Researching Rare Bats

Wednesday 7th March 2012

Bechstein's bat (c) Frank Greenaway Vincent Wildlife TrustBechstein's bat (c) Frank Greenaway Vincent Wildlife Trust

Worcestershire Wildlife Trust is thrilled to have recently been awarded a grant to help fund further research into the rare bats discovered in one of their woodland nature reserves.

The conservation charity has been working with volunteers from the Worcestershire Bat Group for the last two years on a national project, organised by the Bat Conservation Trust, to locate rare Bechstein’s bats. Now discovered in a number of our woodlands, Worcestershire is believed to have the most northerly breeding populations of this small mammal.

The grant has been awarded by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and is one of seven grants given this year to help research UK mammals. The award will help the Trust study the population size, foraging range and roosting ecology of the bats at Grafton Wood.

Vital Research

James Hitchcock, conservation officer for the Trust responsible for Grafton Wood, says “This is great news and the award will help us to undertake vital research into the habits of these rare bats. By discovering the feeding and roosting patterns of bats in woodlands like Grafton we’ll be able to work out how best to manage similar woodlands to help secure the future of Bechstein’s in the county.

“We won’t be working alone on this; the project is a really good example of how many of us in the nature conservation community can learn alongside and from each other. The project is headed by national mammal expert Johnny Birks along with Eric Palmer who has a lot of radio tracking experience with bats. They’ll be helped by Wildlife Trust staff and volunteers from bat groups in Worcestershire and surrounding counties.

“As well as doing the research, one of our aims is that we can help encourage other landowners and interested parties in Worcestershire and beyond to adopt a similar approach in their woodlands to ensure that the bat population has the opportunity to expand.”

Surprising Results

Bechstein's (c) Fergus HendersonIn 2010 Worcestershire Wildlife Trust and volunteers from Worcestershire Bat Group discovered Bechstein’s bats in Grafton Wood as part of a national survey run by the Bat Conservation Trust. The following year the bats were found in Trench and Goosehill Woods, some 5km to the northwest.

The bats are normally found in mature woodlands with minimal management that have dense tree cover and are suitable to roost in; they particularly favour old woodpecker holes. Grafton Wood does not conform to this typical habitat – it has many wide sunny rides and open spaces that are favoured by the many butterflies and other invertebrates found there.

The research will look at their breeding and feeding habits to try to work out why this could be as well as to place Grafton Wood within its wider context of the surrounding landscape.

Bechstein’s bats are notoriously difficult to survey because they echolocate at a low volume, their calls are very similar to those of some other bats and, as they hardly ever leave the canopy of the trees, they’re not readily picked up by electronic bat detectors. Part of the research will involve radio tracking of individual bats. This will be done from late May.

James continued “Members of the survey team have already received specific training to survey these bats in the past so we’ll be building on those skills and knowledge. With experts like Johnny Birks and Eric Palmer helping us out this is going to be an incredibly valuable project – for both us and the bats.”

Nida Al Fulaij, Development Manager for the PTES, said “Having supported the national BCT project looking into where Bechstein’s bats still occur throughout the UK, PTES is really pleased to be funding this project which will determine the species’ needs on a more local level and lead to practical advice for woodland managers to help ensure a future for one of our rarest mammal species.”

Readers are reminded that a licence is required to handle bats.

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Tagged with: Bat research, Bechstein's, Eric Palmer, Grafton Wood, Johnny Birks, People's Trust for Endangered Species, PTES, Rare bats, Swift Ecology