Tuesday 20 April 2021

Sharing house with a colony of Myotis Myotis : the experience of a Franco-British couple in the Limousin, France

Une cohabitation réussie entre une colonie de reproduction Myotis Myotis et un couple franco - britannique

Blog by Margaret Toolan and Pascal Le Bihanic

When we bought our house near Limoges in 2010, we were informed that access to the roof space was forbidden on account of the presence, every summer, of a colony of bats. The conveyancing solicitor broke this news to us with a worried look on his face: he was sure we would abandon the purchase. This was quickly reversed, however, when he saw the look of surprise and delight on our faces. The thought of cohabiting with a colony of bats - and a rare colony at that - was what clinched the deal for us.

Myotis myotis or Grand Murin in French, greater mouse-eared bat in English, is thought to be largely extinct in the UK but there are several colonies in France. Our locality in the Limousin, with its plentiful forests, woodlands and open spaces offers a favourable habitat. Thanks to this colony and the interest of Natura 2000 (the European conservation agency) the area where we live has been designated a special conservation zone. Every year a member of the conservation group GMHL, (Groupe Mammalogique et Herpétologique du Limousin) who are specialists in the protection of local flora and fauna, do a survey of our bats including a counting exercise using radio detection as the bats emerge from our roof space late at night to undertake their search for food. This is usually in late summer when the young are able to fly. In fact, our bat neighbours are exclusively mothers and babies and our roof space a sort of nursery. The pregnant bats arrive in spring, give birth and all leave together in the late autumn to join their male counterparts in the caves and underground passages linked to ancient castles, or created by old uranium mines, in the nearby Ambazac mountains.

The colony has increased from about 40 in 2010 to over 200 in 2020. The aid of Natura 2000 in insulating the roof space and planting over 200 trees and bushes in our already mature gardens has no doubt assisted this fertility boost.The profusion of spindle tree, elder, dogwood, dog rose, hawthorn, as well as a variety of oaks, apple, lime, chestnut and hazelnut trees ensures a rich terrain for the proliferation of beetles, the “haute cuisine” of myotis myotis and a happy hunting ground for the bats themselves. For our part we have agreed to turn part of our very large garden over to wild meadow to further encourage insects and local biodiversity. A transformation which equally benefits our bees and our annual production of pesticide-free honey. Taking this one step further, local farmers receive a financial gesture from Natura 2000 in agreeing to cut certain meadows only once a year and thus encourage growth of local species of flora and fauna. While adult myotis myotis are capable of flying 25 km in search of food (with all the attendant risks posed by obstructive buildings and wind farms) there is now a rich food source for them and especially for their young, close to home.

As for us, we live in constant admiration of this wonderful species with their sophisticated social organisation and cohesion who bother us not one jot. An added bonus is the copious ‘guano’ (droppings) delivered to us every year by the scientists from GHML who do an annual clean of the roof space when the colony have left for hibernation. This is an excellent fertiliser for our vegetable garden and it pleases us to think that our bats have contributed to the ever- improving quality of our raspberries and squash.

Finally, should anyone have doubts about the feasibility of cohabitation with bats, our experience should convince them that there is nothing to fear and lots to be gained. We believe that anxieties about safety are largely misplaced. Given the ongoing risks to species survival posed by climate change and environmental pollution it gives us enormous pleasure to contribute in a small way towards mitigating those risks and to educate our children and grandchildren in how to live alongside animals to our mutual benefit.

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