Monday 28 November 2016

Volunteering for a Woodland Bat Monitoring Project

A roost feature on an Oak (c) Sonia Reveley
As it is National Tree Week it seems appropriate to submit a blog about the Swanton Novers Woodland Bat Monitoring Project. As you are well aware, woodlands are very important to bats. They provide foraging opportunities and roosting sites all year round for these special flying mammals. The distribution of woodlands over the years has changed and many are now fragmented and scattered. Their importance is undeniable though as they provide a haven for wildlife and support a variety of flora and fauna.
Noctule (c) Hugh Clark
Trees to bats are like what houses are to us. Where we have a choice of a semi-detached, flat or a bungalow, trees will provide a range of different roost features from loose peeling bark, cracks, cavities and fissures to rot holes and woodpecker holes. And like our homes they provide bats with shelter, warmth and a place to sleep and bring their young up. A well-established woodland will contain many trees with these features, all with different conditions (humidity, temperature and light), which will give the bats the freedom to move to different roosts throughout the year depending on their needs.                   

At Swanton Novers NNR we are using this well established site to learn how bats are affected by long term woodland management practices and how they use the woods as a result, particularly the interior. In addition, we will learn how bat activity differs between the understorey and the canopy (More information about the project can be found here ( )).
Transect surveying with volunteers
(c) Jamie McDonald
To collect all the data that is required needs volunteers. Volunteers are essential for the project to grow and continue. In return the project gives volunteers an opportunity to learn how to survey for bats, how to use new equipment, how to do call analysis, and carry out practical and maintenance work that will ensure we continue to gather all the data needed to answer our questions. Volunteers also get an opportunity to gain access to an area of natural beauty, help protect it and raise awareness about the woodland and its inhabitants through community events, walks, talks and articles. For this blog, a volunteer who has helped with the project since the beginning called Keith Fox has kindly written up a small article about his volunteering experience and why he enjoys it. Keith came to the project with some bat surveying experience already under his belt. Keen to continue with his work at the NNR, his help has been invaluable from helping new volunteers when paired up on the transect surveys to leading walks. Through the project he has learnt how to use new bat recording equipment, and has assisted with the deployment of the static detectors.
“I have been kept busy with volunteering work on a number of nature reserves since moving to Norfolk ten years ago, or should I say indulging my interest in natural history! One of the reserves I work on, and perhaps my favourite, is the ancient woodland that is the Swanton Novers NNR.
These woods have been an important part of the Norfolk landscape for hundreds of years, initially for economic reasons and latterly for their tremendous wildlife value. I have helped here with many tasks, from coppicing and growing young hazel plants to carrying out wildlife surveys.
Hence one day I was asked if I would like to help out with surveying bat activity in the woods.
Keith and Alex fixing  a static detector to a tree
(c) Sonia Reveley
It all started with walked transects through the woods, initially with an experienced bat worker, and moved on to analysing the results of the transects on my computer to identify the bat species. It moved on to positioning static detectors and analysing those results with even more software.
The next big step was to help with catching the bats using mist nets. With that came the chance to hold a bat in my hand and see just how tiny a Pipistrelle really is. Barbastelles were tagged with radio transmitters, which lead to tracking the tagged bats around the woods and wider countryside, and the more sedentary and less exhausting locating of roosts and emergence counts.
I am now confident in my ability to identify the different species and have gained enough information from other colleagues and background reading to confidently lead bat walks for the ‘general public’.
What do I enjoy about the work? Four things;
 I love being out in the woods at night with the snuffling badgers, barking deer and roding woodcock.
It gives me a real buzz to think that I am helping to ensure the survival of this wonderful wooded  place.
I feel I am making a real contribution to the knowledge about bats and how they use the woodland environment.
It has triggered a fascination with all aspects of the life of bats; flight, echolocation, hibernation and all the rest. “            
Keith Fox
Swanton Novers Woodland Bat Project Volunteer                                                                                                                                                                                              

Further information about the project and monthly updates about the project called Swanton News can be found at

If you would like more information about the project or would like to be involved and can spare a few hours helping with bat surveys, call analysis, walks, talks and community events, please contact the Volunteer Coordinator Sonia Reveley at or ring 07788 226528.

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