Friday, 31 July 2009

A brilliant batty weekend

Me helping out at the bat box building. (c) BCT

Last weekend I helped to organise the Bat Weekend at the Natural History Museum , writes BCT’s Count Bat Project Regional Officer, Ed Santry.

The event was a result of all the hard work of staff and volunteers at the Natural History Museum, Open Air Laboratories (a Big Lottery Fund initiative) and the London Bat Group.

It was a great day out for all the family and I am happy to say that we seem to have lots of fans out there who came along to see the BCT team and of course the bats. In fact, nearly 1000 visitors came along over the weekend and got to be part of the fun which included the batty arts and crafts tent where kids (and some adults – including BCT staff, ahem!!!) created bat hats, masks, and got their face painted. We also held bat box building sessions and visitors got the chance to see some bats up close.

Our lovely trustee, Kate Jones, also brought along some ‘bat ears’ for children and adults alike to have a play with. They mimicked the actions of a bat echolocating whilst flying at night, using sonar sound to help the people trying them out to get around without any sight (see photo). These provided much amusement to those watching people try and not bump into things…it just goes to show how clever bats really are!

I myself undertook the bat box sessions, which were great fun and there seemed to be some really good craftsmen and women amongst the future generations. Most people even managed to put them together without help from their parents (which is more than Sarah and Steve from our Communication’s Department did on their test run last week!). Everyone also got to take home their boxes to put them up and help encourage bats into their gardens.

But of course, the stars of the weekend as we suspected, were Jenny Clark from the Sussex Bat Hospital and her bats. Jenny kindly brought along nearly all of the ten species which can be found in the London area. As always, with her knowledge and wonderful presenting skills, Jenny made even the most skeptical of people bat lovers by the time they had been into the Wildlife Shed to visit her and see the bats up close.

It was such an eventful weekend and on the Saturday afternoon, we had London Tonight come down and film some bat box building and Jenny with her bats. I sneakily managed to avoid being filmed on camera, but all the people squeezed in the Wildlife Shed helped highlight the importance people are placing on wildlife conservation nowadays and the interest from the general public in bats– which is great news for us all here at BCT!

BCT staff were out in full force for the festivities. Our own Communications Officer, Sarah Wallace even got into the spirit of things by donning her Batgirl outfit on the Sunday to try and chivvy people along to the Wildlife Garden (where all the fun took place). She was seen swooping around the Garden throughout the day guiding people along to all the different activities we’d put on.

Our Education Officer, Shirley Thompson and Ken and Zoe Greenway from the Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, gave inspiring discussions as part of the Natural History Museum’s Nature Live talks about bats. They covered topics such as where bats live, what they eat and the best time and places to go bat watching.

Most importantly though, aside from all the excitement of course, the weekend also provided the opportunity for our team here at BCT to reach out to the public about bat conservation and talk to them about the importance of helping us to monitor bats and how they can get involved through our Sunrise/Sunset Survey. Aimed at beginners, the surveys couldn’t be easier. The Sunset Survey simply asks members of the public to spend the evening in their garden and watch out for any bats that fly past. Record how many bats they see, which species they are (if known) and, most importantly, which direction they are flying from. The Sunrise Survey involves going out just before dawn to look for bats swarming before they return to their roost. All information then goes into our National Bat Monitoring Programme.

All in all it was wonderful weekend and, as with many of these sorts of events, it was great to see the support from bat fans and the general public alike. Seeing the change in people’s perception of bats - particularly when they see how small and cute they really are – is a real positive experience and spreads the word of the importance of these unique mammals.

Here’s to many more successful events in the future!

Tuesday, 28 July 2009


The twins with mum. (c) P and M Grimsey.

We have a guest blog this week by our Out of Hours volunteers, Peter and Margaret Grimsey who had a rather interesting batty experience recently.

On the morning of the 29th June, we received a call from Martin Hoare at Stonor Park, to say that they had found a grounded mother bat with two babies. The idea seemed highly unlikely, but so was finding three grounded bats together, so we set off to investigate.

Stonor is one of England’s oldest manor houses. It has been owned by the same family for 850 years and is situated in beautiful parkland with a freely roaming deer herd. When we arrived, the inside of the house was cool, despite the day already getting gradually hotter; two metre thick walls tend not to warm up too quickly!

We found the three bats. All were common pipistrelles with one confirmed lactating female. Martin explained that certain doors of the old house tended to leak during wet weather and it was the practice of the housekeeping staff to put an old towel across the bottom to soak up the water. This morning the housekeeper had spotted the bats just before shaking the towel outside. With admirable quick thinking, she had carefully collected the brood in the towel and found a box to keep them in.

Once home, we always allow the bats to settle before making a full examination. However, that evening it did quickly become apparent that at least one of the bats was a baby (it was suckling mum!).
Over the course of that evening and the following morning, we gave mum wax worm innards, which she took immediately. The bat who wasn’t suckling took Esbilac milk formula from a paint brush, and both “babies” had a few licks of a wax worm innard.

On 1st July we examined and weighed all three:

Pip 45 Female, lactating, weight - 5gms, forearm - 32.7mm
Pip 45 Female, fully furred, weight - 3.8gms, forearm - 27.3mm
Pip 45 Male, fully furred, weight - 4.4gms, forearm - 29.1mm

At this point, we wondered whether the trio was actually a mum with female offspring and a male companion. However, over the following days, we got into the routine of supplement feeding which ever juvenile was not being suckled, and discovered that she was, in fact, suckling them both.

For the next few days we were leaving 20 worms for them each night and morning. The trio were disposing of up to 40 worms in 24 hours. So the juveniles were clearly feeding themselves.

By July 7th, all of the bats had shown signs of improved health and had increased in weight and measurements of their forearms. By the 10th July, the bats were self-sufficient and we had seen them all flying in their cage so we arranged with Martin to return to Stonor and release them. The weather, which had recently been wet and windy, looked like staying fine.

We had been thinking for some time how best to achieve release as we did not want mum to get separated from the juveniles. Clearly, the bat held at arms length method could not be used, and we also felt that an open box, put high up with the bats in, would be risky, as one bat might panic and fly out before the others were ready.

Eventually we made up a soft pocket from the hood off a body warmer. Our plan was to place the bats inside and then position the pocket in a suitable release spot. The bats would be warm and they could creep out in their own time after they, or at least mum, had the chance to recognise the surroundings. (We are fairly convinced, from observations made during previous bat releases, that bats can recognise the smell of an area.)

Martin met us and we decided to put the bats on a high wall under an overhanging fig tree. The bats were carefully lifted off their hot water bottle and placed on the wall in their cosy pouch at about 9pm. After seeing several faces peeping out of the pouch we watched mum fly off after about half an hour. We watched until it got too dark and mum returned several times calling to the babies, and we heard them respond. We were also able to pick up mum’s feeding busses as she over flew us. But it was too dark to see and the babies did not seem to have flown.

The following morning Martin rang us to say he had been out early to check and the pouch was still in position and dry under the fig and the bats had gone. We can only assume from this that the release had been a success.

We are very grateful to Stonor Park and Martin and Caroline Hoare for their help and care for the bats, and for giving us the chance to experience what we feel to be a very rare bat event.