Monday, 27 June 2016

The NBMP 20 years on: Still the most fun you can have in the dark.

by By Dr Allyson Walsh, Cambridge University

In the beginning
Last night I went out and counted bats. All two of them. It was a classic NBMP evening. The rain in the Welsh marches was stuck in a repeat cycle of heavy, to light to nothing and back again in the period leading up to the count. The dreary weather provoked much debate about cancelling or going ahead, but as several of us had gathered from near and far at a significant sized roost, we opted to “Carry On Batting” in the damp. We were rewarded with a count of over 200 bats from our particular building (though not through my allocated exit to count!). The twist in this particular evening was this was the first time I have been out on an NBMP count since leaving England almost 15 years ago.

Twenty years on and still going strong makes me proud. Very proud. And given it’s EU referendum month, it may be an opportune time to reminisce on the main driver behind setting up the NBMP. It was the EU. The program was designed to directly address pressure to fulfill the UK Government’s obligations to conserve bats under European Directives, in particular the EU Habitats and Species Directive, and the Agreement on the Conservation of Bats in Europe (under the Bonn Convention). Beneath the legislative veneer however lies the important point that robust information on trends in bat populations at a range of geographic scales is essential to the long-term conservation of bats.

The BCT team from the early days

Time Proof Design 
Our world is a dynamic place, and time proofing any monitoring framework is not easy.
In exploring designs for the programme, one of our main challenges was that we knew technologies would change through time, and we would need to be able to adaptively manage this over the long term. Our goal was not to conduct a Roman style census count of every single bat, but instead to be able to compare population indices across years and look for responses to a multiplicity of factors, including climate, changing over time. Consultations with key RSPB personnel and statistician Steve Langton helped myself and my colleagues Colin Catto, Paul Racey and Tony Hutson reach consensus on a sampling based strategy to minimise bias and maximise precision, using methods that were the best available to us at the time. Sometimes starting is the biggest hurdle in project development, and we were keen to see the UK lead the way in Europe.

Citizen Superheroes
As I have watched the progression of the NBMP from the other side of the pond, I have found it remarkable, that so many citizen scientists contribute to NBMP and that so many collaborators have joined in partnership to fund the program and keep its momentum going (Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Natural England, Natural Resources Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage. Bat Conservation Ireland contributes Northern Ireland bat records collated by the Irish Bat Monitoring Programme which is funded by the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland Environment Agency). Perhaps the secret to it is in the social nature of the program. Inviting your friends over for a BBQ and bat count is certainly a unique evening’s entertainment. Or perhaps the secret is the nurturing team at BCT (notably Dr. Kate Barlow) who have continued to lead the programme, providing regular feedback to, and cherishing, volunteers. Or perhaps the magi lies with the simple mystery and love of bats. One of my future hopes is that we can quantify the social networks and wider conservation benefits of NBMP citizen science members, as I personally know many people who started out as volunteers who have carried on to invigorate local bat group bat work, initiate spin-off conservation projects, or progress into conservation careers themselves. To me, this will always remain a big success of this program, equally as important as the big data.
Allyson Walsh out with an early design detector

Back to the Future
Looking forward, where would I like NBMP to be in 20 years time? Having filled in paper forms in the drizzle last night, it goes without saying that a shift to an App based system for data recording would be a positive goal. But ultimately, rather than being the harbinger of bad or good news, I would like to see the NBMP increasingly utilized as a springboard for conservation action. Knowledge and choice gives us power. The power to make evidence based decisions and chose a different future.  It is more than likely that monitoring programs like the NBMP, designed to attain a high degree of scientific rigor in the hands of the public as well as capture and kept the attention of non-scientists, will become more prevalent in our future. And I am hopeful for this future.

My hope stems from one of my fondest memories of the NBMP. One day I received a phone call from a lady with her knickers on her head. She explained to me that she had done her washing and grabbed a pair for protection because there were bats flying around the utility room inside her home, She explained she didn’t want them getting stuck in her hair. After explaining to her that she was safe (and hence could remove the knickers from her head), and what to do about the bats, our discussion then progressed to all about bats and their conservation status. By the end of the phone conversation, she had agreed to count her bats as part of the NBMP! Probably one of the biggest impacts you can make in conservation is to influence people’s mindsets and behavior, and participating in the NBMP opens up a plethora of opportunities to do just that. So if you are wavering on whether to go out in the to do that final NBMP count of the season - please do Carry On Batting!

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Power of Light by Neil Wyatt

As both an environmentalist and an amateur astronomer, I always take my bat detector with me when I spend a night imaging the stars. But sadly there are two things that limit the pleasure I get from my hobbies – clouds, which I can’t do much about, and light pollution. I live near the edge of a medium-sized town, and looking north there are virtually no stars visible in the orange soup of the sky. To the south-west a few factories don’t help either, but I have a wedge in the sky to the south where I can get some reasonable views and pictures. But if I want to see or photograph faint objects, I have to drive to darker skies.

When you are out bat-watching, how often do you see more than a handful of stars, let alone the Milky Way?

So, I’ve decided to try and get something done to help rescue our dark skies, and am one of a number of people championing a petition to Government asking for action to be taken on light pollution.

The petition now stands at nearly 7,000 signatures, but we need at least 3,000 more over the next few weeks if we are to get a response from the Government. Such a response will be a valuable point on which future campaigning can be built. The petition is at

As I am sure bat group members are particularly aware, light pollution doesn’t just drown out the stars. It has a profound effect on wildlife by affecting the daily behaviour patterns of many species including bats, birds and many mammals. The impacts of street lighting on moths, by attracting them out of woodland areas and making them vulnerable to predation and possibly impacting on bat feeding patterns have been well documented. I have heard blackbirds singing at midnight and seen birch trees that haven’t dropped their leaves all winter - because of light pollution!

Light pollution can also disturb the sleep patterns of humans and cause anxiety, and recent research has shown even more worrying health effects from the disturbance to people’s body clocks.

But the most striking effect is how light pollution robs us all of the magnificence of truly dark skies and the sight of natural wonders like the Milky Way.

The answer is not a ban on all lighting, but serious action to make sure the right types of light are used and in the right places. For example, new LED lights are very efficient, but their light is harder to filter out and the high blue content has a bigger impact on the melatonin levels that control the body clocks of people and animals.

Please show your support by signing the petition and passing on the message to your friends -  we have been suing thr hashtag #NightBlight, which also links to the CPRE’s impressive maps of light pollution in the UK  It’s an important step towards achieving change.

Thank you.

Further information:

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Swanton Novers Woodland Bat Project - Sonia Reveley

An Introduction to the Swanton Novers Woodland Bat Project

Welcome to the first blog from the Swanton Novers Woodland Bat Project. Supported and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the project is an exciting new venture which started this year as a collaboration between Bat Conservation Trust and Natural England.

 My role in this project is the Volunteer Coordinator. I am the lucky soul who gets to go out into the woods with a group of volunteers to collect important data which will allow us to learn how bats are affected by common woodland management techniques.

The main objectives of the project are to learn how bats use the interior of woodlands that have been actively managed, to learn how bat activity differs between the understory and the canopy, and to raise awareness about a natural heritage with help from the local community. The project will focus on Swanton Novers National Nature Reserve, an 83ha ancient woodland with a long history of active woodland management dating back to the Doomsday Book.  As I don’t want to repeat myself more information about the project can be found here -

What has been happening since the project started

Since the start of the project we have deployed static detectors three times and have carried out transect surveys throughout Swanton Novers Great Wood in Norfolk during May and June.

April transect surveys were unfortunately cancelled due to cold evening temperatures and chilly winds. For May, the transect surveys coincided with the emergence of the cockchafer beetles (also known as May bugs), which provided a feast for the serotines and noctules emerging from the woods and a feeding frenzy was observed by the lucky surveyors. Within the centre of the woods we picked up a few barbastelles and of course plenty of pipistrelles, while down in the bottom part of the woods where a few active coppice compartments are located, only pipistrelles were detected.

June transect surveys haven’t been analysed yet, but barbastelles were recorded in the top section of the woods.

We also had our project launch on Saturday 28th of May at the village hall in Swanton Novers, to which sixteen people came to. The evening started at 6pm with a talk about the project by me, an introduction to bats by Helen Miller, Woodland Officer at Bat Conservation Trust, and an insight into Swanton Novers Woods by Ash Murray, Senior Reserve Manager at Natural England. This was followed by tea and cake and a brief training workshop giving everyone a chance to listen to different bat calls.

To finish off the evening we went for a walk in the woods with our bat detectors to see what we would hear and see. On approaching the edge of the woods just after sunset we stopped to get our bearings and were treated to a front row view of serotines and noctules emerging out of the woods to feed on the insects flying around. Together with a few common and soprano pipistrelles, the bats flew above and around where we were standing for the fifteen minutes, giving everyone an opportunity to listen to the different repetition rates and rhythms, and observe the difference in size between the noctule and the pipistrelle bats. Definitely one of my top highlight moments from this year so far.

We have also recruited seven volunteers from the local community and seven volunteers from further afield. And as I write this blog we have another interested volunteer who lives in a nearby town, not too far from the woods.  Volunteers who have helped us with the transect surveys in May and June have learnt how to use a Peersonic detector and observe bat activity along the predetermined routes.  Also, I would like to say a HUGE thank you to all our volunteers for all their help.  In total, volunteers have contributed 104 hours (13 working days) to the Swanton Novers Woodland Bat project so far.

Our plans for the next few months

Thanks go to our volunteer’s hard work and time, we are on track and will continue to deploy the static detectors and each month we will do four transect surveys. A call analysis training workshop is scheduled to take place on Monday 25th of July at Swanton Novers Village Hall, so volunteers can learn how to analyse the data using call analysis software.

We have a Community Day planned for Sunday 7th of August in the woods. An ideal opportunity to learn more about the woods and how bats use the area, the day will offer a butterfly walk, minibeast hunting, a bat walk and moth trapping sessions, together with informative displays and activities. It is also an opportunity to meet the seasonal warden, who holds a wealth of information about the reserve having worked in the woods for 20 years. 

We will also be running a bat walk in August in the woods and two offsite bats walks in September. Events will be posted on the Swanton Novers webpage on the BCT website at

Looking for a project which you can contribute to

We are always looking for people to help us. There is nothing better, in my opinion, than seeing the seasonal changes within the woods. The sunset shimmering through the bare limbs of the twisted oaks, the ground covered with bluebells and wood anemone, the flush of new leaves swiftly followed by a lush green carpet of bracken and of course the rush of excitement and exhilaration when you realise you have seen/heard  a rare woodland specialist like the barbastelle. So, if you are interested and would like to join our team on a journey of discovery then I would love to hear from you and can be contacted by email at

              Sonia Reveley