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?!)…