Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Bat Blog!

Chester University student Jemma Chesworth studied bats in her undergraduate project, and she shares her experience with us!


I am a third year Animal Behaviour and Welfare student studying at Chester University. For my third year dissertation study I chose to study bats because although there are 17 breeding species of bats around the UK, many are rare or uncommon, and due to urbanisation they are becoming increasingly hard to spot. This was my chance to get up close and personal to these fascinating animals- the only true flying mammals!

I chose to do this study at Delamere Forest in Cheshire, as the land is vast, holding a variety of different mosses, wetlands and species of plants and trees. It is Cheshire’s largest area of woodland and a haven for wildlife. The Cheshire Wildlife Trust have been working alongside Delamere Forest to improve their wetlands by re-wetting some of the smaller areas. The aim of my study was to identify which wetland sites were preferred by bat populations. I chose 5 sites out of all the wetlands at Delamere Forest and studied for 5 days a week at each site, for a total of 5 weeks. The sites varied in how dense the surrounding woodland was, and how wetted the wetlands were. All of this was recorded, as well as the weather, the temperature, and the time of day. As bats are nocturnal I undertook my study each evening from 9:30pm onwards. I would record continuously at each site for one hour.

The software I used was a Roland wave mp3 recorder R-05, which has a memory card slot to store all of the recordings, and a bat box duet so that I could listen to the high frequency calls.

Sitting in a dark forest was not appealing at first, it seemed scary, but I brought along my mum to sit in silence with me (with her phone turned off so the signal did not interfere with my bat box) and we both found it rather enjoyable.

Each of the five sites I visited fascinated me in different ways. At some sites I could hear more bats than others and the woodland scenery I was in was amazing. I enjoyed sitting in the silence watching the sunset and the bats slowly coming out as the darkness came in. I would see the occasional bat flying around but as it got darker I wouldn’t be able to follow them with my eyes anymore, so instead I just listened to them. Having one of my senses cut off pulled me into a new world. Listening more carefully to the sounds around me was surreal at first as hearing bat calls was something I had never done before. At some sites I could hear bats constantly flying overhead, and I also had a few near misses from bats colliding into me. At other sites however there was very little or no bat activity. Although I have not finished my study to reveal which species of bats there actually were, I believe to have found a Nathusius Pipistrelle which has not been recorded in Delamere Forest before. This will be confirmed when I have uploaded my data to the bat analysis software.

©Hugh Clark

I still have a long way to go before my project is finished, and I haven’t yet identified all of the bat species that I heard, and at which specific sites I could hear bats most frequently, but all of my data is now collected. I have been working alongside the Cheshire Wildlife Trust to help them to keep a close eye on their bat populations within Delamere Forest. I am hoping my study will provide a base project on how to attract more bats to woodlands in surrounding areas, and how to improve the other wetland sites at Delamere Forest to make them more bat friendly. I learned a lot more about bats that I ever thought I could, and I am hoping my study will inspire other people to help protect these amazing animals.

Jemma Chesworth