There are many reasons to want to help bats, not least because it’s actually very easy! British bats are crucial to our ecosystems as they can eat over 3,000 insects a night! Large flying foxes in tropical regions help to pollinate fruits and spread seeds to ensure rainforests regenerate and are sustainable. And bat poop, called guano, is highly valued and effective fertiliser. Bats are also amazing subjects to research, echolocation could offer help to the blind and a blood thinning chemical, used by a small number of species of vampire bats, has the potential to form the basis of new medical discoveries!
One of the easiest ways to help bats is in your garden. British bats feed only on insects (some species will also eat the occasional spider), so a sure fire way to make your garden bat-friendly is to make it insect-friendly first. Plants that flower at night will attract insects at times when bats are feeding. Building a pond, making a compost heap and planting some wild flowers are also great ways of attracting insects into your garden. Wild About Gardens Week is a great way to showcase your gardening abilities and find out more about how to make your garden a bat haven. To be in with a chance of winning our ‘plant a bat feast’ photo competition, take a photo of your plant-display and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org any time before November 6th!
Many species of bat are put off gardens by bright artificial lights (http://www.bats.org.uk/pages/bats_and_lighting.html), especially those that are shining on roosts, access points and flight paths, so reducing these may result in a higher number of bats occupying your garden. However, there are some British bat species, such as Leisler’s bats, that feed on the insects that are attracted to street lamps.
Putting up a bat box is another relatively easy way to help bats in your garden. You can buy one or make it yourself. Visit our website to find out more about installing a bat box. Some species love bat boxes, whereas others tend not to use them. It can take a few years for bats to move in, so this method of making your garden bat-friendly requires patience. You could also create linear features, such as hedgerows or tree lines. Bats use hedges as hunting grounds and as routes to follow to get to other hunting grounds.
Another piece of advice to cat owners, try and limit the time that your cat is out when bats are out. Cat attacks are one of the most common cause of bat fatalities; it is estimated that over 30% of rescued bats in the UK have been attacked by cats. More than half of the bats that have been attacked die as a result. If a bat has been caught by a cat it will almost certainly be injured. Even if you cannot see any obvious injuries there is a great risk of internal infection from the cat's saliva. Furthermore, cats will often learn where a bat roost is and catch bats as they leave the roost, putting a whole colony at risk. If your cat does catch a bat, please call the National Bat Helpline on 0345 1300 228. To avoid bats being killed or injured you are encouraged to bring your cat indoors half an hour before sunset and keep it in all night between April and October. If it is not possible for your cat to be in all night, bring it in half an hour before sunset and keep it in for an hour after sunset
British bats are insectivores, meaning that they feed on insects. This means that pesticides and insecticides can inadvertently harm bats. Insecticides are used in agriculture, industry and domestically and can help explain the rise in agricultural productivity in the 20th Century. However, they have been found to weaken bats’ immune systems, thus making them more vulnerable to diseases, such as White Nose Syndrome. Moreover, during migration or winter hibernation bats may have toxic levels of pesticide concentrations in their brains. This may cause bat populations to drop, which will mean that even more insecticides are required to make up for all the insects that bats would have eaten. You can help to combat this by buying organic products that aren’t made using pesticides and eliminating the use of pesticides in your personal garden.
Honduran White Bats (c) Shirley Thompson
Adjusting your purchasing habits is also a great way of helping bats nationally and internationally. Bats account for over half of the mammal species that are found in tropical rainforests. This means that bats are vulnerable to deforestation. Bats can be highly sensitive to disturbances, such as habitat destruction and/or fragmentation. For example, when a hibernating bat is disturbed, its body temperature spikes upward in preparation for escape, costing as much as a month of stored fat reserve. Not only does rainforest destruction harm the local bats, but it leads to an acceleration of climate change, which harms ecosystems and bats around the world. There are many ways that you can change your eating and purchasing decisions to help avoid deforestation, for example by switching to a diet that relies less on animal agriculture and palm oil consumption. However, animal agriculture has increased vampire bat populations, as vampire bats feed mostly on farm animals in tropical regions Another solution is to be recycled products, which require less timber.
If you would like to do even more to help bats, be sure to visit BCT’s website (www.bats.org) to donate, volunteer or fundraise. If you are in the UK, we would encourage you to contact your local bat group (http://www.bats.org.uk/pages/local_bat_groups.html). Outside the UK there are a number of other organisations such as Bat Conservation International, BatLife Europe (made up of a number of organisations), Bat Conservation Ireland, Bats without Borders and African Bat Conservation
by Angharad Hopkinson, BCT comms intern (@an_gary_)