Friday 27 March 2009

Preparing our defences against a deadly threat to bats

Little brown bats with WNS in New York
(image: N Heaslip)

We're really worried here at BCT by the spread of White-nose Syndrome (WNS), the mysterious condition that has killed literally hundreds of thousands of bats in the northeastern US.

Here's how Bat Conservation International's Annual Report 2007 - 2008 described the situation:

‘Emaciated bat carcasses literally piled up in the snow outside hibernation caves in the northeastern United States last winter, imposing an almost desperate urgency on scientific efforts to solve the mystery of White-nose Syndrome – perhaps the worst ever threat faced by North American bats. [T]housands of bats died of this unexplained malady… with mortality rates exceeding 90 percent report at some hibernation caves. Whole species are at risk, and the danger of WNS spreading to other regions is unclear.’
First confirmed in bat colonies in New York in 2006, WNS had spread to Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts by 2008. So far this year it's already been found in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

No conclusive evidence of WNS has been found in the UK or mainland Europe but a number of cases of dead bats with fungal growths similar to the tell-tale signs of WNS have focussed concerns. What would happen if WNS was found here or in wider Europe? It could have a devastating impact.

So what are we doing about it? BCT has developed WNS guidelines for bat workers and other users of hibernation sites in the UK and wider Europe. Plus, we're working to raise awareness and encourage vigilance amongst the public. Now there's an urgent need to develop and implement a WNS surveillance programme, as well as formulate plans to ensure a rapid and coordinated response to WNS in the event that it is discovered in this part of the world.

You can find out more about WNS and what we're doing about it on our website. If you're able to make a donation to support this work, please donate online. Your support, no matter how large or small, will make a difference.

Thursday 5 March 2009

While bats sleep our NBMP team are hard at work

Hard to spot: a sleepy looking Daubenton's bat peers out from a crevice
(image: John Altringham)

Right now it's certainly a quiet time for bats, writes Sarah Ford of BCT's National Bat Monitoring Team. They’re currently in hibernation and licensed surveyors have been busy visiting hibernation sites over the last couple of months.

The surveyors' results are starting to come in so we’ll soon have an idea of how many bats and which species have been spotted. The most commonly encountered species in hibernation sites are Natterer’s bats, Daubenton’s bats, lesser horseshoe bats and brown long-eared bats. Rare species found include barbastelles, Bechstein’s bats and the UK’s one and only greater mouse-eared bat!

The UK’s most common species, the pipistrelles, are conspicuous by their virtual absence, as they tend to roost in nooks and crannies in trees and buildings rather than open structures that surveyors are able to explore. It’s not always an easy task finding the bats as they tend to hide away in tiny gaps and crevices, making them very difficult to spot!

Unfortunately, this quiet period for bats doesn’t quite translate into quiet time for the NBMP team! We’ve been using this time to compile our survey results from 2008 in order to produce bat trends for the UK. It’s also the build up to the busy summer survey season so we’re in the process of speaking to volunteers and confirming which surveys they’re interested in taking part in. We’ll soon be preparing the survey packs, and making sure everything is in place for the summer.

The only thing we can’t prepare for is the weather, so fingers crossed that it’s sunny and dry this year!

If you’re interested in taking part in an NBMP survey this summer please contact me or visit our website for more information. You can also see survey and species maps for our 2007 and 2008 results, all thanks to our many volunteers.