Thursday, 24 March 2022

Drawing Lines in the Sand Over Nature Loss in the UK

by Jane Williamson, UK Youth for Nature

How are the Bat Conservation Trust, the youth movement UK Youth for Nature, this year’s UN Biodiversity Conference COP-15 and a 50 foot sand drawing on a beach in Scarborough linked? It’s a reasonable question, and one that I’ll try to answer here. As a member of UK Youth for Nature’s Organising Team, I’ve been working alongside the team this spring to raise awareness of the fact that #NatureCannotWait, at the start of what’s being billed a ‘biodiversity super year’. Looking back on the last, lost decade for nature [1] in the year 2022, along with countless other young people, I’m driven by the fear of being in the same position in 10 years’ time, by the hope that this time, political inertia might give way to action. 

The Covid-19 pandemic was a lens through which the role of nature in our lives was brought into focus; with life stripped back to the basics, and society in turmoil, nature’s constancy and beauty was one of the few remaining sources of joy in the never-ending cycle of lockdowns - I can’t be alone in losing count. There’s also evidence to suggest that our exploitation of, and disconnect from, the natural world was one of the contributing factors to the emergence and rapid spread of the virus. Some horseshoe bats have even been put forward as the host for a similar virus; as a zoonotic virus, originating in an animal population and ‘jumping ship’ to a human one, WWF say that this is driven by ‘humanity’s broken relationship with nature’, seen for example in deforestation for urban expansion or food production and in the wildlife trade [2]. Bats have been villainised since their possible implication in Covid-19 has been publicised, but in reality it is human exploitation of the natural world which has put bats in this position. They cannot be a scapegoat for what’s ultimately our doing; they play vital roles in global ecosystems, from regulation of insect populations to pollination. 

So, moving forward into this crucial decade for nature, we therefore need to bear in mind these two things; one, that nature is vital for human wellbeing, and two, that catastrophe results when we fail to give it the respect and protection it deserves. Enter UK Youth for Nature’s biodiversity stunt - Nature Loss: Lines In The Sand…

“For years we’ve seen nature remain one of governments’ lowest priorities in the UK. When today’s young people are older, some of the most iconic species of the British countryside could already have been lost forever. Our drawing is a loud and clear message to our governments: this year the UN biodiversity conference is a once in a decade chance to set new global nature goals. Take that chance, then act to meet those goals.” - Talia Goldman, Co-Director of UK Youth for Nature.

Bringing together four biologically significant species, slotted together to make up the shape of the UK, and captured by drone footage, the sand art commissioned by UK Youth for Nature on 23rd March on Scarborough beach was then washed away slowly but inexorably by the incoming tide. The hourglass drawings also included are the symbol for the global movement Youth for Our Planet’s campaign #NatureCannotWait, strengthening the connection between UK Youth for Nature and Youth for Our Planet.

Nature as our predecessors knew it is already a thing of the past, and our perception of true ‘wildness’ is a modern one; a future devoid of wild things is unimaginable, and yet the empty beach left behind represents how very frighteningly real this prospect is, if governments fail to act sufficiently, and quickly enough. As the drawing was being washed away, pre COP-15 meetings in Geneva were in their closing stages, followed a couple of days later by WWF’s annual Earth Hour; the overlap of these three events was deliberate, emphasising that time is running out for the natural world, but we are the ones who can turn that hourglass on its side.

As it stands, with the failure to translate the Aichi Targets set in 2010 to reality, governments now seek to seal a new global deal for biodiversity. Whilst the 30x30 Agreement aims to return 30% of land globally to nature by 2030, halting and reversing the loss of biodiversity by then [3], UK Youth for Nature is pushing for an early target of 2025, going a step further to put nature into recovery by 2030. Their asks also differ from other green groups in the exchange of the word ‘net’ for ‘absolute’ - no further absolute loss of biodiversity demands far greater ambition and commitment to nature than the prevention of further net loss by 2025.

Focussing on the UK, a considerable number of the approximately 2,300 species that Oaks are thought to support are bats. The older the woodland, the better, all the more reason for enhanced protection of the UK’s ancient woodlands, in which Oaks are a key player as flagship species. Whilst crevices in bark are important roosting sites for species like Barbastelle, others like Noctule tend to make use of woodpeckers’ holes, but whatever the species, all are dependent on the life support that healthy Oaks can give to a huge variety and quantity of insects, being a vital source of food for foraging bats. [4] A recurring theme in ecosystems, this reflects how the protection of one species could have profound, positive knock-on effects on another.

This is why UK Youth for Nature are also working with the Woodland Trust to call for the protection of irreplaceable woods, and the implementation of tougher biosecurity, due to their significance as an ecosystem, not least for bats. This includes the development of an Ash Dieback Action Plan, key in supporting bat populations reliant on ash trees as places to roost. 

The Bat Conservation Trust has played a key part in supporting UK Youth for Nature’s actions on Social Media around the time of Nature Loss: Lines In The Sand, along with other major wildlife and conservation organisations. As in nature, this reflects the power of networks and sharing resources, which has been invaluable to our campaign. Collective action, amplified by young people, is central to the fight against the twin biodiversity and climate crises, which unite us all in their scale and implications. On UK Youth for Nature’s behalf, a huge thank you to the Bat Conservation Trust for their encouragement and support of our movement!


Sources/further reading:

 [1] ‘A Lost Decade for Nature’, RSPB https://www.rspb.org.uk/globalassets/downloads/pa-documents/a-lost-decade-for-nature-2020#:~:text=The%20UK's%20Sixth%20National%20Report,year%20global%20targets%20for%20nature.

 [2] Nature and Pandemics - ‘Urgent Call to Protect People and Nature’, WWF https://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/4783129/WWF%20COVID19%20URGENT%20CALL%20TO%20PROTECT%20PEOPLE%20AND%20NATURE.pdf

[3] Achieving 30x30 in England on Land and at Sea, Wildlife and Countryside LINK  https://www.wcl.org.uk/docs/WCL_Achieving_30x30_Land_and_Sea_Report.pdf

[4] Bats and Woodland, Bat Conservation Trust https://www.bats.org.uk/our-work/landscapes-for-bats/bats-and-woodland

 

 

  

Wednesday, 26 January 2022

A week of work experience at the Bat Conservation Trust

by Amelia Lam

In the summer of 2018, I completed a week of work experience at the BCT’s London headquarters. The Bat Conservation Trust is an NGO with a network of regional groups across the country, all working to monitor and conserve bats. Here is my recollection of the experience:

While my first few minutes were spent staring up at the BCT’s top floor office, wondering if I was lost, I finished my four days of work experience at the BCT with a new set of skills and some very valuable knowledge of bats!

Map showing areas of the East Midlands surveyed before/after 2014

My first day included entering data for the National Bat Monitoring programme. This is where hundreds of volunteers go out to count the number and record the species of the bats in their local area. It was amazing to sort through the surveys filled out by people all over the country with the same passion for the UK’s bats. The data from individuals really does add up to create a greater picture of how each bat species is fairing.

The next day my presentation skills were put to the test as I was tasked with creating the map and visual statistics for data about the species, spread and roost sites of the bats in the East Midlands. It’s safe to say I had never experienced turning pure numbers into squares on a map before, but I was very happy with the result!

Throughout the week I also helped edit the Bat News and wrote a short article for the Bat Monitoring Post about bat friendly streetlights in the Netherlands, although I enjoyed practical tasks even more. An example is creating bat packs to send to members of the public, which hopefully helped lessen the workload of the incredibly hardworking National Bat Helpline team. These packs will later allow scientists to identify the species of bats in that area and in the future.

I spent my last say at the BCT increasing my knowledge about the UK’s bat species, including their calls and shapes. Not long after, I remember sharing my knowledge on a bat walk during Action For Conservation summer camp in Wales, including playing bat quizzes and watching the Greater horseshoe (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum) bats swoop over our heads as they exited their roosts.

 

Planning in progress and looking to the future

A drawing from BatFest

Since my time at the BCT, I’ve been involved in more of the planning side of the conservation sector starting with the London Wildlife Trust’s Young People’s forum in 2019. This showed me that young people are being given a voice for change in the environmental sector. Another highlight was attending the national bat conference as part of BatFest in 2020. I really enjoyed the virtual bat walk and the drawing session. It was good to get so many people together to celebrate even if it was over zoom!

More recently I was on the Natural History Museum’s Youth advisory panel and studying biology at university. I am considering a future in field research. However, no matter where I end up, I know I’ve got a basis of practical skills from my previous experiences, the BCT was a great opportunity to get started, so thanks to all the staff that helped make it happen!

 

Thursday, 2 September 2021

South Hill Bat Project – helping bats and humans share their space and keep the roof over both our heads!

 By Judith Ayers

 

During lockdown, St Sampson’s Church in Cornwall has become home to some very special, regionally rare and declining Natterer's bats.


In May 2021 two families of bats were found in our roof.  We discovered that we have, common pipistrelles and the more infrequent Natterer's bat. The UK population of Natterer’s bats is of international importance and they are listed as declining within the red data book for Cornwall.  

This was both a blessing and a problem!


St Sampson’s needs urgent roof works to keep the rain out and the bats need their maternal home to be undisturbed. The bats would be in danger if we carried out the works in May and hence we have to postpone the work until we have a licence and the babies have left the nest.  Whilst bat habitats are protected by law, it falls upon us as volunteers to fund their habitat conservation and enable them to thrive.

Dr Honor Gay, Bats in Churches Project agrees: ‘churches are crucial sanctuaries for Natterer’s bat’s and I applaud the church community at St Sampson’s for living alongside their important maternity roost’.

The extra cost, on top of vital roof repairs to keep the bats safe is £6,000.  We had to find a way to raise that money and quickly and we came up with a plan for a campaign to sponsor a bat.

The survey identified 30 bats flying in and out to their roosts so each bat needs £200 rent - although babies live free!   The campaign suggests you can sponsor a whole bat or a contribution towards it (whole bat £200, wing £50, leg £20 echolocation hearing £10). 

The Bishop of Truro, Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, was the first to sponsor a bat and he named it Acro-bat.  He said:

‘Learning to live in harmony with nature, rather than trying to curb and control it, is one of the greatest challenges of our time. That’s why I’m very supportive of the ‘South Hill ‘Sponsor a bat appeal’ – and why I’m delighted to be sponsoring a bat myself. Please do consider how you could help support these amazing creatures – and the lovely community of St Sampson’s, South Hill.’

In return for sponsoring a whole bat, the sponsor can chose the name.  For a contribution towards a bat, the name is pre selected.  The sponsor receives a certificate with the bats name on it and full details of the project.

Donations can be made via Just Giving page South Hill Bat Project -helping bats and humans share their space. - JustGiving  then send an e mail to stsampsonssouthhill@gmail.com  to receive your certificate or, by sending a cheque made out to ‘The Rector and Church Wardens of South Hill - to Judith Ayers, Southview Barn, 83 Launceston Road, Callington, Cornwall PL17 8DS.

For further details of South Hill Bat Project, helping bats and humans share their space.

Contact Judith Ayers  judithayers@yahoo.co.uk or  St Sampsons Unlocked | Facebook   or  St Sampson's, South Hill - A Church Near You

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

'Dorset Abilities Group - introducing people with disABILITIES to bat conservation

Ross putting a bat box together (Photo by DAG)
by Matthew, Ross, Tracy, Katie, Jack & Fliss (DAG Group Members)

Dorset Abilities Group (DAG) visit a local nature reserve, The Kingcombe Centre on a regular basis for nature walks and we have polytunnel where we grow vegetables and prior to Covid we also took part in various woodwork and natural craft projects.  Kingcombe is part of Dorset Wildlife Trust and set in a rural location surrounded by fields and woodland, the perfect habitat for bats! 

Matt Harcourt who runs the Kingcombe centre asked us if would be willing to help put together bat boxes, along with bird nesting boxes and bug houses.

Matt brought the cut wood and we put the boxes together, following the design Matt gave us. The boxes were grooved (outside and inside) which help the bats climb in and out and the design features a bat ladder with a narrow entrance slit at the bottom.

We enjoyed doing it as a team, helping put the boxes together and we learnt lots about bats as Matt is truly knowledgeable and happy to share what he knows.  We delivered the boxes, and they were nailed to the eaves of an outbuilding.

Jack, Ross & Fliss delivering boxes to the Kingcombe Centre (Photo by DAG)

We discovered what the height of boxes needed to be and the best places to put them. We always thought it was ok to paint or varnish the boxes however we learnt from Matt this was the wrong thing to do.
  Bats like natural wood.  Matt advised whatever you make for wildlife, do not use any paint or varnish, this also applied to bug houses and bird boxes that we have made.

It has been fascinating to learn about the eating habits of bats, they particularly like flies and Daddy long legs.  Kingcombe has a log pile to encourage insects, the centre also has a pond which will be great for attracting the flies, it is bat heaven!  Kingcombe do not use pesticides on their land either.

Matt explained that it takes time for the bats to locate new homes.  So, patience is required! He has advised us to look out for urine stains or droppings and listen out for bat chatter coming from inside the box during the evenings or late afternoon.  That will tell us if bats have adopted the box as their new home.

There is little light pollution, so it is a perfect location for the boxes, we imagine it’s pitch black at night.

Three group members checking out the boxes on a recent visit to the Kingcombe Centre (photo by DAG)
Obviously, we are keen to see if the boxes are used and we will be looking for signs of occupation during our visits.  Bats are a protected species so we cannot look inside the boxes or disturb them but knowing we have done something to support these amazing creatures has been really satisfying.

 

Dorset Abilities Group is an activityservice for adults with learning disabiltiies and mental health problemslocated in Weymouth, Dorset. Find out more about them here.

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

The Map of the Bat

by Rachel Hudson

Myths and motifs (c) Rachel Hudson
Who knew that the old myth of bats getting caught in women’s hair was a way to deter young girls from going out at night? Or that Darth Vader’s mask and his TIE Fighter spaceships were inspired by a bat?
I unearthed these little nuggets and made many other surprising discoveries on my journey to illustrate The Map of the Bat, a patchwork story quilt.

For my day job I am a freelance illustrator working with leaders in nature conservation and publishers to champion species and highlight the issues they face. I have worked with BBC Wildlife Magazine, Bloomsbury Wildlife and my first children’s book, 100 Endangered Species, was published this May by Button Books. (You might have seen the logo I created for the BCT’s podcast, Bat Chat.)


A Map of Many Threads

My bat quilt is part of my ongoing mission to rehabilitate the reputation of mispresented and misunderstood animals in a fun and engaging way. I chose to make a quilt because it is a way of exploring the different stories of the bat in an accessible way to reach a broad audience, nature lovers as well as those less aware of the conservation issues. Story quilting also has a rich history of social commentary, an art form that features in many different cultures around the world. As Chris Packham, President of BCT, has urged, “Bats need to be part of our culture. We need to see them in everyday life… It’s about a manifestation we can connect with.” (Packham, 2020).

Map of the Bat story quilt (c) Rachel Hudson
The quilt is a semi-abstract map of a bat’s journey 'to redemption', from creepy creature of the night to ecological superhero. It charts the bat’s night flight across the landscape, indicated by straight black lines representing hedges, roads, rivers. It is a journey through time and different histories. My map also makes visible the mental mapping of the bat, or ‘batnav’, looping in and out of these cultural geographies (represented by the coloured meandering line). The quilting pattern through the entire map makes visible echolocation used by some species.

I chose fabric patterns for their symbolic significance: the night sky, insect prey, habitats and development - all scraps gathered from family, friends and creatives, some of whom lost their jobs making curtains and costumes during the pandemic. I used graduated colour for the patchwork to unify the illustration. Greys and indigo blues signify ambiguity, ignorance and the beauty of the night. Oranges and reds paradoxically signify threats and illumination.



Creature of the Night or Potent Totem?

From medieval manuscripts and gargoyles, to Gothic novels, DC comics, blockbuster films and the evening news, bats have long been associated with demons and death. But in other cultures, including Aboriginal, Native American and Chinese art – bats have positive associations with change, rebirth and good fortune. I was keen to bring these different perspectives together in one map. I did this using screen-printing, mono-prints, drawings and embroidery, creating a map to be touched as well as viewed.

 

A Marvel of Design

Did you know that Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings for a flying machine were modelled on bats a well as birds?  The Renaissance polymath made elaborate observations regarding the balance, control and weight displacement of bats. The map incorporates da Vinci’s drawing where a bat’s winged membrane inspired the design of the body of the wings. I was also keen to tell the story of the diversity of bats, more than 1,400 species, from megabats to microbats, the ‘whisperers’ and ‘screamers’.


Eco Super Hero

Beyond the bat enthusiast, not many people know about the important role that bats play in our natural environment: dispersing seeds, pollinating plants and acting as a natural pest control. It was important to give prominence to these positive aspects.

It was also vital to incorporate the many threats that bats face, from habitat loss and development, to climate change and disease. The well-known slogan, ‘Bats aren’t scary, extinction is’ looms large in appliquéd writing, slightly fraying at the edges.

Thanks to science and technology, we are discovering so much more about these once mysterious and consequently maligned animals. My Map of the Bat is a deep dive into the history and natural history of this fascinating animal. My aim is to inspire and delight others to love this animal too.



Find out more

Rachel’s Map of the Bat is part of her Masters in Illustration at Falmouth School of Art. To see her wildlife illustrations please visit www.rachelhudsonillustration.com and follow Rachel on Instagram @rhudsonillustration

100 Endangered Species is available to purchase online from most major bookshops, including Waterstones, WHSmiths, bookshop.org and Amazon.

Author Biography

Rachel Hudson (c) Rachel Ulph Photography
Rachel Hudson is a natural history illustrator. She has a First Class Degree in the anthropology of art, studying societies and cultures that live more closely with their natural environment. For nine years she worked in wildlife conservation, writing and designing publications for Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust. In 2019/20 she was awarded National Runner Up for Best Rural Creative Business, and Winner of the same category in the South East and Greater London region. She lives in Hampshire with her family and other animals, including a crested gecko and collared lizard. Rachel is currently illustrating a picture book about nocturnal wildlife for a publisher in the US. It will DEFINITELY feature bats.




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.

Tuesday, 30 March 2021

My First Symposium: A Sense of Community

Blog by Kieran O’Malley

These unusual times call for an unusual symposium, so instead of crowding into a room I found myself crowding into a zoom call for the Bat Conservation Trust’s second woodland symposium.

The symposium was a two day event that brought together a variety of stakeholders, from bat workers and researchers to landowners and managers. Being a PhD student that carries out research on a woodland specialist species (the barbastelle bat), I was excited to engross myself in a community of like-minded individuals who all share a common goal; to restore and improve our native woodland, particularly for bats.   

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the first day of the event due to other commitments (thankfully I will be able to watch a recording of it at a later time). However, the second day provided plenty of intriguing talks and topics to make up for this! The day kicked off with a talk from Ash Murray, a senior reserves manager for Natural England, who presented some interesting results of how bats use woodlands, not just at ground level but also within the often overlooked canopy.

Shortly after this Vikki Bengtsson (Pro Natura) gave a fascinating talk on veteranisation, a process in which cavities are artificially created within trees or stimulated to form by the damaging of live young trees. Given my interest in barbastelles, which often rely on the large number of cavities associated with ancient trees, I found the findings from her work particularly enthralling. It was the first time, perhaps naively, that I had heard of this method of woodland management. However, I quickly came to appreciate that the implications of this work could be potentially far-reaching.

After a short break, we joined a Q&A session with a panel of experts to discuss climate change and conservation. This was a great chance to explore the challenges facing bats, as well as other species, and highlight the actions that need to be taken moving forward. Whilst the many difficulties of the situation were discussed, it was encouraging to hear the optimism from many of our panellists. As Dr Olly Watts, senior climate change policy officer at the RSPB, said “we do finally seem to be moving economic and social life’s towards a way of better green living”, and I think we can take some hope from this. In fact, as was discussed, bats in the UK will fair proportionally well compared to many parts of Europe, with species expanding their range north whilst still retaining their southern populations.

After a break for lunch, George Peterken provided the keynote talk on the long term study of Lady Park Wood on the border of Gloucestershire and Monmouthshire. With the recording of trees at this site starting as early as 1944, it was incredible to hear about the history of this woodland, along with all the ups and downs that have occurred over the years. In particular, I was impressed to learn of the dedication of George and others in the creation of detailed maps that documented the exact position and size of individual trees within the woodland.

I thoroughly enjoyed the symposium, and learned a great deal about the different projects happening across the UK and beyond. Despite having to juggle over 150 participants over zoom, with all the breakout rooms and questions to answer, the symposium was both smoothly run and engaging. I send out my huge thank you to all the organisers and speakers, and I look forward to seeing everyone again at the next one, hopefully this time in person!

 

Click here to listen to the Woodland Symposium episode of BCT's BatChat podcast, to find out more about the 2020 Woodland Symposium!