Monday, 19 August 2019

Interview with Gail Armstrong

Gail Armstrong is a volunteer bat worker, bat carer, bat trainer, part-time bat surveyor and as she puts it she ‘generally allowed bats to fill my life!’

Gail out in the field (c) Will Walton
What first got you interested in bats? OR what is your first memory of bats?
Ah, that’s always a popular question. Well although the original (and best) batman, Adam West, was a childhood hero of mine, I grew up in a town and as a child, I had little opportunity to see nice wildlife sites (no car, no money, no freedom). But I did always have a love of animals and birds and took more of an interest in wildlife conservation as I got older (and richer). One day, I saw a bat walk advertised in the Chorley Guardian and thought it sounded fun. I went along, stayed out late and signed up with the local bat group. I was in my mid-30s at the time, I started slowly and learnt as I went along.
What roles do you see bat care playing in bat conservation?
Well in a strict conservation sense, you could say that it doesn’t have a role at all! For example, the rescue of individual BIRDS plays no part at all in the work of the RSPB. But bats seem to be different because a bat on the ground is so conspicuous and vulnerable.
Can we try to equate bat care with bat conservation? Well, we get bats into care, we make them better, we let them go and thereby increase the number of wild bats so it sounds obvious. But bat conservation is not about individual bats, it’s about working to influence policy, safeguard habitats and maintain populations. And while we make a difference to the individual bats that get a second chance, it’s hard to make a case for this being a conservation effort. We are only dealing small numbers and they are the bats that already failed in some way.
However, don’t underestimate the impact that finding and helping a bat can have on a member of the public. They could be won over for life and go on to champion the cause of bat conservation themselves?
Bat carers often pick up pups that have been found indoors or on the ground and we find new roost sites as a result. Hopefully we help to secure these for the long-term and that’s a massive conservation win.
But at the end of the day, the biggest win for bat care as a conservation tool is in the better bat workers we become and that we help to turn out for the future. To know a bit about bats means knowing also that they are worth looking after.
Is there a particular aspect of the work that you do that you prefer or is there one you find more challenging than the others?
After 25 years, it’s all a bit second nature and a lot is done without thinking whether I enjoy it or not. I am the bats' champion, they need me to be there for them and members of the public need advice from someone who understands bats.
But challenging is dealing with bats that have been caught and badly injured by cats. Too often, a bat is mortally wounded but still alive and I end up in the role of bat killer. That feels pretty rubbish, to be honest.
Also challenging, but in a better way, is turning all Cagney and Lacey to work out how bats are entering living spaces in houses and other buildings. On my patch, these are usually large soprano pipistrelle nurseries located in roofs. Young bats can find the smallest gaps to squeeze through and so we visit time after time, blocking up gaps around internal roof beams, window lights, pipework, etc. We never give up until bats stop getting indoors because, if we can solve those problems and support the roost owners, they will be able to live happily with their bats in the roof, doing a great job for bat conservation while doing nothing at all!
Enjoyable is training other bat workers and seeing them get hooked like the rest of us. I also enjoy counting bats for the NBMP, there is nothing better than a large group of bat group members clicking away as bats flood from a roost on a summer’s evening.
And I do love it when I get a call that begins “Hello, Mrs Batty” from the man who is calling to let me know his bats have returned for another season. He also sends me pictures of the bat droppings on his front step, he pretends he’s not happy but I know different!
Q. And speaking of challenges, what do you think are the biggest challenges for bat conservation?
Stopping the loss of habitat must be the main one as humans want more and more space to live, build and grow food. How will we leave room for all the other species with which we share the planet? I don’t know the answer and it makes me very gloomy for future generations.
Q. What advice do you have for anyone wanting to get involved in bat conservation?
Join the Bat Conservation Trust and your local bat group straight away. In my experience, bat groups have always been a very easy, welcoming place for volunteers. With a bit of prior knowledge, bats are easy to see going about their normal business, you don’t have to be unduly still and quiet. Everyone loves being out in the countryside in the dark so just get out there, learn about bats and take it from there.
Q. And lastly a very difficult question – do you have a favourite bat species? And if so which one is it and why?
The favourite bat is always the one I am watching or caring for at the time.
Common pipistrelle, so placid, so adaptable and easy to help.
Soprano pipistrelle, feisty and spirited and they have that lovely smell.
Brandt’s bats, stealth bats, trying to be inconspicuous and usually succeeding. I rather like that they are pretty rare but we have loads of them in my part of the world.
I could go on (and I usually do).

This interview was part of our membership magazine Bat News Summer 2019 which contains more photos (and other interesting features). To join as a member and receive our magazine visit this page:

Friday, 5 July 2019

Strength in Diversity – Dr Joe Nunez-Mino

I’m posting this blog today because in 2018 the 5 July was declared as International Day of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) People in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM) also known as LGBTSTEM Day1. The day was created in order to help raise awareness and increase support of diversity and inclusion in STEM. It comes just a few days after Pride Month (June) during which many organisations and learned societies, such as the Royal Society and the British Library, have acknowledged and marked LGBTQ+ Pride celebrations by displaying rainbow colours – this year more institutions have joined in because it is 50 years since the Stonewall riots in New York. While most people have reacted positively, a small minority are vociferous in their rejection of equality which demonstrates that there is still a need to educate more individuals. Bat conservationists everywhere will know all about the need to educate.  

The critical question that actually matters is what does respect of human diversity and equality have to do with conservation and bat conservation in particular? The truth is that it should have absolutely nothing to do with it but as Rocha & Hua (2018) have stated in a letter in Nature “Overcoming the planet’s unprecedented challenges will demand all of our combined intellectual power — regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, disability or any other diversity dimension that is currently under-represented in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM)2 

Two things that have played a central part in my life are wildlife conservation and the need for greater equality. I have fought to further both at every opportunity because I care about the world we live in and the inheritance we leave for the next generation. As an openly gay man my sexuality has sometimes conflicted with my work as a conservation biologist particularly when I worked in countries where intolerance and prejudice were enshrined in law and/or considered to be acceptable behaviour. I know how damaging and isolating hiding a part of who you are can be. Having said that, I have also experienced prejudice in the UK both because of my sexuality and because of my Spanish background even though I was born and raised in the UK. Those experiences have spurred me on to do something about it by trying to fight all forms of discrimination including racism, misogyny, religious intolerance as well as transphobia and homophobia. Lack of inclusivity is damaging at the personal level as well as to society at large. This is one reason why I am a member of the British Ecological Society Equality and Diversity Workgroup3. We need to make sure that all science and conservation is welcoming and inclusive. Without being truly representative, we are likely to struggle to be relevant to a significant part of the population.

I’m confident that anyone considering getting involved in the conservation sector will find the bat conservation community welcoming; this is something that we should be celebrating. By being visible, those of us that are part of that community let others know just how inclusive we are. We already have similar examples of successful inclusivity. We should be rightly proud of the fact that so many women are involved in bat conservation, visibility has empowered other women to get involved. Those of us who are from groups who are not immediately visible need to be more explicit and vocal about who we are so that we can also be positive role models for our peers.

This weekend I will be marching with the Royal Society of Biology at London Pride which is a yearly event celebrating and promoting LGBT+ equality. The theme for this year’s march is the celebration of 50 years since the birth of the modern LGBT+ rights movement. We have made tremendous progress in bat conservation in that time too but as we all know there is more work to be done. It won’t be easy but there is strength in our diversity and inclusivity, and I am hopeful that this can help us continue to make progress on both fronts.

2.  2. Rocha, R & Hua, F. (2018) Tackle all forms of under-representation in science Nature 557, 637 doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-05289-5

Friday, 5 April 2019

Why you should join the fight for Scotland’s nature

This blog is by Liz Ferrell, Scottish Officer for the Bat Conservation Trust.

Scotland’s wildlife is in danger 
The State of Nature report recognised Scotland as one of the most heavily deforested countries in Europe. With 1 in 10 species in Scotland at risk of extinction we need a Scottish Environment Act.

We all need to keep up the pressure
There are many people in the UK that care for the health of our environment. During 2018, 10,000 people marched to Downing Street as part of the People’s Walk for Wildlife. Year on year, over 750,000 volunteer hours go into monitoring 9,670 species in the UK and much of this data is used in the State of Nature reports. It is clear that this is an important issue for people up and down the UK but we need to all come together as one clear voice to push for change.

Sign the petition today!
You can be the difference, sign the Fight for Scotland’s Nature petition today. Tell the Scottish Government that we need our own Scottish Environment Act so that nature in Scotland is protected, and importantly enhanced, now and into the future. 

Bats are important
Bats are a vital part of our native wildlife. There are 10 species in Scotland and they occupy a wide range of habitats, such as wetlands, woodlands, farmland, as well as urban areas. They can tell us a lot about the state of the environment, as they are top predators of common nocturnal insects and are sensitive to changes in land use practices. The pressures they face - such as landscape change, agricultural intensification, development, and habitat fragmentation are also relevant to many other wildlife species, making them excellent indicators for the wider health of the UK's wildlife. 

Embed much needed EU environmental law principles into Scots law
Whilst the EU legislation will be adopted into domestic law as it stands at the time of Exit, we will be leaving behind those strong overarching environmental Principles and Governance arrangements which ensured that EU laws were properly implemented. This leaves a back door open for future weakening of environmental protection.

In the UK, bat populations have declined considerably over the last century. There has been some better news recently, with the latest trends indicating that for a small number of bat species we are seeing the first signs of a slow recovery from this lowest point. Some other species are at least now remaining stable. This does suggest that current legislation and conservation action to protect bats are having a positive impact making it imperative that this vital protection continues. The threats to bats such as building and development work that affects roosts, loss of habitat, the severing of commuting routes by roads and artificial lighting remain significant. 

In Scotland, all bat species and their roosts are legally protected by both domestic and EU legislation and they are therefore classed as European Protected Species. The legislation set the standard for nature conservation across the EU and enables all Member States to work together within the same strong legislative framework in order to protect the most vulnerable species and habitat types across their entire natural range within the EU. BCT and partners have been working to defend the level of protection bats and their habitats are afforded to make sure the legislation is not weakened as the UK negotiates its exit from the EU.

Benefits for us not just bats!
As well as natural wealth, there are cultural and economic benefits to protecting bats and the habitats on which they rely. In fact 14% of jobs are supported by the natural environment and this could be more! We all should have a right to a healthy environment and we need to ensure the Scottish Government recognise their responsibilities that will make this happen. Therefore please do remember to complete the Fight for Scotland’s Nature petition to ensure there is no regression on environmental standards. 

Friday, 8 March 2019

Meet BCT's new Bats in Churches Training and Survey Officer - Claire Boothby

What do you do for a living?
I’m very lucky to be working for BCT as the Training and Survey Officer for the Bats in Churches Project. I’m new to the post and I am looking forward to learning more about the wonderful world of bats and churches. Before this I was working for British Trust for Ornithology as the Development Officer for the Garden BirdWatch Survey.

What interested you in the Bats in Churches Project?
We know at least eight species of bat in the UK have been found to use churches to some extent and particularly the older, medieval churches. Some churches are home to large maternity roosts in the summer months, and bats can be found to use churches year round. It’s clear that these spaces are important for our bats, but they are also important heritage sites – they’re part of our history – and they are often the hub of the local community. In most cases the amount of bats is few and they cause little disturbance, but in some cases the cleaning burden, plus damage to historic fabric and monuments can be difficult to overcome At university I studied Applied Ecology, as I have always been inspired by research that has practical outcomes. I want to be part of the team that helps alleviate conflict and seeks to find practical and useful solutions, to help both the bats and churches.

How did you first get interested in bats?
I became interested in bats when I went on my first bat walk, at National Trust’s Polesden Lacey. I had a great time learning to use a bat detector, opening a window into the hidden world of bats. I can remember being excited to see and listen to the pipistrelles at the water tower and then the larger serotines down the long walk in the formal gardens.

Which is your favourite bat species and why?
It's a difficult choice but I think I’d have to say the brown long-eared bat. They do look fantastic, with ears nearly as long as their body, but that isn’t the reason. I'm particularly fond of these ‘whispering bats’ as they are the first bats I saw up close. It's the only species of bat in the UK that I have seen in a mist net and they were also the first species that I have seen roosting, after finding hibernating brown long-eared bats whilst at work. It was such a privilege to be in such close proximity to these mammals!

Which NBMP surveys do you take part in?
I currently take part in the Waterway Survey and Sunset/Sunrise Survey, but I have also taken part in the Field Survey in past.

What is your favourite or most memorable moment when doing a survey?
Most fresh in my mind is helping with a recent hibernation survey with London Bat Group and my new work colleagues in London. It was my first hibernation survey and it was an amazing experience, searching for bats in underground tunnels. Seeing my first Natterer’s bats in the tunnels, after a few minutes of searching by torchlight, has to be up there with my most memorable experiences.

What are the highs and lows of doing NBMP surveys?
One highlight was taking on a new site for the Waterway Survey a few years ago. It was reasonably close to where I lived but I'd never explored that particular area at all. I really felt like I'd discovered more about my local area and countryside. I don’t have many low points, but one obstacle – on the same survey – was coming against a wall of brambles and an eroded path, which made the route impassable. It was certainly an adventure!

Do you have a favourite survey site? Why is it your favourite?
My feet haven’t touched the ground much in the last few years and therefore I haven’t been at one place long enough to really call it my favourite. I have just moved so I hope that my new sites in Kent will be my favourites and that I’ll be monitoring them for many years to come!

What would you say to someone thinking about doing NBMP surveys?
Just do it! There are so many surveys to get involved with, no matter what your skill level. We all have issues with time and life often gets in the way of our best laid plans, but taking the time to record for NBMP really does make a difference.

Do you take part in other citizen science projects? If so, which and why?
I currently take part in a few citizen science surveys, particularly a number of bird surveys with British Trust for Ornithology including Garden BirdWatch and the Ringing Scheme. As well as having an interest in birds, I have previously worked for this organisation and understand the value of the data and fantastic scientific research being conducted. I also take part in a few other projects, such as the New Year’s plant hunt, Garden Wildlife Health and the Dragonfly Challenge to name a few

Friday, 1 February 2019

Vespertilio at VAULT Festival

by Jess Duxbury

The rest of his species was declared extinct in the UK.
His location is a closely guarded secret.
He is the last of his kind.

VESPERTILIO is a new play about love, loneliness, lies and bats. The story of one man's obsession and the charming young runaway he meets in the dark. Inspired by an article published by Patrick Barkham, VESPERTILIO  is a 2-hander about a lone greater mouse-eared bat that has been returning to a railway tunnel near Chichester every winter since 2002 to hibernate. This play, set largely in that railway tunnel, is the story of one man’s obsession with protecting the creature and what happens when he risks opening himself up to a charming young runaway who he meets in the dark. With a performance spot secured as part of the VAULT 2019 festival and support from the Bat Conservation Trust, is it our hope that this production will combine issues with conservation and human loneliness to spark conversation and action.

Not a greater mouse-eared bat but still cute, and more importantly representing all bats
We’ve been so touched by the support and engagement we’ve received from the conservation community online and we’d love to have as many members of the BCT and the community to come and see our little bat play as possible. As such we’ve created the discount code ‘EARLYBAT’ which will grant £10 tickets when purchasing through the VAULT website This offer will run until the 5th February, after which the tickets will be £13.50 for the preview date on 20th and £15.50 21st-24th.

We’re so excited to announce that we’ll be hosting a Q&A with members of the BCT and the conservation community on Sunday 24th February at 3pm at the Liana Lounge of VAULT Festival, Leake Street, Waterloo. This will be an opportunity to find out more about the amazing creature that inspired VESPERTILIO and the plights of bats in the UK.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Woodland bats research by Aggie Thompson

Aggie Thompson recently completed an MRes in Wildlife Conservation with Marwell Wildlife and the University of Southampton. Her research focused on woodland bats and here she shares her experiences and thoughts with us

What got you interested in Woodland bats?

My interest in bats was sparked during an internship in Southampton, where I researched the impact of artificial lighting solutions on bats in an urban Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). This experience opened my eyes to many of the challenges faced by bats worldwide, driven by urban development and landscape change. Following this internship, I was keen to continue working in this field and so took a post as a seasonal independent bat surveyor for an ecological consultancy. In 2016 I continued my studies and was accepted on the MRes in Wildlife Conservation with Marwell Wildlife and the University of Southampton, which provided me with the opportunity to carry out an 8 month research project from conception to completion. I chose to develop the ideas I had formed during my internship: exploring the impact of human disturbance on bat activity and species abundance. The focus of this study was the landscape complexity within a rural area of Hampshire and how human influences such as woodland management practices and stand structure, land use, and landscape connectivity impact bat populations.

Can you describe the research you carried out during your thesis?
The focus of my research was to assess the impact of both localised woodland features and land use influences on bat populations within a multifunctional landscape. I used two different types of acoustic survey to record bat activity across a complex managed landscape in Hampshire. Firstly, I carried out transect surveys along woodland fringe habitats to assess the impact of woodland management, land use and woodland connectivity on total and species level bat activity. Secondly, I deployed static bat detectors in 21 different locations within woodland stands to evaluate if woodland structural features (understorey height, canopy cover and clutter index), along with woodland management and woodland connectivity were predictors of total and species level bat activity inside woodland.

How can the results from your thesis be interpreted and in your opinion, what are the greatest threats faced by woodland bats?
Some of the biggest threats faced by UK bats are the removal of roosts or potential roost sites, the reduction of certain habitat types required by particular species, and reduced woodland connectivity, leading to isolated woodland patches less accessible to many bat species.  The results from my research highlight the importance of a heterogeneous landscape for supporting fragile populations. Increasing woodland connectivity or the installation of buffer strips would also allow access to currently isolated foraging habitat, and selective woodland management to avoid accidental disturbance or removal of roosts is essential.

Doing this type of study in woodlands is never easy, what were the highs and lows?
The research was very hands on and was quite challenging. It required a great deal of dedication and problem-solving.  Combining both the transect surveys and static detector data collection meant lots of late night surveys followed by full days of setting up static detector equipment, not to mention all of the data analysis!

However, as someone who loves to be outside, this research allowed me to enjoy exploring different habitats in Hampshire. As well as 13 bat species, I was fortunate to spot lots of other wildlife including foxes, badgers, voles and several species of deer. One of the great things about transect surveys is that in the right habitats they are typically high reward, so every night I was seeing and recording my study animals – unusual in wildlife conservation research!

What would your advice be to anyone thinking about doing a woodland bat project as part of their university studies?

Fieldwork can be challenging, requiring technical skills for programming and setting up equipment as well as the time consuming nature of data collection, requiring specialist knowledge of bat call identification. However, bat projects typically offer a combination of rewarding fieldwork as well as interesting data analysis. These projects can also lend themselves to having a wider impact, and given that bats are found worldwide many of the findings are often relevant to populations outside of the UK. Also, given that bats are considered good indicators of habitat quality, this opens up the possibility of drawing comparisons between other species or habitats. Using this comparative approach could help us to pinpoint the real impact of human disturbance on wildlife populations.

Going forward, what do you think are the interesting areas of research in the realm of woodland bats?
It would be of great value to look into practical uses for bats as indicators, in particular as indicators of climate change or to model the impact of future management or agricultural practices. It would also be interesting to establish at what distance certain features impact bat activity, such as the impact an intensively managed piece of woodland has on the use of the surrounding landscape by bats.

We always ask this although we know it is not a fair question... do you have a favourite bat species and why?
I think the wonderful thing about bats is the variety of species. There are over 1300 species worldwide, including insectivores, frugivores, nectarivores and hematophages. They are the second most abundant order of mammals and are found almost everywhere in the world. They are a truly diverse taxa and all have their own special qualities. (Have I successfully dodged the question?!)…