Thursday, 2 January 2014


OOH! - That would be the 'Out of Hours' Helpline. Just don't call it the Bat-phone!

0845 1300 228

Having come across the Bat Conservation Trust's Out of Hours Helpline through my work at BBC News and on realising they were crewing up I thought 'perfect'! 

You can offer as many or as few evenings or weekends you have available a month and rotas are drawn up on a month by month basis and can be flexible if needed. 

Who could resist helping this fellow?

So I responded to the email address posted on and having chatted with Sabah, the Out of Hours Project Co-ordinator, signed up for a trip to the bat cave, otherwise known as the Bat Conservation Trust Offices, for an evening's training with Sabah and Jess (Bat Care Network Co-ordinator). 

After the talks and powerpoints, and a session using the super straightforward internet based computer systems, I left the offices fully briefed on the systems, up to speed on all aspects of bat care advice and raring to go. 

A folder packed full of reminder info under my arm I headed home. For home is where the help is... 

Manning the 'bat-phone' - D'oh!
As an Out of Hours Volunteer you commit to being at home, in front of a computer for your shift - typically during the week it's from 5.30pm to 11 pm one evening and then from 7 am to 9am the next morning - or during the day, or evenings at weekends. You have a member of staff to whom you can turn if you get any particularly tricky calls (for example if anyone is scratched, bitten or reports a suspected foreign bat landing in the UK) but the basics are wonderfully simple. 

Calls to the Helpline get diverted to the phone number you provide (my mobile has never been so busy!) so you pick up your phone and you're off. You log on to the computer system that guides you through important information to get from the caller and reminds you of the key messages you should pass on and then you log into BCT's most prized system of all, the Bat Care Network. 

The charity could not provide the bat care help without this network of wonderful individuals who permit BCT to either give out their numbers or to be contacted in the event of a bat needing help in their locality. 

The carers on the list are dotted right around the UK and entries outline availability and what they can and can't undertake in terms of bat care. As a helpline volunteer you take the call and after chatting to the individual who has rung you to establish what help they need you either offer the advice or put them in touch with their local carers - job done!

Obviously it's not quite that simple. Each call is different and you meet some wonderful people on the end of the phone. Sometimes callers are concerned only with the welfare of the bat that's in trouble, and want to know what they can do to help, sometimes they are scared themselves, troubled by their visitor or letting you know of someone boarding up a roost site or chopping down a tree. Bat roosts are protected by law and we have an Investigations Officer who assists in investigating and reporting bat crime to the Police to whom we refer such calls.

The Out of Hours service is an emergency service so general routine queries are logged or asked to call back during the BCT's working hours - but no one goes away unassisted! 

The Emergency calls can come through in fits and starts and its often noticeable how bat activity seems to happen in geographical areas on a given evening - one night you will get a lot of calls from a rural part of Scotland, another week it could be south Wales that most folk call from - it makes you think the bats are chatting with one-another and picking their times to get into trouble! You can have evenings when it barely rings and other nights when it's relentless!

I've taken calls on bats in hairdressers, hallways of homes, behind hanging baskets, from a parade ground in an army barracks, a school and high rise block of flats in west London. If you find a bat out and about in the daytime it's usually in trouble and always worth giving us a call. I love it when I get a call back to update me on progress or resolution - and get to hear some lovely stories of successful releases!

Last summer there were a few calls of bats flying around in homes, having flown in through an open door or window (presumably following insects attracted by the lights). They get in a flap when in doors with lights, noise and people and pets. The best instant advice if a bat is flying around a room is to close the interior doors, get folk out of the way, turn off lights and noisy radios and TVs and open the windows.  Bats inside are trying to get out and this often allows them the space to find their way out! 

Cats have been at the bottom of most of the calls I worked on over last summer - either bringing in bats as 'gifts' for their owners or being seen stalking an injured, grounded bat. 
With a cat-caused injury a bat will need specialist care - and probably antibiotics - so it's one that we will always refer to a carer to administer help. 

Bat care box

Basic bat care advice is always given to the caller, to contain the bat (if it's not flying) and meet its immediate needs (namely popping it in a well ventilated box with a lid, with a towel in which to snuggle and a few drops of water to drink in a lid from something like a milk carton) and they are always asked to handle the bat as little as possible, and always use gloves if they are going to. You don't want to hurt yourself or the bat and while bats seldom bite or scratch there is a very small risk of a rabies-like virus from handling an infected bat (which is itself extremely rare - very few bats have tested positive for this virus in the last 20 years of testing).

It's always lovely when folk engage and want to learn about bats - for some it’s their first encounter with these lovely little mammals – it’s often the start of a new interest and people often ask for leaflets and information about bats to be sent to them. Most people are astonished at how small they are and how cute!

I have chatted with lovely people, helped hundreds of bats through the advice I've given or the experts I've put in touch with bats in need. It's been a great volunteer experience and one which will suit even the relatively time poor wildlife lover! You get to help some fabulous people and some magical mammals!  I also ended up moving to BCT in a different role after I had started as a volunteer so it’s not just the bats’ lives that you get to change for the better!

Abi McLoughlin Out of Hours Volunteer 2013

JUST IN CASE YOU EVER NEED IT  : 0845 1300 228

BASIC BAT CARE:1. Contain the bat:a) Like a spider, by placing a box on top of it and sliding a piece of card underneath.b) alternatively, cover the bat with a cloth/teatowel and carefully scoop it up and place it in the box.2. Put a tea towel or soft cloth in the box for the bat to hide in.3. Put in a small, shallow container e.g. a plastic milk bottle top with a few drops of water (not enough for the bat to drown in). Make sure the water is topped up regularly.4. Keep the bat indoors somewhere quiet and dark5. Most importantly, call the Bat Helpline on 0845 1300 228 for local bat carer numbers.Only a bat that has been confirmed as fit and healthy by a bat carer should be released, and never during the day. Always wear gloves if handling a bat. Tell someone immediately if you are bitten or scratched.