Bats have fascinated me ever since one flew through my window many years ago. That close encounter sparked a passion to find out more about these mysterious mammals. So I joined my local bat group on bat walks, talks and counts and was excited to find out more about these amazing animals.
The best way to look for bats is to go for a walk on a summer’s evening at sunset in a local green or watery spot. You can find them in city centres as well as countryside lanes. Look up to spot a bat flitting by, silhouetted against the darkening sky. The species you are most likely to see are pipistrelles, which dart and dash around in zig zags at head height. Common and soprano pipistrelles eat midges and mosquitoes, so they will follow a circuit where there are lots of bugs to eat and are good natural insect repellent!
Another good place to watch for bats is over rivers, lakes or canals. The Daubenton’s bat flies along the surface of the water, plucking up insects with its large feet.
My favourite bat is the brown long-eared bat, which has beautiful ears, nearly as long as its body. They forage in woodland and have such sensitive hearing they can locate prey from the sound of an insect’s movement. They are also known as the “whispering bat” because of their quiet echolocation calls.
Bats emerge from hibernation in Spring, and female bats gather together in maternity roosts. They usually only have one baby (around June) and in July the juvenile bats are learning to fly. In the autumn they disperse to mate and find hibernation sites for the winter.
Bats have adapted to roost in buildings, including houses and churches, because their natural roosting sites in trees, barns and caves have been lost. In many cases bat roosts pass unnoticed. However, some churches, as long term features in the landscape, host large numbers of bats, which can cause significant issues. There is a new Bats in Churches project working to address problems with bats in churches. If your church has a large bat roost, please see here including post lockdown cleaning guidance.
Sadly bat populations have experienced severe declines in the last 50 years, due to loss of habitat and places to roost and decreasing numbers of insects. You can help bats by:
More about Julia, the author – Julia’s voluntary work with bats eventually led to her working for the Bat Conservation Trust (until 2018), where she helped set up the Bats in Churches project. More recently she has been focusing on environmental education and training as a Forest School Leader.
This blog was written by Julia Sturmy for the Wild Christian email, ‘Nature and Community.’