Monday, 25 September 2023

Species on the Edge Youth Panel

We are very excited to announce that the Species on the Edge Youth Panel is now open for applications! Are you aged between 16 and 25, based in one of the Species on the Edge project areas, and passionate about your local wildlife? If so, this is an opportunity for you!

In this blog post we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the Youth Panel. But first, here’s a short introduction to the programme and a look at what Cathryn, the Bat Conservation Trust project officer for Species on the Edge, has been up to so far.

Species on the Edge

Bat Conservation Trust is one of eight organisations working together on Species on the Edge, a new multi-partner conservation programme dedicated to supporting vulnerable and threatened species found along Scotland’s coast and islands. With a programme cost of over £6 million, and £4 million funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, the programme will be active for the next four years across seven project areas in Scotland.


Cathryn is one of four Species on the Edge Project Officers working in the Argyll and Inner Hebrides project area. Cathryn is based on the Isle of Skye and, having grown up there, knows the island and many of its inhabitants well. However, since the programme began earlier this year she has enjoyed making the acquaintance of some inhabitants she, nor many people, are very familiar with: the island’s bats! Historically, there are very few records of bats on Skye and no one actually knows for sure how many species are present there.

So, the first task for Cathryn was to establish a monitoring programme. So far, Cathryn has encountered many pipistrelles and one of our more elusive target species, the brown long-eared bat. Our other target bat species, the Daubenton’s bat, remains to be recorded on Skye. Cathryn is very grateful to the many people that have joined her for bat walks over the past few months, helping to monitor the island’s bat populations. Getting local people engaged in monitoring and supporting their local species is crucial to the survival of Scotland’s threatened species, and this is where the Species on the Edge Youth Panel comes in!

Brown long-eared bat (c) Hugh Clark


The Species on the Edge Youth Panel

(c) Sam Stringer

The purpose of the Species on the Edge Youth Panel is to bring together young people from around the country and support them to develop the skills and confidence to become champions for their local wildlife in their communities.

The Species on the Edge Youth Panel will comprise of 14 young people between the ages of 16 and 25 from across the Species on the Edge project areas. Panellists will meet at least four times a year online to discuss issues relating to the natural environment and their communities. Panellists will also have the opportunity to join a fully funded spring residential.

 Through the Species on the Edge Youth Panel, panel members will:

  •          meet new people and learn from experts within the conservation sector
  •          receive training and develop their skills, confidence and employability
  •          receive support in developing their own project to encourage others to connect with nature. 

Applications will open on 2nd October. More information about the opportunity can be found on the Species on the Edge website. A notification of when applications open will be sent out via email to the Species on the Edge mailing list. To receive this notification, sign up for the mailing list here. If you have any questions about the Species on the Edge Youth Panel, or about Species on the Edge activity more generally, get in touch via SOTE@nature.scot.




Monday, 18 September 2023

Keep your eyes on the skies! Bat Walking in Buckinghamshire

Words and images by Miranda Gavin


This is my first Bat Walk (Saturday 2 September 2023) and I’ve come to Emberton Country Park, situated in the village of Emberton just a few miles northeast of Milton Keynes, to learn more about the only mammals that can fly. Led by bat enthusiast and Buckinghamshire County recorder for dragonflies, Alan Nelson, and Emberton Country Park ranger, Stephen Barnes-Green, the group listening to Alan’s introductory talk is larger than I expected, and I count almost 30 adults and children. But it’s the bat facts and the Batbox that intrigue me.

The UK boasts 18 species of bats, of which 17 breed here and the 200-acre parkland has, to date, recorded six species—common pipistrelle, soprano pipistrelle, serotine, barbastelle, noctule and the brown long-eared bat. “We may have more,” Alan says, adding that a proper survey is needed but it’s proving hard to find enthusiasts to help.

For now, we’re bat novices finding out about a species that most of us only know from horror films and DC comics. Bats give birth to one live offspring called a pup; the young feed on their mother’s milk; they hibernate in the winter, roost, and like to follow water, especially rivers and canals. There are, we learn, different types of roosts—bachelor roosts, maternity roosts, and social roosts. Bats are not blind, instead they use echolocation to navigate the skies and catch prey in the dark.

Bat Walk leader, Alan Nelson with his Batbox Duet Bat Detector 

Tonight, we expect our first guest to be the noctule. This magnificent bat has a wingspan the size of a dinner plate and appears just after sunset, followed by the pipistrelles and the Daubenton’s bat. As dusk sets in, Alan shows us his Batbox Duet Bat Detector, a device that picks up the sounds emitted by different bats. Stephen has a bat detector too, but it’s more modern and is linked to his mobile phone. Not only are bat sounds too high pitched for humans to hear without these devices, (you can find more about bat detectors on Bat Conservation Trust's website) but different species can be heard at different frequencies.

I am curious as to how to describe the various staccato-like clicks of bats, and Alan tells me that the Daubenton’s bat sounds like marbles being dropped onto a stone floor. “I started doing bat work many years ago and the assumption was that they only had one frequency,” Alan explains. “But it’s been proved that they have a range of frequency which can change. Evolution is wonderful and we’re still discovering a lot about bats. It’s a big learn.”

Emberton Country Park ranger, Stephen Barnes-Green

Then I ask why bats change their frequency and Alan smiles, “It’s because they’re intelligent!” We all laugh, including Bella Ashford, the four-year old who is here with her older sister of 10 and her mother and father, Ben and Natalie. “Some of our friends were camping here and they found out that there was a Bat Walk this evening,” Ben says as we set off through the park. “Although we came last weekend and saw quite a few bats, when they told us about this walk, we decided to come along and we’re loving it.”

Spotting a noctule
Bat watching is addictive. There’s lots of pointing and looking and we hear them before we see them. The Batbox picks up a series of chip-chop clicks from the noctule at around 20kHz, then we spot it zig zagging across the sky. With a 460mm wingspan, the noctule is one of the biggest bats in the UK and I’m captivated by the way it flies in a straight line, soaring above the treetops, before swooping suddenly. With its highly dynamic flight path, I ponder that if it was transposed to a canvas, it could be a form of abstract expressionism, known as action painting.


The noctule hunts for insects but with an increasing loss of habitat and use of insecticides, insect populations are dwindling. Once a gravel works, Emberton was transformed by Milton Keynes City Council into England’s first Country Park in 1965 and is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts with its four lakes, wooded glades, and meadows. There are even camping areas and static caravan plots for longer, more immersive stays.

Alan and Stephen are ambassadors for the wildlife at Emberton Country Park and their enthusiasm and commitment to educate and protect the natural environment is infectious. By the end of the walk, I was hooked. We’d sighted five of the six species found at the park—noctule, soprano pipistrelle, common pipistrelle, brown long-eared and Daubenton's bat. And it was clear that, if want to protect this endangered species, there’s a vital need for comprehensive bat surveys. But with limited resources available, the park is reliant on volunteers, which Is why Emberton Country Park is reaching out to enthusiasts who would like to take part.


CALL FOR ACTION: To support a bat survey at Emberton Country Park, please email emberton.park@milton-keynes.gov.uk or call 01234 711575 for further details. Alternatively, get in touch to find out about the next bat walk.

Wednesday, 6 September 2023

Bat Art Trail at Mayow Park


Hello there, I'm Elena Howard, a ceramic artist based in Beckenham (south east London). I'd love to take you on a journey into my world where art, community, and the beauty of nature unite.


Art in Unexpected Places

I'm a firm believer in art that's accessible to everyone, every day. That's why I've been on a mission to weave my art into the tapestry of our local communities. My canvas? The green spaces of London, brimming with the wonders of wildlife and the spirit of our neighbourhoods.


A Trail of Inspiration

Over the past few years, I've embarked on a creative odyssey, crafting art trails for our beloved local parks. These trails represent a blend of my passions: our remarkable London green spaces and the enchanting wildlife that calls them home.

  • In Cator Park, I conjured an Owl trail, a whimsical homage to the tawny owls that grace the park with their presence. You can often hear them during the dark autumn evenings!
  • Betts Park saw the birth of a kingfisher trail, inspired by the delightful kingfishers spotted in the park's canal. These ceramic kingfisher figures brought an extra touch of magic to the park, celebrating the sense of community in Annerley and Penge.

Bats in the Limelight

When the Friends of Mayow Park and Sydenham Arts approached me to create something special for their upcoming anniversary and Artist Trail, the spotlight turned to the park's thriving bat population. I was immediately captivated by the idea and set to work crafting ceramic bats that would beckon park-goers on a captivating hunt.

Mayow Park has a deep love for its bats, evident in their popular bat walks. These guided adventures let people marvel at these remarkable creatures, armed with bat detectors, a thirst for knowledge, and the chance to meet fellow park enthusiasts. Of course, you don't need to join a walk to catch a glimpse of these pipistrelles. As the sun dips below the horizon, they gracefully glide overhead, undisturbed by our presence, as they snatch up their evening meals. And now you can see some bats in daylight too – in a form of my ceramic creations!

Bat Hunt Unleashed

For the park, I meticulously crafted over forty ceramic bat tiles. Each possesses a unique charm, with its own distinct colouring and glazing. I had a blast experimenting with various glaze combinations, as ceramics often hold the promise of delightful surprises. We placed these charming bat tiles throughout the park, always ensuring they found their place on posts, fences, and even the stumps of fallen trees (never on living trees) – a nod to the circle of life.


We introduced the Bat Hunt to the local park-goers through eye-catching posters and launched an engaging competition. People were encouraged to unleash their creativity and design bat-themed art for a chance to win a ceramic bat of their own, forever guarding their space. I also created a free colouring book, brimming with bat-themed adventures, to keep the young ones entertained while fostering a budding interest in bats (the colouring book is available here).

I wanted to infuse even more personality into these ceramic wonders. Some bats were christened with the names of famous folks who had "Bat" or "Batt" in their surnames (a surprisingly rare occurrence, it turns out!). Members of public are invited to vote for other bats’ names (or suggest their own versions), and read about their personalities on my Instagram.


Wings of Social Engagement

The response on social media has been heartwarming. People have been sharing their tales of bat discoveries, showcasing the bat-themed art their kids have been crafting, and giving me creative name suggestions.


And now, as Sydenham Arts Artists Trail begins, I'm ready to introduce another batch of bats, eagerly awaiting their chance to charm and captivate. My hope is that these cute creatures will spark curiosity in the hearts of children and adults alike, igniting a passion for the preservation of our local wildlife.


Website: www.ElenaHoward.com

Instagram: @ElenaHowardClay

Facebook: www.facebook.com/elenahowardclay


Tuesday, 29 August 2023

Testing our detectors for the season

by Rowan Davis, BCT's Science Projects Officer

The bat survey season is well underway and the Science Team at Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) has sent out hundreds of bat detectors to citizen scientists and ecologists all over the country. In preparation for this we tested all of our AudioMoths for wear and tear, performance, and accuracy. We run a whole range of passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) programs here at BCT  including our citizen science programs like the British Bat Survey and NightWatch, as well as a series of other PAM projects like our National Bat Monitoring Programme's Woodland Survey, our work with Forestry England on rewilding (read more about this here) and the National Forest Inventory with Forest Research.   


To build a baseline of how our detectors work we partnered with the UCL and used their anechoic chamber, which is a room in which the walls, ceiling and floor are lined with a sound absorbent material to minimise reflections (read more about this room here). Setting up a suite of new AudioMoths, we played bat calls and digitally produced ultrasonic sweeps in this completely sound-absorbent room on campus. The strange wedges you can see in the photo stop any echoes by focussing in the sound waves into the triangular divets and then absorbing them into their material. The room itself is locked shut behind a huge metal door and is separated from the outside world by a raised floor, completely cut away from any sound. It was a ghostly experience and over time being in the room you could hear the thudding of the blood in your ears and the softest of breaths or movements in your body. This completely silent environment meant that we could collect precise measurements of how well our wonderful little detectors perform. We’ll be sending our audio files up through our sound classification system to see how our bat identifying algorithms fare, which will also give us interesting data on its accuracy too!

Due to the cost of using the chamber with its exacting setup, and how long this incredibly precise assessment takes, we tested the rest of our kit in a music studio. After building a repeatable methodology and travelling down into south London, AudioMoths in tow, we spent a couple of days in a drumming studio playing the same recorded sounds. After testing our hardware, we brought our data back to the office and have been uploading it to our classifier. Once we have our baseline data, we can test whether the detectors are getting old or damaged. This gives us a really good indication of what we can use next season and sets us up for building long-term monitoring of our beautiful and vital bat populations across the UK.

Tuesday, 15 August 2023

Bats at Haddon Hall

Claire Moran, a new Communications Officer at the Bat Conservation Trust, went to a bat watch at Haddon Hall, one of England's oldest houses. Organised by Steve Roe and the Derbyshire Bat Conservation Group, attendees got to spend time with hundreds of bats in an ancient chapel and walk along the River Wye using bat detectors and thermal cameras. In this blog she tells us what she saw.

Bats in the Hall

Hundreds of bats fly about a stained-glass window aglow with sunset. It’s an enchanting spectacle, and even the shower cap I'm given to protect my hair from bat wee doesn't make it any less magical.

I'm at Haddon Hall’s first bat watch event, where myself and a handful of people, are treated to a sight unfortunately rare in the UK: lots of batsCertainly, I’ve never seen so many bats. In fact I don’t think I’ve even seen this many mammals together in real life that aren’t sheep or humans.  

Our watch starts in the chapel which is very old, parts of it date to the 12th century. I’m no historian, but you can feel the age in its rough walls, which are covered in colourful drawings of leaves and flowers, religious scenes and strange symbols. Bats take advantage of the craggy walls, clinging onto them briefly before dropping down into flight.  


Bats cling to the ancient walls of the chapel of Haddon Hall. 


 

When we enter the chapel at around 8pm, the number of bats flying above us is already impressive. As is their smell, sweet, musky and somehow familiar, mammalian – and their chattering squeaks. More bats join the swirls above our heads every minute.


Derbyshire Bat Conservation Group

Steve Roe from Derbyshire Bat Conservation Group (also BCT trustee and creator of our award-winning podcast) leads the night. Steve tells us the chapel’s bats are a maternity roost of common and soprano pipistrelles. Some are youngsters, just weened.  

 

Haddon Hall chapel. A group of people sit on chairs and watch Steve Roe give a talk. There is a large stained glass window to the right and bats flying about.
Bats in the chapel at Haddon Hall. Steve Roe (BCT trustee and podcaster, Derbyshire Bat Conservation Group) talks. 


A great storyteller, Steve conjures up the world of bats, its wonder and vulnerability. And he sprinkles in some amazing facts, in one instance by literally sprinkling bat poo to show us how it glitters.  

 

At the end of his talk, the lights are turned off, the doors closed, and somehow even more bats take to the wing. Now they’re swooping to their exit point, a crack above the church door. A thermal camera shows us what the shadows conceal, as the bats consider leaving, think better of it, wheel away, and return. 


History at Haddon Hall


Haddon Hall is one of the oldest houses in the UK. Uniquely, it was left unoccupied for 200 years and so has not been subject to the sort of renovations other grand houses have undergone.


Approaching it through the Peak District you feel like you’re going back in time, as A-roads turn into country roads lined with stone walls or old hedgerows. Once on the grounds, the hall oozes character: part Lord of the Rings, part Dracula’s castle (in fact some famous fantasy films have been shot here, including The Princess Bride).


Haddon Hall is not as well-known as great houses like Chatsworth, or rewilding projects like Knepp, but it deserves to be. It has 187 hectares of parkland, woodland, river, water meadows, wetlands and former farmland. All sorts of mammals, insects, plants and fungi live here, and several species of bat forage, commute or roost on Haddon land. The Hall itself is a bat roost, and they often find bats behind tapestries.  


Bat detectors on the Wye River

With the sun about to disappear, we’re given bat detectors and led to the Wye, a river which winds through Haddon Hall’s ancient parkland. Clouds of white moths flutter up from the wild flowers and grasses, food for the bats. The air is sweet summer air full of pollen and warm earthy tones, fresh after the musk of the chapel.

In the dark the river looks spectral, it’s glassy surface full of shadows. Have I even seen a river at night before? I’m not sure I have. Holding my detector, I feel like a Ghostbuster. Alien sounds, clicks and clacks, faster and louder, announce bat after bat.


Steve tells us that noctules and Daubenton’s bats are flying over the water. I can see that some of these are bigger, and they move differently from the chapel’s bats snaking about above the water.  


A line of people stand in a wildflower meadow in front of Haddon Hall.
Haddon Hall at sunset.


 

We stand awhile on a narrow stone bridge, which looks like goblins made it. It starts to rain, but it doesn’t dampen the wonder, as we use a thermal camera and see bats, otherwise invisible, among the trees lining the river.


After this our bat watch is over, and squinting our dark-adapted eyes, we make our way out of this enchanting place to go home.  


Spectacle and conservation 

It was both exhilarating and sobering to see so many bats at Haddon Hall. I was lucky to see such a spectacle, and it made me mad I was so lucky. Humans have so devastatingly quickly created a world where most people don’t know what a few hundred bats look like.  

Aside from ethical and practical problems stemming from and causing the biodiversity crisis, I think it makes us lonely to be without our fellow species. But places like Haddon act like beacons, they remind us that it wasn’t always this way, that enchantment used to be part of life, and there is lots we can do to bring the magic back.  


Images by Haddon Hall. Written by Claire Moran, Communications Officer at the Bat Conservation Trust.