Wednesday, 18 September 2013

#natbatconf a first-timers blog on the National Bat Conference

#natbatconf...2013 a first timer's visit...
Abi McLoughlin, Press and Communications Officer at Bat Conservation Trust gives us a behind the scenes view of her first Bat Conference!

It was with excitement and enthusiasm I pulled on my purple sweatshirt and proudly pinned into place my name badge for the start of my first National Bat Conference in Warwick - only slightly mindful of the date, Friday 13th. And I'm glad I'm not superstitious as the weekend was wonderful... 

Friday 13th saw delegates and Bat Conservation Trust members flock to the bar courtesy of a free drink reception from the sponsors, WildlifeAcoustics. This blogger can categorically report only the weather and not the spirits of the bat enthusiasts was damp - which meant some nice consolation for the bad luck suffered by the bat walkers. 

Then came the more serious business of the annual Bat Worker Forum - where bat volunteers were able to discuss a variety of issues - from roost visit forms and the complications there with to the issue of Defra's desire to 'reduce and simplify' wildlife guidance which has led to a consultation on a document that seems to many to have its facts wrong when it comes to bats. Everyone was urged to have their sayon Defra's conultations  before the 27th Sept deadline. The passion and commitment  of the bat workers to bats was inspiring and encouraging to see and the meeting served to list the on-going projects and some very useful updates.

Then it was back to the bar - just to take photos you understand - before hobbling off to bed - a leg injury getting a good bit of strengthening work as I was to hobble back and forth across campus with varying degrees of 'on-time ness' over the weekend. 

Anne Youngman with her amazing designs

Saturday 14th was an early start to get the BCT stall, registration was in full flow before the talks started at 9 am. The wonderful Scotland Officer Anne Youngman added to our stall with some fabulous handcrafted glow in the dark bat badges which proved to be as in demand as Kelly Gunnell and Carol Williams' new book Designing forBiodiversity... both sold-out with folks wanting more - which is good in showbiz but slightly frustrating on the BCT stall! At least the book is available at the  ribabookshops website!

Julia Hanmer addressing confernece

After a few years out of academia, it felt great to enter a lecture hall again. And the talks didn't disappoint (and were much more exciting than many a law lecture). CEO of the bat Conservation Trust Julia Hanmer kicking things off with a look at issues facing bat and reflecting the year's work from BCT. The loudest hiss and boo from delegates was reserved for the unpopular Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, for his position on wildlife.

After Julia, Investigations Officer Pete Charleston, stepped up. He outlined the on-going issues with woeful sentencing and provided advice on what is needed to successfully tackle bat crime. Pete is currently investigating a shocking case in Bridlington that saw a conviction for destroying 6 roosts receiving a paltry £35 per roost fine. This is something Bat Conservation Trust  is working to change. 

A host of fantastic talks followed - all prompting great discussion, tweeting and retweeting under #natbatconf. Then came the workshops and what a treat they were - looking at all aspects of bat behaviour, bat handling, buildings, bats and the law to name but a few. Pat Waring's collection of films was wonderful to watch, shining an infrared light on some oft-missed bat behaviours. 

There was a great exhibition hall with a host of batty literature, bat monitoring and bat sound kits, amazing camera trap technologies and some rather fab other bits and bobs... after some more stints on the BCT stall it was back to the talks. 

We heard the latest from Stacey Waring (shown here with Heather McFarlane of BCT) as she is going loopy, or at least counting loops in fabric analysing the currently available breathable roofing membranes - it's very important work looking at how bats can become tangled and will have implications for industry and conservation.
We'd also heard from Lisa Worledge and Helen Miller on the latest on the very nearly unpronounceable and, in the US, deadly fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans - and what its presence in the UK may mean for Britain's bats. 
The signs suggest the presence of the fungus in the UK is good news for our bats, who may be immune to White Nose Sydrome.  So after a collective sigh of relief it was time to get ready for a bit of dinner, a rather tricky quiz and a lot of ceilidh chaos. Our table worked wonders on the anagrams and did pretty well overall, but not quite as well as you'd hope having set many of the questions!

Top tip - if you have twinkle toes
If anyone gets the opportunity to meet one of the BCT helpline managers, Pete in a similar situation I should suggest you ask him for a twirl - quite aside from the regulation ceilidh dancing, Pete is a former professional ballet dancer and after a few glasses impressed the team massively with an airborne double turn! It's arguably even more impressive though, when you get him talking about hand rearing Australian flying foxes!

Sunday 15th dawned bright and early and it was up and back to the talks - more great talking points and a lot of twittering as we learned that Madagascan Flying foxes are indeed great seed dispersers and that seeds that have been processed (ahem, 'pooped') by the bats germinate better than those which have simply dropped - one reason posited for this is the fact the bats spit out those seeds inhabited by parasites.   

We also heard about the exciting survey work undertaken in the Isle of Wight where Bechstein's bats and barbastelles were identified.  Ian Davidson-Watts and his team even found what's believed to be the largest barbastelles roost in the UK - with a whopping 115 bats living in one tree. From the Isle of Wight it was off to Somerset for a very engaging and entertaining talk about the Big Bat Surveys undertaken by the Somerset Bat Group on the Mendip and the Blackdown hills. 

We also heard about Bat Conservation Trust's Bats, Churches and Communities pilot from the lovely Laura Bambini. Next, Northumberland Bat Group explained  how bats are using islands off the coast of Northumberland - which was surprising and delightful - who knew they flew over the ocean to visit Lindesfarne, Inner Farn and Coquet? It has worrying implications though - as a whole trench of sea between the mainland and the islands is looking a likely spot for wind turbines, how will this affect bats? I'm particularly keen to hear from anyone else who's looking out to see to count bats, know there are some folk in Kent and Hampshire undertaking similar work.

The citizen science project in Norfolk, where local people monitor bats in their area using acoustic monitoring kit borrowed from the libary, plots bats using Google maps.   Over 400 people are involved so it's not only a fantastic project to monitor bats on a bigger scale than is usually possible, but it is also working wonders for getting bats noticed and recognised as the wonderful creatures they are.  

Wildlife Acoustic's talk at Conference

There a couple of very technical talks which as a non-science graduate I found fascinating, and in places, a little tough to keep up! I'm not big on algorithms but working on it! A talk on computer monitoring of wing beat frequency from University of Lincoln and Lincolnshire Bat Group, which, when worked up and moved into the field, may be a new and exciting way to identify species. The last talk of the day was from Wildlife Acoustics, outlining their new classification technique which will be in the Kaleidoscope Pro Bat Auto ID software. A lot of maths has gone into this - and it was great to hear about it! 

Gail Armstrong's excellent bat handling workshop was a wonder to watch!

I must confess to getting absolutely overexcited taking pictures in the bat handling workshop run by Gail Armstrong - I do tend to emit extremely high squeaks myself  when in close proximity to bats - which I hope they appreciate!

After lunch there was a touching talk remembering Andrew Watson presented by Tony Hutson and it was awards time. I felt a bit bad dragging both our amazing winners: Maggie Brown (pictured above right with Julia Hanmer), recipient of the Pete Guest Award and Charlotte Walters (pictured above, left) who won the Vincent Weir Scientific Award away from their coffee break to pose for pictures - but as you can see it was worth it! 

The most amusing moment of the afternoon came during the auction and raffle - which was a chance to raise much-needed funds for the Investigations Project. Quite a turn up for the books when CEO Julia Hanmer's ticket was drawn out of the bag! 

Kieron giving a rattle for the raffle!

A last minute rush on our sales stall - the bat poo identification charts were the best sellers of the weekend, after we'd sold out of Annie’s amazing glow in the dark bats and the Designing for Biodiversity books... then it was time to pack up and hobble for the train. Home to London, exhausted and happy to dream of bats and a newly lengthened - to-do list - having learned so much, there are so many stories to get out there. It's going to be a busy year!

Hope to see you all at the next conference, 7th September 2014, University of Warwick, I’ll be the one in the purple sweatshirt!  

Blogger Abi McLoughlin is the new Bat Conservation Trust Press and Communications Officer. She joined the team in June 2013 after 12 years at the BBC as a factual film maker/ producer/director. She is always keen to hear anyone's stories, and can help craft stories, offer help on press releases and media training. Do get in touch