Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Sleeping Batties

Bookkeeper Jane Collett tells us about her first bat outing, where she helped out with a hibernation survey in a disused London tube tunnel..

10.00 - I’m ridiculously excited about today’s hibernation count. Although I joined the Bat Conservation Trust in May, as part-time bookkeeper I had not managed to attend any bat events up until now. The meeting point isn’t far from home so this is a great opportunity. Excitement is tinged with trepidation, as I’m quite claustrophobic and spending hours locked in a dark tunnel isn’t usually my idea of fun…

11.15 - Set off to walk through some woods to our rendezvous. It’s a raw January day and I’m dressed in so many layers I feel like the Michelin Man.

12.15 - We’re ready to start - a mix of Bat Conservation Trust staff, friends and local bat enthusiasts as well as members of the London Bat Group. I’m joined by my friend Wayne, a keen naturalist, who lives nearby. Cindy Blaney of London Bat Group, briefs us. Previous surveys of the two disused railway tunnels have found mainly Natterer’s, some Daubenton’s and a single brown long-eared bat. Then we’re off on the short walk to the tunnels’ entrance. I’ve looked down on them from the main road hundreds of times, but have never seen them from this perspective. We divide into two groups. Nine Bat Conservation Trust staff and friends go with Philip Briggs from the National Bat Monitoring Programme. Philip explains likely places to find bats. On the tunnel walls, there are “crusts” of sooty deposits from when trains used to pass through, and bats hibernate in spaces where these are peeling away; there are also a number of bat bricks in the walls. Five of us slowly work our way along one side of the tunnel, five along the other. We have to walk carefully as there’s rubble in places, and railway sleepers to negotiate. I realise that my torch, which seemed pretty good at home, is really puny in this vast dark space. It isn’t long before the first bat is found, a Natterer’s, in a bat brick. It’s great to see it, and we gather round to take a look. Soon there’s another discovery, another Natterer’s, this time behind one of the crusts. For long periods we work in silence, the only sounds our footsteps and the rumble of tube trains. I’m at the end of the line of surveyors and at one point think I’ve found a bat not previously spotted. It’s possible to see much more of this bat – the length of its wing, part of its white front and its face. It’s beautiful. Although it turns out that the bat has already been counted, I’m still thrilled.

14:00 - We leave the tunnels, having found six Natterer’s bats in our tunnel – a disappointing number compared to previous years. But I’ve really enjoyed the experience and feel very privileged as you can only enter a bat’s roost if you are accompanied by someone with a special licence.It’s getting pretty cold, despite all the layers, and several of us retire to the local pub to warm up.

(Please note it is illegal to enter a bat hibernation roost unless accompanied by a licenced bat worker)

National Bat Monitoring Programme The Bat Conservation Trust runs a number of nationa and annual surveys through a volunteer network to monitor the status of many of our bat species across a range of habitats. Our surveys form the National Bat Monitoring Programme through which we track changes in bat populations. Monitoring bats is essential as over the last 60 years it would seem that many of our bat species have declined dramatically. The data collected allows us to: •Assess the conservation needs of the UK's 18 species of bat •Identify any rapid declines •Select conservation priorities and inform conservation policy •Ensure limited resources are directed to where they are most needed. If your are interested in finding out more about becoming a NBMP volunteer, please email Felicity Bates (