BLOG: Go batty this International Bat Night

20 August 2019

International Bat Night, where nature conservation agencies come together across Europe to highlight how important bats are, takes place over August 24 and 25 and has taken place every year since 1997 in more than 30 countries.

Did you know that bats are the only mammals that can fly? These winged creatures can sometimes be seen at dusk and are a protected species in the UK.

Many species of bats migrate, often across Europe, which is why there is a European-wide agreement and organisation to help conserve our bat colonies.

Bat populations are one of the best natural indicators of the health of the environment because they flourish in an eco-system that is healthy and stable.

 

Where do bats in the UK live?

Around three quarters of the UK's bat species roost in trees, which is yet another reason why it's so important for us to continue to plant more trees and conserve our existing trees.

Bats are not able to create holes or make nests, so they take advantage of natural crevices or cavities in trees, or sometimes old buildings.

Trees such as oak, beech and ash are particularly suitable for bats but any woodland tree can provide a habitat for a bat, especially if it has cavities in the trunk or branches, woodpecker holes, loose bark and thick ivy.

 

Bat stats

Bat populations declined during the last century due to loss of habitat through urbanisation, and the impact of artificial lighting and wind turbines. The National Bat Monitoring Programme has been running since 1997 with an annual State of the Bats report.

The most recent report found that bat numbers across the UK are now stable, or even growing due to the hard work of many conservation organisations. However, that does not mean they are up to historic levels, but conservation efforts are helping stop the decline.

 

How can I see bats?

The best way to see bats in the UK is to sit outside for around an hour in your garden or near some woodland or a nature reserve, either at dusk or just before dawn. The best time to do this is the summer months, but you should be able to see them any time from April to September.

You should be able to see some bats fluttering around just after sunset, or swarming to roost just before dawn.

 

Which species of bats can I see in Greater Manchester?

There are eight species of UK bats that are usually found in Greater Manchester.

They are:

Common pipistrelle (main image and below)

This is the most common bat in UK and weighs just a miniscule 3-8g. These little predators are incredibly agile in the sky as they eat insects from the sky as they dart, twist and turn. They can easily eat up to 3,000 insects per night. They will roost in tree holes, bat boxes or roof spaces and soffits.

Credit: Hugh Clark / www.bats.org.uk

Soprano pipistrelle

Experts only discovered in 1999 these bats are a different species from the Common pipistrelle. The best way to tell them apart is with a bat detector because their calls are at a different frequency. They roost in old buildings or bat boxes, and live across woodland and woodland edges. They prefer to live near a water's edge and are less frequently found that the Common pipistrelle.

Noctule

This is one of the largest species of UK bats, and weighs in at 18-40g. They roost in holes in trees, and rarely are found in buildings, so the best place to see them is a woodland area. Protecting woodland is really important for this particular species. They feed over the tree canopy at early dusk and eat flying beetles such as the Cockchafer. The South Lancashire Bat Group website says the best place to see this stunning species is Wigan Flashes in the summer months.

Credit: John Altringham / www.bats.org.uk

Daubenton's bat

This bat roosts in tunnels, bridges and caves, and hunts over water picking up insects such as mayflies and caddisflies. They roost in small holes in trees and can sometimes be heard in woodland making squeaking and chirping noises.

Credit: People's Trust for Endangered Species.

Natterer's bat

This is a medium-sized bat, which flitters through trees eating small moths, beetles and spiders from foliage. They roost in old buildings, such as churches and castles. The UK population of Natterer's bats is of international importance because they are scarce. However, last year the South Lancashire Bat Group recorded two Natterer's bats at Lyme Park in Disley.

Credit: Daniel Hargreaves / www.bats.org.uk

Brown long-eared bat

This is the most common bat species in Lancashire after the Common pipistrelle, but is a difficult bat to spot as they stick to cover and treelines. This bat flies slowly through foliage picking insects off the leaves. They roost in trees and old buildings and feed in parks, gardens, hedgerows and woodland.

Whiskered bat

This fast and fluttery bat is often seen along hedgerows and woodland edges searching for spiders, moths and other small insects to eat. They prefer to roost in houses or bat boxes.

Brandt's bat

This looks very similar to the Whiskered bat and was only discovered to be a different species in the 1970s. Brandt's bat is slightly larger than the Whiskered bat, and feeds low to the ground in woodland and near water. They will roost with the Whiskered bat but in separate colonies.

Credit - Wildlife Trusts.

 

How can we encourage more bats into our gardens?

Bats eat a wide range of insects, so the key to encouraging more bats into your garden, or into our woodlands, is of course, to encourage more insects.

Any wildlife planting or letting grasses grow long will encourage more insects to create a habitat in your garden. Choose an area of garden that you can leave to grow and let wildflowers self-seed for pollinators, caterpillars and other insects.

Additionally, you can make sure you don't use any chemical weedkillers as many of them will also kill off insects.

Native trees such as willow or oak are great for bats, although you might not want to plant these unless you have a large garden. However, planting trees is brilliant for all wildlife, so do look at planting a small species of tree if you want to encourage insects and wildlife.

Bat boxes can be made or installed onto trees or sheds, but be aware that different species of bats need different types of homes.

 

If you are interested about finding out more about bats in Greater Manchester, contact the South Lancashire Bat Group.