Tuesday 21 June 2016

Swanton Novers Woodland Bat Project - Sonia Reveley

An Introduction to the Swanton Novers Woodland Bat Project

Welcome to the first blog from the Swanton Novers Woodland Bat Project. Supported and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the project is an exciting new venture which started this year as a collaboration between Bat Conservation Trust and Natural England.

 My role in this project is the Volunteer Coordinator. I am the lucky soul who gets to go out into the woods with a group of volunteers to collect important data which will allow us to learn how bats are affected by common woodland management techniques.

The main objectives of the project are to learn how bats use the interior of woodlands that have been actively managed, to learn how bat activity differs between the understory and the canopy, and to raise awareness about a natural heritage with help from the local community. The project will focus on Swanton Novers National Nature Reserve, an 83ha ancient woodland with a long history of active woodland management dating back to the Doomsday Book.  As I don’t want to repeat myself more information about the project can be found here - www.bats.org.uk/swanton.

What has been happening since the project started

Since the start of the project we have deployed static detectors three times and have carried out transect surveys throughout Swanton Novers Great Wood in Norfolk during May and June.

April transect surveys were unfortunately cancelled due to cold evening temperatures and chilly winds. For May, the transect surveys coincided with the emergence of the cockchafer beetles (also known as May bugs), which provided a feast for the serotines and noctules emerging from the woods and a feeding frenzy was observed by the lucky surveyors. Within the centre of the woods we picked up a few barbastelles and of course plenty of pipistrelles, while down in the bottom part of the woods where a few active coppice compartments are located, only pipistrelles were detected.

June transect surveys haven’t been analysed yet, but barbastelles were recorded in the top section of the woods.

We also had our project launch on Saturday 28th of May at the village hall in Swanton Novers, to which sixteen people came to. The evening started at 6pm with a talk about the project by me, an introduction to bats by Helen Miller, Woodland Officer at Bat Conservation Trust, and an insight into Swanton Novers Woods by Ash Murray, Senior Reserve Manager at Natural England. This was followed by tea and cake and a brief training workshop giving everyone a chance to listen to different bat calls.

To finish off the evening we went for a walk in the woods with our bat detectors to see what we would hear and see. On approaching the edge of the woods just after sunset we stopped to get our bearings and were treated to a front row view of serotines and noctules emerging out of the woods to feed on the insects flying around. Together with a few common and soprano pipistrelles, the bats flew above and around where we were standing for the fifteen minutes, giving everyone an opportunity to listen to the different repetition rates and rhythms, and observe the difference in size between the noctule and the pipistrelle bats. Definitely one of my top highlight moments from this year so far.

We have also recruited seven volunteers from the local community and seven volunteers from further afield. And as I write this blog we have another interested volunteer who lives in a nearby town, not too far from the woods.  Volunteers who have helped us with the transect surveys in May and June have learnt how to use a Peersonic detector and observe bat activity along the predetermined routes.  Also, I would like to say a HUGE thank you to all our volunteers for all their help.  In total, volunteers have contributed 104 hours (13 working days) to the Swanton Novers Woodland Bat project so far.

Our plans for the next few months

Thanks go to our volunteer’s hard work and time, we are on track and will continue to deploy the static detectors and each month we will do four transect surveys. A call analysis training workshop is scheduled to take place on Monday 25th of July at Swanton Novers Village Hall, so volunteers can learn how to analyse the data using call analysis software.

We have a Community Day planned for Sunday 7th of August in the woods. An ideal opportunity to learn more about the woods and how bats use the area, the day will offer a butterfly walk, minibeast hunting, a bat walk and moth trapping sessions, together with informative displays and activities. It is also an opportunity to meet the seasonal warden, who holds a wealth of information about the reserve having worked in the woods for 20 years. 

We will also be running a bat walk in August in the woods and two offsite bats walks in September. Events will be posted on the Swanton Novers webpage on the BCT website at www.bats.org.uk/swanton.

Looking for a project which you can contribute to

We are always looking for people to help us. There is nothing better, in my opinion, than seeing the seasonal changes within the woods. The sunset shimmering through the bare limbs of the twisted oaks, the ground covered with bluebells and wood anemone, the flush of new leaves swiftly followed by a lush green carpet of bracken and of course the rush of excitement and exhilaration when you realise you have seen/heard  a rare woodland specialist like the barbastelle. So, if you are interested and would like to join our team on a journey of discovery then I would love to hear from you and can be contacted by email at SReveley@bats.org.uk.

              Sonia Reveley

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