Thursday 30 September 2010

Holy mackerel bat woman – its bats in the belfry!

Anne Youngman’s bat blog

Batty old woman here, reporting from the attic on a brilliantly batty talk and walk that was held at Dunblane Cathedral on Saturday 18th September.

The event was organised by Historic Scotland’s very own Bat Woman; Natalie Taylor (also known fondly as Nat-the-Bat to her friends). I was “Robin” her beautiful assistant (Ha Ha).

Flocks of Dunblane folk gathered at the cathedral for a bit of an evening adventure. Their first task was a hunt to find the Cathedral’s own resident bat. Ben (only 9) found the carved bat miserichord under one of the choir stalls. It’s a rather strange bat, more like a cat with wings. Why it’s there and what its significance is, is a complete mystery (But if YOU know the explanation I’d love to hear it!)

Once the cat-bat had been located we returned to our pews. Natalie gave a lively talk with help from willing volunteers in the audience.
We were wowed by the wingspan of the Kalong (it really is long!) and our hearts melted at the sweet name of the Bumble bee bats.
We had fun testing our bat detectors with a sonic cat scarer and we were warned that our pipistrelles would make “rude raspberries” as feeding buzzes. Then just before venturing out into the night we met a very special guest “squeaker”; Catriona McBat.

Catriona is a pipistrelle bat who was found in the Dundee Library (We believe in the Natural History section!). She’d been on a “health farm holiday “ in Dunblane, i.e. sleeping all day and stuffing her face with mealworms all night, and was due to be released outside the library in a few nights time. She tried to tell us all about her adventures but sadly no one understood her squeaks! With Catriona safely tucked back in her box we all flitted out into the night, bat detectors at the ready.

We were very lucky as the weather stayed dry and despite the cool temperature there were plenty of bats around. We heard rude raspberries, wet slappies and grumbling Geiger counter noises - and that was just from the detectors! From the humans there were lots of squeaks of excitement and general bat chat.

When things seemed quiet we made a “hotspot” by standing close together. This attracts insects into the warm air above our heads and seemed to be a way of attracting the bats to come in closer too.
It was such a good night we’ve decided to do it all again next year! Watch this space!

Over and out,

Anne Youngman
The old bat in the Attic, Scottish churches House, Dunblane.

The bat care network:

Just like Catriona McBat, hundreds of bats find themselves injured or grounded and lost away from their roosts every year. For the majority, their chances of survival depend on the goodwill of members of the public and the hard work and dedication of volunteer bat carers.

Thanks to these volunteers, BCT is able to coordinate a bat care network across the UK. There are currently just over 300 bat carers in the network; some are extremely experienced and run bat hospitals, others do small scale bat care and some will only act as an “ambulance driver” or first aid help, preferring to pass bats on to more experienced carers where necessary. BCT also has contact details for a few wildlife hospitals who take in bats on a regular basis, particularly in areas where there are very few bat carers.

In areas where there are no bat carers available, callers have to be advised to take the bats directly to local vets, who can call BCT for information if they are not familiar with bats. There are some counties and areas where there are very few or no contacts and we are therefore always in need of new carers.

If your are interested in finding out more about becoming a bat carer, please email Xenia Snowman (

If you find a grounded or injured bat, please call the National Bat Helpline on 0845 1300 228 and we will provide you with details of any bat carers in your local area.

Tuesday 21 September 2010

The National Bat Conference: A first-timer’s perspective

By Kelly Gunnell, Bats and Built Environment Officer

It was a tough decision to make: a week’s windsurfing in Tiree or a chance to attend my first National Bat Conference? Well, of course I chose to go to the Bat Conference and I have no regrets!

As a first-timer to the conference, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The stories from previous years had really built up my expectations and the buzz in the office gearing up to it certainly added to the excitement. When the Friday came along, there was the usual hive of activity involved in trying to get things set-up. Lots of BCT staff (and thus equipment) had been delayed in traffic which meant that the membership stand and even aspects of the registration desk was a last-minute scramble. Luckily we all handled it with cool suave and I don’t think anyone noticed (right?).

The Talks...

As BCT organises and runs the conference not all BCT staff get to see many of the talks presented. However, as the new Built Environment Officer for BCT, I had a keen interest in many of the talks and was lucky enough to see most of the programme (in return I had to do a lot of microphone duty, but that is a small price to pay!). All of the speakers did a great job and the range and diversity of topics kept the audience interested and awake - despite the evenings being spent discussing bats (and drinking) long into the night!

The first talk, on the long-term bat monitoring project in Finemere Wood, set the bar high. I was most interested to hear that Daubenton’s, Brown Long-eared and Natterer’s seem to prefer shady roosts, whereas Pipistrelle’s will go for sunny and exposed bat boxes.

Roger Ransome’s presentation on his ten years’ worth of involvement on the Combe Down Stabilisation Project was fascinating. The amount of time and effort that has gone into the project is staggering. It was good to hear about the importance of ventilation for bat hibernation. I also learnt that foam concrete takes an amazing 6 months to cool.

It was a real eye-opener to learn about Turkey’s extensive cave systems from Emrah Coraman. Both the caves and the bats are under threat from cave-tourism and it was fascinating to hear how Emrah and his colleagues are tackling the problem. This talk was complimented by Dave Anderson’s talk on Sunday, which described the great lengths he has gone to discover and uncover caves in East Lancashire.

One of my favourite talks was by Emma Rigby which used Social Network Analysis to study the population ecology of Daubenton’s bats. Not surprisingly it was found that bats that roost together are almost exclusively found associating with each other during foraging.

There were two talks that looked at bat activity in the urban environment. James Hale showed how key landscape variables could be used to predict bat activity in Birmingham. He found that the NSL guild activity is highest where there is: lots of water within 100-200m; lots of natural landscape within 1000m; and low levels of buildings within 1000m. For common and soprano pips there was a strong relationship with total connectivity. Cath Laing used GIS tools to show that in Brighton bats are more likely to occur in areas with bigger gardens. Larger gardens are more likely to have greater insect assemblages because of the bigger trees. However, bat activity was not associated with street trees. This raises interesting questions for urban greening projects.

Workshops and dancing the night away...

The conference wasn’t all talks though. The workshops gave the participants a chance to engage more fully on a range of topics from Bat Identification to Sound analysis, Planning, Churches, Mitigation and even Wildlife Drawing. I did hear there was even a gate-crasher to the conference that came just for the Wind Turbine workshop!

No one could complain that the Conference Dinner was anything except entertaining. The very pink berry pyramid raised the odd eyebrow, the wine flowed pretty freely, Richard Crompton (one of BCT’s trustee we said goodbye to this weekend) did the rounds in his new Batman dressing gown and the Ceilidh had both participants and non-participants in stitches of laughter. After much socialising and networking, I made it to bed about 1:30am, unlike some energetic individuals who only stumbled to bed after 4am! I didn’t envy them on Sunday.

Although I have no previous experience to compare it to, it was still in my opinion a thoroughly successful National Bat Conference. I’m sure we are all glad for the lil’ break until the next one though!