s trustee we said goodbye to this weekend) did the rounds in his new Batman dressing gown and the Ceilidh had both participants and non-participants in stitches of laughter. After much socialising and networking, I made it to bed about 1:30am, unlike some energetic individuals who only stumbled to bed after 4am! I didn’t envy them on Sunday.

Although I have no previous experience to compare it to, it was still in my opinion a thoroughly successful National Bat Conference. I’m sure we are all glad for the lil’ break until the next one though!

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