Monday 31 July 2023

Using bats to improve inclusivity of access to nature

by Ruth Cowell

When in early 2022 I volunteered to go batty for my newly formed local Nature Group I had no idea where this would lead me. At first I immersed myself in the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) training, including 'How to Organise and Run a Bat Walk', which introduced me to other enthusiasts. Then I looked at the wealth of resources available on the BCT website. The 'Bats For All' section references projects which have included hard to reach groups and I was fortunate that some took place in the Avon area where I am based and had a legacy of loanable library resources. I attended a couple of bat walks myself and joined my local bat group.

My big question was how as a volunteer could I have the resources to run a field bat walk that did not exclude those with mobility, vision or hearing difficulties? I had inspiration from the BCT website and an idea of what we needed to achieve but trying to access owners of historic projects was difficult and I am not an expert on these issues. I had excellent advice from Trustees of the Bristol Centre for Deaf and Hard of Hearing who had been involved in previous projects but the difficulty of gaining consent to use copyrighted resources seemed insurmountable. Enter my Parish Council.

Tablet with EMT
In Frampton Cotterell Parish Council we have an enthusiastic Climate and Nature officer who was already working in partnership with the Nature Group and had a forum for discussion. We agreed that I would support the development of the resources needed, that the Parish Council would take ownership of them and that this would not be a project but would have ongoing review so that resources would not go out of date. The necessary Committee agreements added time to decision making but it was worth it.

Our first goal was to run an inclusive outdoor bat walk event at the end of August which was accessible to wheelchair users and those with mobility, vision and hearing difficulties. I had my Echo Meter Touch (EMT) in a computer tablet for hearing impaired, we already had 3 heterodyne Magenta bat detectors, which I put bumps on to mark frequencies of 25 and 50 Khz, and we borrowed more detectors. We focused on the bats most likely to be encountered in our area: noctule, common and soprano pipistrelle, serotine, Daubenton's bat and brown long-eared bat. I made to scale cardboard tactile bats where the anatomy could be traced and weighted bats which also demonstrated the different wing shapes. The bat walk went well although the hearing impaired and wheelchair users had to withdraw for unrelated reasons.

Cardboard tactile bats

The next goal was to make our resources more robust in time for our bat event at the City Nature Challenge at the end of April 2023. The Parish Council agreed funding so that we were able to purchase 5 more bat detectors, 2 EMTs and tablets and to have British Sign Language (BSL) support for a workshop. We produced instructions for using the Magenta detectors, including the BCT What Bat is That? large print leaflet, and an audio description of the instructions and leaflet which included heterodyne bat echolocation sounds taken from my EMT recordings. We commissioned a Braille and tactile image resource from the RNIB and had permission from the BCT to include a braille version of the What Bat is That? large print leaflet and tactile bat outlines from the BCT website. The event went well and BSL interpretation was used.

This is not a time limited project with evaluation of a definite outcome but an evolving case study of how we can build inclusive nature events. Residents can borrow all the resources from the Parish Council and links have been made with key network groups. We have just received news of an external grant from the National Lottery that will enable us to provide more events, including BSL support, over the next year and we now have a framework for producing resources to support inclusivity in our other nature activities.

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