Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Adventures in Bat-Sitting

In our second Volunteers’ Week blog post, volunteer bat carer Morgan Bowers takes us through the thrills and spills of looking after our beautiful bats!

It’s the middle of May as I write this, and I’m currently experiencing the calm before the storm. Female bats all over the country are establishing maternity roosts and will soon each give birth to a single pup. By July, bat carers are often inundated with juvenile bats. It was during this time in July 2007 that I began my bat care journey.

Five years ago, I let my local bat group know I was interested in doing bat care. After training with a local carer, I had my first solo bat call: a juvenile Pipistrelle from Wolverhampton. As is often the case, it had been found in a hallway, with no mother bat to be seen. This often happens with juveniles, because as they get stronger and start to explore, they can become separated from the roost.

Baby bats are usually born in June. They are very small and have little fur. When their mothers go out to feed in the evening, unsupervised babies sometimes end up in strange places in the house (e.g. the kitchen sink or shower) as they are small enough to fall down tiny cracks next to pipes or between floorboards.

If you've found a baby bat, you must get expert help as quickly as possible. There may be a bat rehabilitator near you who can assist. Call the Helpline on 0845 1300 228 to find out.

Morgan's first bat - a juvenile pipistrelle

After caring for the bat pup overnight, I managed to get it back into the roost and saw it reunited with its mother – a rare sight, as pups are notoriously difficult to return to the wild. After seeing that, I was hooked! That’s why, when I’m training bat carers now, I try to ensure that their first bat care experience is a release – there’s something really special about seeing an animal that would otherwise have died flying back into its natural environment, healthy and free.

Five years later, I am now the Bat Care Coordinator for my area, and I’m busy recruiting and training new bat carers. While so far in 2012 I’ve only had six bats in care, the busy ‘bat season’ tends to run from April to August – though I had three separate Brown Long Eared Bats in September last year!

One of the Brown Long Eared Bats from September 2011.

My most recent bats were a pair of male Soprano Pipistrelles who were found in a mop bucket, soaking wet. I named them Cain and Abel because one was very grumpy and the other really calm. While naming bats is a split issue amongst carers, I’ve come to recognise the power of publicity and social media in particular: people have amazing responses when they’re able to follow the rescue, recovery and release of individual bats. Invariably, every bat that I have gains a horde of cheerleeders! After about a week in care, Cain and Abel were returned to the wild in the first double-bat-release I’ve done. It was an incredible feeling to see them go – as good as that first pup five years ago.

Video still from the release of Cain and Abel, Soprano Pipistrelles.

While I volunteer with the Birmingham & Black Country Bat Group, I recently returned from a visit to the Florida Bat Conservancy, where I got to meet bat carers over there. I was also lucky enough to say hello to a very rare Florida Bonneted Bat named Bonnie. It's good to remember that there are people all over the world going through the daily emotional roller coaster that is bat care - because, of course, not all bats survive. In the UK, bat carer support networks are available - contact for more information. Inspired and encouraged, I am ready for Bat Season!

Morgan meeting a Florida Bonneted Bat

If you’d love to help but don’t have time to be a bat carer, you can adopt a bat and make a real difference to bats in the wild! You’ll get an adoption certificate, species leaflet and magnet, newsletter updates (with poster!) and – best of all – an adorable Soprano Pipistrelle bat buddy to call your own.

The Bat Conservation Trust would like to say a huge thank you to Morgan and all the other volunteer bat carers across the country. Check out our website for more info about becoming a bat carer and to get help with bats.

Friday, 1 June 2012

To the Bat Phone! Life as an Out of Hours Bat Helpline Volunteer

This week (1-7 June) is Volunteers’ Week, and BCT would like to say a huge thank you to all the volunteers who help us out – on our Bat Helpline, at our headquarters, visiting bat roosts, leading bat walks and caring for ill or injured bats. To celebrate Volunteers’ Week, we’ll be uploading a series of posts by volunteers to find out more about them, their roles and the bats they’ve met and helped!

Our first guest post is by Michelle Clark, who is one our our invaluable out of hours National Bat Helpline volunteers. We're not sure if Michelle's phone lights up like the Bat Phone, but we do know she does a wonderful job!

If you need help with a bat, please call the National Bat Helpline on 0845 1300 228 or visit the Bat Conservation Trust website.

I have been a volunteer for the Bat Conservation Trust’s out of hours Helpline service for four years. I answer calls from members of the public who phone the National Bat Helpline after office hours and at weekends from May until September. When I’m on duty, the Bat Helpline is diverted to my home phone.

I’ve answered a wide range of enquiries – what to do with an injured bat, how to handle a bat flying around inside the house, and calls about possible roosts within residential and other buildings. I provide information and advice about how to care for bats and, if a bat is injured, I put the caller in touch with a local bat carer to who can provide specialist care.

I really enjoy being able help members of the public with their bat questions and concerns. People are often worried when they first call as they know very little about bats. I love being able to go some way to introducing bats to people and helping people understand these amazing creatures a bit better. I also feel it’s a great way to engage with members of the public and I think every encounter is valuable. Occasionally, I get a caller who has quite a negative view of bats, so I try to understand their point of view and give them the facts about bats. I’ve learnt a lot since starting on the Bat Helpline. It’s improved my confidence in talking to people about bats so much that I lead my first bat walk last year! I don’t think that would have happened without being a volunteer on the Bat Helpline.

Michelle enjoying the great outdoors with her daughter.

I used to work for the local council as an administrator, but since having my daughter last year, I’ve become a full time mum! I’ve been interested in bats and wildlife for many years and assisted with local surveys and counts with local groups and the ranger service. I am now thinking about the future and what it may hold for me. I would like to use the skills I have developed to pursue a new career, possibly in education. Whatever I do, I suspect bats and wildlife will definitely be a part of it. I’d love to help enthuse the next generation about bats and bat conservation, and help ensure that bats survive for my daughter to enjoy!

Michelle’s daughter is still a bit too small, but we have some great resources for young people - and for teachers. Young people can also join the BCT's Young Batworker Club and receive our Young Batworker magazine three times a year (best for ages 8-16).

Find out more about volunteering with BCT.