Thursday, 27 April 2017

Running for Bats by Joanne Melling

For as long as I can remember I have loved all animals, particularly wildlife. As I child my greatest dream was to be a vet and save animals. 

Sadly, my lack of understanding of Physics and Maths and failing to make the grade in these subjects destroyed my dream of veterinary surgery glory and I had to rethink my path.
Years passed and I finally found myself in Canada, more precisely at the Toronto Wildlife Centre exploring another path to saving animals. One I previously hadn’t even considered. I had started my career as a wildlife rehabilitator.
So why bats?

Bats have always fascinated me. They are remarkable creatures, amazingly long lived for such small animals, they eat bugs, they pollinate flowers and are essential for the survival of our planet yet they are feared and misunderstood wherever they go.

During my time in Toronto I spent a large amount of time with the bats in care, as one of the rabies vaccinated interns I had many hours weighing, measuring, feeding and cleaning the (primarily) big brown bats. I often volunteered to look after the bats, they were calm, placid little beings and working with them was a moment of zen in the madness of a busy inner city wildlife rehab centre. 
Then it happened, that one special patient who will always stay with me wherever my career takes me. A female big brown bat was brought in by a member of the public who had found her in a pool of what we assumed to be diesel in an underground car park. We named our bats alphabetically, we were on the letter E and this bat came in on Easter Sunday. She of course, was named Easter.
Easter was in ICU in the clinic for 2 weeks and showed no sign of improvement. She was emaciated, dehydrated, not eating properly and the vet recommended euthanasia if she didn’t improve. As a last ditch effort I offered to take her home and foster her on the off chance that one on one care would make a difference with her. 

Easter lived with me for 3 months, during that time we went through a roller coaster of improving and failing health. We had various issues with her weight, appetite, flying skills etc. etc. She was a sweet tempered, bright little bat and during the time she was with me she made me cry, she made me frustrated, she made me laugh, she made me cry some more. As we got to spring and the time that the bats in the centre were being flight tested for release Easters health plummeted and I had to make an incredibly difficult decision and recommended she be put to sleep. 

Though Easter didn’t make it her legacy is my love for bats, she ignited a passion for these remarkable little creatures in me and made me truly appreciate them for what they are. The beautiful, graceful guardians of the night sky and an essential part of our ecosystem.

Recently I traveled to Australia to work with mega bats. Primarily grey headed and black flying foxes. While I was there I acquired another foster patient who highlighted just how complex bats can be. 

He was a grey headed flying fox called Rastas. Flying foxes have a much stronger maternal bond than microbats, they need closeness and security. Taking on an orphaned flying fox means you have to be it’s mummy, you need to hold it and make it feel secure. They are wrapped in blankets and cuddled, often chewing the blanket for security and comfort. Many orphaned flying foxes are found still clinging to dead mothers and so have mental trauma when they come into care. 
Rastas, the grey-head flying fox I fostered

I never found out Rastas’ full story but I assume he had some trauma in his life. He was my first experience of a bat showing the symptoms of PTSD. He would often fall asleep and wake up minutes later screaming and looking around him wildly and disorientated. 

He eventually calmed and was able to go into a creche aviary with the other young bats. 
Bats are complex. They have personalities and strong social bonds. They feel pain and trauma and sadness just the same as us and we should do all we can to protect them. 

I am now a registered bat carer with the BCT and west Yorkshire bat group and plan to do all I can to help our British bats now I am back in the UK.

This September I will be taking part in the Great North Run to raise money for the BCT. 
It will be my first attempt at a half marathon and it’s already proving to be a pretty big challenge. Training is underway and going well so far, fingers crossed J

Here is a link to my just giving fundraising page;

Please give if you can, any donation big or small is welcome and will help me raise some much needed money for our wonderful bats.
Thank you

Friday, 21 April 2017

Swift Ecology blog on contributing to the BCT and CIEEM mitigation projects

There is currently a lack of evidence on the effectiveness of mitigation and compensation strategies for bats affected by development. The Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) in partnership with the University of Exeter, and the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) have both secured funding for separate but complementary projects to fill this evidence gap.

The success of these projects is strongly dependent on receiving mitigation case studies from ecologists - from consultants through to local authority ecologists.

Lisa Kerslake from Swift Ecology, who has taken the time to contribute to the questionnaire, tells us why she believes it is so important….

How long have you been involved in bat conservation and ecological consultancy?

My first introduction to bat conservation came in the late ‘80s while working for the then Nature Conservancy Council.  My desk was next to the species officer, who frequently brought bats into the office that were recovering from various injuries.  In particular I remember getting up to make tea and discovering, with a degree of shock and a few expletives, that there was a very cross serotine clinging to my jeans!  It had somehow escaped from its box (I never found out how…..). 

More recently, we set up Swift Ecology in 2007 and although I’d worked as an ecological consultant for a few years before this, my involvement in bat work increased exponentially  from this time.

What is the most satisfying part of your job and the most challenging?

 The most satisfying parts are those that involve some direct wildlife encounter: a maternity roost of lesser horseshoes with their pups near Malvern, which brought me near tears; showing a BLE to a nervous or sceptical householder/builder and seeing their astonished reaction when the ears unfurl; releasing a BLE fully recovered from a damaged wing, after I had cared for it for several months (I have a particular soft spot for BLEs). 

One of the most challenging things I’ve had to deal with happened in fact only last week: attending court to see a landowner who had completely destroyed a bat roost get an £83 fine despite so much effort by me, my colleagues and BCT; bitterly disappointing.  I also feel that the recent and ongoing changes to licensing within NE are going to pose challenge of a different magnitude, particularly in the context of the impending doom of Brexit; I think the threat to bats and other wildlife is potentially now greater than it has ever been. 

How did you hear about the BCT and CIEEM mitigation projects and what prompted you to contribute to it?

I have been banging on for years about the importance of bat mitigation and lack of evidence for what works, and have with colleagues prepared several talks and articles on the subject; consequently I somehow found myself involved in the steering group for the project from the outset.  As a result it would have been slightly embarrassing if I had not contributed! 

How much of your time did it take to contribute your case study? Do you mind mentioning a bit about it?

We have actually contributed 18 case studies; this took me no more than a couple of hours to upload, though I did have invaluable help from other staff (thanks Charlie and Josh!) helping to pull together the relevant information.  Our case studies include barn conversions, demolition & new house build, subdivision of a farmhouse into three residences, restoration of listed buildings, and a church where the bell housing was being replaced; so quite varied.  In nearly all cases some type of bat loft was constructed as well as the inevitable bat boxes.  The one I enjoyed most was a large barn conversion in Oxfordshire; the clients were lovely, which always helps, but the stand out feature resulted from a call from the builders once work was under way to say they’d found a few bats; when I looked behind the electricity meter I discovered not pips/BLEs as I was expecting, but 3 torpid barbastelles!  A few involuntary words were uttered (to the surprise of the gathered builders).

What approach does your company take towards mitigation? What’s your gut feeling about what works and what doesn’t?

I’ve long believed that all the surveys in the world will not benefit bat conservation if the mitigation is inadequate or doesn’t work.  We have always tried to get some type of bat loft if BLEs or Natterer’s bats were present, even in small numbers; that has become very difficult and now it seems to be the norm not to.  I sense that retaining roosts in situ is more successful than relocating them (e.g. to spaces above new garages), but this is often difficult or impossible, and nor is it necessarily that simple.  For example, we have no real idea of the function disused agricultural barns might play in relation local bat populations, because we rarely study them year round; I therefore feel it’s highly unlikely that retaining within a converted barn a space the size of a house loft will serve the same function as that which has been lost.

What would you say to anyone who is unsure about contributing to the projects?

The dearth of evidence in relation to bat mitigation/compensation has formed part of so many conversations I’ve had with other consultants over the past few years, that I find it hard to understand why anyone would not contribute in order to help us all do the job better in future.  Following an evidence-based approach is not only easier to justify to clients, it is bound to give better results for bat conservation.  So I would say this is an incredible opportunity to make a difference – please take it.   

Contributing to the mitigation projects

CIEEM and the University of Exeter will be carrying out a desk study on the case studies submitted, which relies on monitoring data from ecologists. Their study will be completed in autumn 2017.
In addition, BCT will be conducting fieldwork in summer 2017 and summer 2018. Our study will be completed in autumn 2018.

BCT are seeking bat roost mitigation cases:
·         involving damage or destruction of roosts of common and soprano pipistrelle, brown long-eared bat and Myotis species
·         from England and Wales
·         with licences expiring between 2006 and 2014
·         where access can be gained for monitoring as early as May this year.
CIEEM and the University of Exeter are seeking cases for the same species and time period but will be covering the whole of the UK.

CIEEM and BCT are appealing for ecologists to provide the details of any bat roost mitigation case studies which fit our broad criteria (see flow chart below).

Case studies can easily be shared by either i) uploading reports or ii) filling in our questionnaire.

If you feel the roost owner would be happy to have BCT visit the site to carry out monitoring work, with no obligation or costs involved, then please send them the letter in the questionnaire and ascertain if access would be possible.

BCT and CIEEM are also working closely with Natural England and Natural Resources Wales to access licence applications and returns and to contact roost owners (on behalf of BCT only). This process has been delayed due to data protection, storage and retrieval constraints. NE and NRW have now sent out letters to some licence applicants requesting access on behalf of BCT but we suspect that most will refer us back to their consultants for the relevant reports. Working with consultants means our approach can be more targeted because you are more familiar with the sites and their respective owners than anybody else. Once your initial contact has been made and the roost owner is happy for BCT to visit the site, then BCT can take the next steps on arranging access etc. 

To find out more details and to start uploading case studies please visit THIS PAGE.

CIEEM and BCT are extremely grateful for any time given in aiding this research.

If you have any questions relating to the projects, please contact:

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

The South West Bat Conference 2017

On the 25th of March, I went to my very first bat conference. It was a bit of an adventure for me, what with having to wake up at 5:30 am to get the train!
I had been told the day before that a slide advertising my previous blog post (see here: would be shown at the start of the conference so I got rather worried that I’d miss it when my train was delayed. Fortunately, I arrived seconds before the end of the first talk when my slide was shown and I got to see it! Thanks so much to Carol Williams for adding that to her talk!

The conference was brilliant – it was so unusual for me to be in a room full of people that all liked bats! In the main area, there were many people selling new and exciting bat detectors, as well as that all important ‘Bat Tat’! I came away with 5 pin badges, 4 post cards, one bat soft toy and two BCT bags - got to let everyone know you’re a bat fan!

I thoroughly enjoyed the talks, and was very pleased to see and meet quite a few alumni from the University of Exeter. The first research talk was by George Bemment who spoke about a roost of greater horseshoes at Berry Head. This roost was interesting because it wasn’t the nicest of bat roosts, being cold and quite far out to sea, so why were the bats still there? We’re still unsure!
The second research talk was by a fellow Exeter University student, Amy Fensome. Her research used the NBMP’s data to look at the effect of fragmentation of landscapes by roads. She’s statistically proven that bats are more numerous in less fragmented habitats, and so hopes her research will be involved in future road planning. It was so exciting to hear from people involved in bat science and just made me more eager to get into that world myself!

The third talk was about the bats of Enys House by Simon Barnard. This place sounded like one of the fantasy houses I’d dream up as a child, what with 6 different bat species having originally occupied the entire house! The talk explained how both the needs of the bats and the needs of the house occupants could be met with some careful problem solving. It was nice to hear things seemed to be going well – despite a few break-ins by some pesky brown long-eared bats!
The fourth talk was by Daniel Hargreaves – a name I recognised from many an issue of ‘Bat News’! He spoke about the Nathusius Project that’s currently being run and some of the ecological knowledge that they have gained from this intriguing pipistrelle. What I found most interesting about his talk was the ‘Citizen Science’ aspect. The project was being carried out by bat groups across the country thanks to interest and passion, and to hear that happen for a creature so misunderstood and persecuted as the bat made me very happy!

We also got given the opportunity to attend a workshop during the event and being interesting in obtaining a bat survey license, but not really understanding much about the different types or how they worked, I decided to attend the class licensing workshop run by Lisa Worledge from the BCT. She made what would otherwise be quite a confusing and dull topic interesting and accessible and I was quite pleased at the end when I not only identified 2/3 of the bat pictures in her PowerPoint correctly, but also got full marks on the test she gave us, at the end, on the topics we’d covered!

The final talk was about the Devon Greater Horseshoe Project by Ruth Testa. It was intriguing from a zoology perspective to hear about the distribution and habits of such a quirky little creature – and yet more talk of passion-driven ‘Citizen Science’! Having lived in Reading for most of my life, where greater horseshoe bats aren’t very common, it was a delight to meet a greater horseshoe (called Herbert) when I completed my bat care course with the Cornwall Bat Group! They have the most remarkable little faces!

At the end of the event, after the raffle had been called (no winning tickets for me!) and there’d been discussions about priorities in the South West, I wished the conference could have lasted a bit longer! It was so lovely to meet and talk to people as interested in bats as me and everyone I spoke to was friendly and welcoming.
The thing that will really stick with me, however, was when Carol said how much I will have changed people’s perceptions about bats with my previous blog post. That meant so much to me for I consider it a bit of a life ambition!
However, there’s definitely still many more people out there with misguided views on bats and still many more bats who need our help, so I’m not finished just yet!

by Maisy Inston

Monday, 10 April 2017

Creating an artificial underground hibernation roost in Brittany

Creating an artificial underground hibernation roost in Brittany
Interview: Josselin Boireau, Groupe Mammalogique Breton, (GMB)
by Beatrice Dopita, River Allen Bat Roost.

BD: What inspired the creation of a hibernaculum in Brittany?

JB: In Brittany the places where bats roost are determined by the geology of the land. Granite rocks, open heathland and dispersed areas of woodland make the bats choose sites, like quarries, historic fortifications, and old buildings, which inevitably bring the bats into conflict with man. In certain areas natural roost sites are hard to find and it is for this reason that the Groupe Mammalogique Breton decided to create a series of artificial roost sites for hibernation and for maternity roosts. Brittany has 21 bat species and the GMB has led a series of research projects and mitigation measures dating from the late 1980s. Since 2010 these projects have become more ambitious and artificial roost sites have been created whenever the opportunity has arisen.

The opportunity to build a large hibernation roost in the north of Brittany arose when the quarry company CMGO (Carrière et Matériaux du Grand Ouest) based at Trégeux in the Côtes d’Armor, proposed an expansion of their quarrying activities – permission for the development became linked to this ambitious mitigation project by the GMB and the creation of underground tunnels began under the leadership of Thomas Dubos, colleague of Josselin Boireau.

Photo: Excavation of tunnels

BD: How long did it take to create and what sort of support/guidance did you get?

JB: The project evolved in several phases, the first stage of construction was undertaken by the quarry company over a period of three months then the project was set aside for two years. The next stage of construction involved a company of builders to construct a labyrinth of breeze block walls. This took a further 9 months and was completed towards the end of 2016.

Photo: Breeze block construction.

BD: What were the highs and lows of this project?

JB: Our early attempts to build this artificial roost were very encouraging and seemed to cost very little. The quarry company had offered to do all the excavation work themselves and proposed building the hibernation roost tunnels using materials that were already available on site. The walls were built using breeze blocks laid on the bias with a roof of old telegraph poles; unfortunately, the roof lacked the necessary solidity and the whole structure collapsed! The necessity for the quarry company to invest in more suitable materials brought the whole project to a halt. Construction did not start again until the beginning of 2016. Recent signs that the bats have started to use the new tunnels, just a few weeks after they were built, have given us hope after such a discouraging start to this project.

Photo: Later stage of the construction.

BD: What happens now in terms of maintaining the site and monitoring it for the long term?

JB: We realise that the colonisation of a new site can take some time and now that the tunnels are there we are content to see them evolve and to take advice from experts like Colin Morris, of the Vincent Wildlife Trust, who has already had considerable success with the creation of purpose-built underground roost sites. We are managing the site lightly and minimising any disturbance to perhaps two visits per year. We have installed equipment to measure the humidity and the temperature of various sections of the tunnels so that we can recreate, as much as possible, the conditions in natural roost sites chosen by the bats in this area.

BD: Have you seen any signs that bats have moved in? What were the signs and which species have moved in?

JB: We have already observed bat droppings in the tunnels and butterfly wings on the floor! This indicates that several species of bat are already using the tunnels as a roost. We are hoping to install some passive acoustic detectors so that we can analyse the bat calls to give us an indication of the different species using the roost.

Photos taken in the tunnels showing evidence of use by bats.

BD: What would you say to other groups thinking about creating their own hibernaculum?

JB: The long-term survival of bat colonies depends on the availability of suitable roost sites and on the management of foraging sites around the roost. The creation of suitable cavities, especially for maternity roosts, and of tunnels which provide a constant temperature for winter hibernation roosts is hugely important as bats live for a long time and such projects can prove critical to their long-term survival. Education of the public, conservationists, and those in authority is essential as the preservation of natural roost sites is more important than any mitigation measures that we can devise. It would be a great dis-service to the bats if all we could offer them in twenty years’ time would be a concrete corridor!

BD: Do you have any plans for future developments based on your experience of this project?

JB: We hope to continue with our plans to increase the provision of these artificial roost sites but also to preserve the natural sites which bats are using at the moment, in areas of known bat populations, particularly the Greater Horseshoes. In parallel to this we are encouraging landowners to retain, and maintain, old hedgerows which link roost sites and provide foraging corridors. In
France there is a national programme for preserving areas of biodiversity called “Trame Verte et Bleue” (Green lines and Blue) the aim of this programme is to preserve the connections between areas that are important to wildlife so that animals, and even plant species, are not limited by geographic isolation. This has been incorporated into urban development for several years and wildlife corridors are being established. There is a strong incentive to promote such ideas, not only for the bats, but for all of us who care about the natural world. We are committed to promote ambitious conservation projects like this hibernation roost in Brittany.

BD: Although the GMB is quite a small organisation it is certainly punching above its weight. Their recent publication of the Atlas des Mammifières de Bretagne should be an inspiration to all of us. It is full of maps and splendid photographs, showing the distribution of mammals in Brittany. It is particularly good on bats – be sure to take your bat detectors on holiday and report your finds via their website.

The GMB are giving the bats a voice at regional and at national level in France – we should all be trying to inform and work with our local councils, our MPs, and the general public to be more sensitive to the needs of bats in our local environment.
JB: As for the vast hibernation site in the quarry, come back in ten years’ time and we will tell you how it’s going…

Josselin Boireau                                                         Thomas Dubos


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Breton Mammal Group

Beatrice Dopita, River Allen Bat Roost