Monday, 28 November 2016

Volunteering for a Woodland Bat Monitoring Project

A roost feature on an Oak (c) Sonia Reveley
As it is National Tree Week it seems appropriate to submit a blog about the Swanton Novers Woodland Bat Monitoring Project. As you are well aware, woodlands are very important to bats. They provide foraging opportunities and roosting sites all year round for these special flying mammals. The distribution of woodlands over the years has changed and many are now fragmented and scattered. Their importance is undeniable though as they provide a haven for wildlife and support a variety of flora and fauna.
Noctule (c) Hugh Clark
Trees to bats are like what houses are to us. Where we have a choice of a semi-detached, flat or a bungalow, trees will provide a range of different roost features from loose peeling bark, cracks, cavities and fissures to rot holes and woodpecker holes. And like our homes they provide bats with shelter, warmth and a place to sleep and bring their young up. A well-established woodland will contain many trees with these features, all with different conditions (humidity, temperature and light), which will give the bats the freedom to move to different roosts throughout the year depending on their needs.                   

At Swanton Novers NNR we are using this well established site to learn how bats are affected by long term woodland management practices and how they use the woods as a result, particularly the interior. In addition, we will learn how bat activity differs between the understorey and the canopy (More information about the project can be found here (www.bats.org.uk/swanton )).
Transect surveying with volunteers
(c) Jamie McDonald
To collect all the data that is required needs volunteers. Volunteers are essential for the project to grow and continue. In return the project gives volunteers an opportunity to learn how to survey for bats, how to use new equipment, how to do call analysis, and carry out practical and maintenance work that will ensure we continue to gather all the data needed to answer our questions. Volunteers also get an opportunity to gain access to an area of natural beauty, help protect it and raise awareness about the woodland and its inhabitants through community events, walks, talks and articles. For this blog, a volunteer who has helped with the project since the beginning called Keith Fox has kindly written up a small article about his volunteering experience and why he enjoys it. Keith came to the project with some bat surveying experience already under his belt. Keen to continue with his work at the NNR, his help has been invaluable from helping new volunteers when paired up on the transect surveys to leading walks. Through the project he has learnt how to use new bat recording equipment, and has assisted with the deployment of the static detectors.
“I have been kept busy with volunteering work on a number of nature reserves since moving to Norfolk ten years ago, or should I say indulging my interest in natural history! One of the reserves I work on, and perhaps my favourite, is the ancient woodland that is the Swanton Novers NNR.
These woods have been an important part of the Norfolk landscape for hundreds of years, initially for economic reasons and latterly for their tremendous wildlife value. I have helped here with many tasks, from coppicing and growing young hazel plants to carrying out wildlife surveys.
Hence one day I was asked if I would like to help out with surveying bat activity in the woods.
Keith and Alex fixing  a static detector to a tree
(c) Sonia Reveley
It all started with walked transects through the woods, initially with an experienced bat worker, and moved on to analysing the results of the transects on my computer to identify the bat species. It moved on to positioning static detectors and analysing those results with even more software.
The next big step was to help with catching the bats using mist nets. With that came the chance to hold a bat in my hand and see just how tiny a Pipistrelle really is. Barbastelles were tagged with radio transmitters, which lead to tracking the tagged bats around the woods and wider countryside, and the more sedentary and less exhausting locating of roosts and emergence counts.
I am now confident in my ability to identify the different species and have gained enough information from other colleagues and background reading to confidently lead bat walks for the ‘general public’.
What do I enjoy about the work? Four things;
 I love being out in the woods at night with the snuffling badgers, barking deer and roding woodcock.
It gives me a real buzz to think that I am helping to ensure the survival of this wonderful wooded  place.
I feel I am making a real contribution to the knowledge about bats and how they use the woodland environment.
It has triggered a fascination with all aspects of the life of bats; flight, echolocation, hibernation and all the rest. “            
                                                                                                                               
Keith Fox
Swanton Novers Woodland Bat Project Volunteer                                                                                                                                                                                              

Further information about the project and monthly updates about the project called Swanton News can be found at www.bats.org.uk/swanton.

If you would like more information about the project or would like to be involved and can spare a few hours helping with bat surveys, call analysis, walks, talks and community events, please contact the Volunteer Coordinator Sonia Reveley at SReveley@bats.org.uk or ring 07788 226528.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Ceramic Art Bat Boxes at Holton Lee, Dorset


I’m Janna Edwards and I run 15Days in Clay, a local Community Award winning ceramic Art project, at Livability Holton Lee. Holton Lee is an idyllic 350 acres of woodland, heath, reed-beds, a few fields and some important buildings and all on the edge of Poole harbour. This is where our studio is based.

At the start, in 2003, I had just enough funding to run a ceramic class for 8 people, one day a week over 15 weeks, hence the name. Thirteen years on and we now have over 40 artists attending over 4 days a week and supported buy a team of exceptionally talented volunteers. The artists have a range of learning /physical needs and we have built an supportive environment where they can engage and progress their creativity and talents to become artists in their own right.

As for the bat boxes; in the field by our studio a big old oak tree succumbed to a violent storm a few years ago; all the branches broke off and all that was left standing was its huge trunk. Geoff Jones, who worked at the time for Holton Lee, asked if we could make some bat boxes to go on the trunk to make a bit of a show.

We had just had a big exhibition at Poole’s Art Centre, The Lighthouse. For which each of us made large quirky busts of ourselves, some 50 all together; it was a huge success and we followed on with the bat boxes taking on a basic design with each artist giving their individual take on the box transforming it into something special, but they never got to adorn the tree trunk.

There was a Community Fair coming up, the boxes were ready and after a bit of head scratching it was felt that a more suitable setting for them would be on the wall of the ‘Old Farmhouse’. Here they not only look fantastic, blowing our own trumpet, so to speak, but also very timely.

The Farm House with a 15 Days in Clay Totem obscuring the view of
the bat boxes on the right hand wall of the farm house

The farmhouse is home to three species of resident bats and there is also another smaller colony in the adjacent building called ‘The Barn’ , its not actually a barn and it is being upgraded to a new life as a spinal injury rehabilitation centre. This work could not have been done without the Farmhouse next door being able to provide alternative accommodation. With a bit of luck the bat boxes will soon have their first batty residents.
      
It makes me very proud to be able to show off their work in the bat boxes now on permanent display
  

So , any time you are near Poole, call in to have a closer peek at our work and enjoy our wonderful surroundings.

Janna pointing out the bat boxes.


Further information

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

A unique bridge for bats by next architects

“A textbook example of how a functional object can at the same time serve nature.” This is how bat-expert Marcel Schillemans from the Dutch Mammal Society described the recently completed Vlotwatering Bridge in the Netherlands. What is the story behind this unique ‘bat-bridge’?



The ‘bat bridge’ is part of the Poelzone, an elongated area in the municipality of Westland between the existing towns of ‘s-Gravenzande, Naaldwijk and Monster. Along the waterway a new green recreational area has been realised, including a cycle route, natural banks and spawn sites for fishes. The design for the landscape was conceived by LOLA Landscape Architects to strengthen the existing ecological connections and to have the natural and recreational functions complement each other. The new Vlotwatering Bridge by NEXT architects was commissioned by the municipality of Westland and is part of this broader plan.

The bridge is made for slow traffic (pedestrians and cyclist) and cars to a private house. The Vlotwatering is a flight-route for the numerous different bat species that live in the area. Recently, summer roost have been found nearby the water. Moreover, as the newly designed water-banks will attract more insects, it is expected the bat population will further grow. Thus, a bridge over the water offers a unique opportunity to for a bat-friendly design: the concrete mass of the construction creates an optimal climate and an ideal habitat for these mammals..




In designing the Vlotwatering Bridge, we worked closely with the bat-experts Herman Limpens and Marcel Schillemans (Mammals Association - Zoogdiervereniging). A first and important step in the process was a programme of requirements for the bats. Ecological designs are often blamed for having a high degree of “geitenwollensokken” ­- a Dutch expression referring to a certain kind of idealism, perceived to be naive, theoretical (much talk, little action), and foolishly optimistic, and therefore not achieving its goals. Hence, at NEXT we knew that the key to success was in finding a new approach: inquisitive and based on research. Instead of starting from existing references or common solutions, we based our design on the ecological requirements.  With this project we wanted to take ecological design to the NEXT level. This was most challenging for all parties involved.

With a length of 25 meters, the bridge consists of a concrete arch that spans the entire Vlotwatering and marks the entrance of the Poelzone. At its highest point, the bridge curves to form an S-shape and offer a panoramic view of the area. To design a bridge that would simultaneously be a habitat for bats, it was important to distinguish between different species, as each one has specific needs. The design of the various stays is customized based on the type, function and location and resulted in three specific components, each providing a specific opportunity for bats:

-         Bridge abutment. At the north side the abutment functions as a winter stay.
-         Bottom deck. To accommodate stays for bats during the summer
-         Bridge balustrade. Similarly to the deck, the balustrade provides accommodation for the summer

To optimize the suitability of the bridge for bats, the structure is made out of concrete, which provides a stable and pleasant climate for bats. Moreover, the concrete’s material qualities, high strength, freedom of shape, and easy workability make it possible to make a distinctive bridge that fits within the environment and cycle path. On the underside of the bridge there are entrance slots that have a rough finish for a better grip. The slots are part of a pattern of grooves in the concrete arch.


The different types of accommodation that are incorporated into the bridge are visible in subtle way to the visitors of the Poelzone. The bridge’s ecological functions have been translated to attention-enhancing details, making the Vlotwatering Bridge into a unique project, for both humans and animals.

The Vlotwatering Bridge was completed in the beginning of October 2015.
More information about the project: http://www.nextarchitects.com/en/projects/vlotwatering_bridge?c=bridges

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

CCTV for bat surveying and monitoring

In my work as a wildlife photographer I have met many bat specialists and have often sympathised with the amount of antisocial night work involved in surveys. As my background is in physics and engineering, I have always found technology exciting, and have combined my interests to develop a portable CCTV system for bat roost monitoring that can reduce the need for human presence during emergence and dawn swarming surveys or bat monitoring near roosts.

 Barbastelle bats dawn swarming

The portable system I have developed works well in woodland, but can be used in buildings or caves. If mains power is present, there is even more flexibility and the possibility of obtaining HD quality videos. With power and internet availability it is even possible to view remotely.
I have used trail cameras for many years as a way of establishing the presence of wildlife, and reducing the time spent looking for it, but became frustrated with the lack of flexibility and the generally unsatisfying image quality of night videos. This led to me researching CCTV as a method of wildlife monitoring. In order to test out systems in natural environments, I joined Natural England on Dartmoor as a volunteer.
The possibility of using a CCTV system for bat monitoring was always in my mind and it became apparent that, as there was no power, internet or suitable mobile phone signal in the study area, I would have to develop a portable CCTV system that could work reliably and withstand the uncertain weather in a Dartmoor woodland.
Portable CCTV systems for wildlife are not common, except in the large expensive forms used in major projects, so I had to start from scratch. Although the basics of a CCTV system are straightforward, consisting of camera, recorder and power source, finding suitable, reliable equipment is not easy. Small details can mean the difference between success and failure, but I did eventually achieve success.
The Natural England team at Yarner Wood on Dartmoor are part of the Moor than Meets the Eye project, and I was interested to discover that, as part of the project, the Woodland Trust was carrying out research on Barbastelle bats in the Bovey Valley with a PhD student from Bristol University. Luckily the team were interested in my CCTV system and willing to allow me to test it alongside their research. In addition to the CCTV camera, an SM2 bat recorder was set up to identify the bats seen on video. One big advantage of CCTV is that only infrared light is used and there is no bat disturbance. All UK bat species and their roosts are legally protected and should never be disturbed in any way. The biggest advantage, however, is that equipment setup, data collection and analysis takes place during the day and does not involve night work.
One of the roosts being studied was a Barbastelle maternity roost which was within range of the CCTV camera without tree climbing being necessary. Unfortunately the day before the camera was to be set up at the end of July, the bats vacated the roost, and it looked like the CCTV project would fail before it started. However, as Barbastelle bats are known to switch roosts frequently, it was decided to leave the equipment set up until the end of September and hope that the bats would return.
The results were surprising and exciting and yielded a large number of interesting videos. Although the main colony did not return, throughout the period studied there were regular inspection visits to the roost, together with interesting behaviour that was not fully understood.  A large proportion of the visits did not appear to have calls associated with them at all.
In July and August, Barbastelle bats visited, but in September Long-eared bats were frequently seen on video, easily distinguished by the ears and the hovering flight:




The CCTV system performed reliably and gave some excellent quality videos.  The initial hope of an occasional video was greatly surpassed, despite there being no large colony using the tree as a day roost.
Because of the success of the pilot study, a more formal research project was proposed in order to study the call structure of Barbastelle bats in more detail. The research is taking place at present, using portable CCTV as before, together with two SM4 Wildlife Acoustics recorders. Because it is possible to see the bats as well as record their calls, one aim of the project is to measure how calls vary with activity. Another aim is to investigate if there are ‘silent’ visits. Because the roost was occupied by a Barbastelle colony for the first few weeks, there is an opportunity to study behaviour and call structure before and after roost occupation.
CCTV equipment costs less than bat recorders, the only major cost being in battery power for a portable system. I visit the site twice a week to change batteries and SD cards. This level of activity ensures that data analysis remains exciting and avoids the tedium of trawling though weeks of videos and bat calls. It also allows regular synchronisation of bat detectors and video recorder, both of which can drift in time.
Details of equipment and set up can be found in my book CCTV for Wildlife Monitoring (Pelagic Publishing). The book also give details of many other wildlife CCTV applications. For those less technically oriented I give courses for those willing to travel to Devon.
For further information:
www.cctvwildlifemonitoring.co.uk  (A new site under development)

Susan Young

Monday, 8 August 2016

How you can slightly adjust your life to be more bat-friendly

There are many reasons to want to help bats, not least because it’s actually very easy! British bats are crucial to our ecosystems as they can eat over 3,000 insects a night! Large flying foxes in tropical regions help to pollinate fruits and spread seeds to ensure rainforests regenerate and are sustainable. And bat poop, called guano, is highly valued and effective fertiliser. Bats are also amazing subjects to research, echolocation could offer help to the blind and a blood thinning chemical, used by a small number of species of vampire bats, has the potential to form the basis of new medical discoveries!
                One of the easiest ways to help bats is in your garden. British bats feed only on insects (some species will also eat the occasional spider), so a sure fire way to make your garden bat-friendly is to make it insect-friendly first. Plants that flower at night will attract insects at times when bats are feeding. Building a pond, making a compost heap and planting some wild flowers are also great ways of attracting insects into your garden. Wild About Gardens Week is a great way to showcase your gardening abilities and find out more about how to make your garden a bat haven. To be in with a chance of winning our plant a bat feast’ photo competition, take a photo of your plant-display and email it to lmanchester@wildlifetrusts.org any time before November 6th!
Many species of bat are put off gardens by bright artificial lights (http://www.bats.org.uk/pages/bats_and_lighting.html), especially those that are shining on roosts, access points and flight paths, so reducing these may result in a higher number of bats occupying your garden. However, there are some British bat species, such as Leisler’s bats, that feed on the insects that are attracted to street lamps.
Putting up a bat box is another relatively easy way to help bats in your garden. You can buy one or make it yourself. Visit our website to find out more about installing a bat box. Some species love bat boxes, whereas others tend not to use them. It can take a few years for bats to move in, so this method of making your garden bat-friendly requires patience. You could also create linear features, such as hedgerows or tree lines. Bats use hedges as hunting grounds and as routes to follow to get to other hunting grounds. 
Another piece of advice to cat owners, try and limit the time that your cat is out when bats are out. Cat attacks are one of the most common cause of bat fatalities; it is estimated that over 30% of rescued bats in the UK have been attacked by cats. More than half of the bats that have been attacked die as a result. If a bat has been caught by a cat it will almost certainly be injured.  Even if you cannot see any obvious injuries there is a great risk of internal infection from the cat's saliva. Furthermore, cats will often learn where a bat roost is and catch bats as they leave the roost, putting a whole colony at risk. If your cat does catch a bat, please call the National Bat Helpline on 0345 1300 228. To avoid bats being killed or injured you are encouraged to bring your cat indoors half an hour before sunset and keep it in all night between April and October. If it is not possible for your cat to be in all night, bring it in half an hour before sunset and keep it in for an hour after sunset

British bats are insectivores, meaning that they feed on insects. This means that pesticides and insecticides can inadvertently harm bats. Insecticides are used in agriculture, industry and domestically and can help explain the rise in agricultural productivity in the 20th Century. However, they have been found to weaken bats’ immune systems, thus making them more vulnerable to diseases, such as White Nose Syndrome. Moreover, during migration or winter hibernation bats may have toxic levels of pesticide concentrations in their brains. This may cause bat populations to drop, which will mean that even more insecticides are required to make up for all the insects that bats would have eaten. You can help to combat this by buying organic products that aren’t made using pesticides and eliminating the use of pesticides in your personal garden.
Honduran White Bats (c) Shirley Thompson
Adjusting your purchasing habits is also a great way of helping bats nationally and internationally. Bats account for over half of the mammal species that are found in tropical rainforests. This means that bats are vulnerable to deforestation. Bats can be highly sensitive to disturbances, such as habitat destruction and/or fragmentation. For example, when a hibernating bat is disturbed, its body temperature spikes upward in preparation for escape, costing as much as a month of stored fat reserve. Not only does rainforest destruction harm the local bats, but it leads to an acceleration of climate change, which harms ecosystems and bats around the world. There are many ways that you can change your eating and purchasing decisions to help avoid deforestation, for example by switching to a diet that relies less on animal agriculture and palm oil consumption. However, animal agriculture has increased vampire bat populations, as vampire bats feed mostly on farm animals in tropical regions Another solution is to be recycled products, which require less timber.

If you would like to do even more to help bats, be sure to visit BCT’s website (www.bats.org) to donate, volunteer or fundraise. If you are in the UK, we would encourage you to contact your local bat group (http://www.bats.org.uk/pages/local_bat_groups.html). Outside the UK there are a number of other organisations such as Bat Conservation International, BatLife Europe (made up of a number of organisations), Bat Conservation Ireland, Bats without Borders and African Bat Conservation

by Angharad Hopkinson, BCT comms intern (@an_gary_)


Monday, 27 June 2016

The NBMP 20 years on: Still the most fun you can have in the dark.

by By Dr Allyson Walsh, Cambridge University

In the beginning
Last night I went out and counted bats. All two of them. It was a classic NBMP evening. The rain in the Welsh marches was stuck in a repeat cycle of heavy, to light to nothing and back again in the period leading up to the count. The dreary weather provoked much debate about cancelling or going ahead, but as several of us had gathered from near and far at a significant sized roost, we opted to “Carry On Batting” in the damp. We were rewarded with a count of over 200 bats from our particular building (though not through my allocated exit to count!). The twist in this particular evening was this was the first time I have been out on an NBMP count since leaving England almost 15 years ago.

Twenty years on and still going strong makes me proud. Very proud. And given it’s EU referendum month, it may be an opportune time to reminisce on the main driver behind setting up the NBMP. It was the EU. The program was designed to directly address pressure to fulfill the UK Government’s obligations to conserve bats under European Directives, in particular the EU Habitats and Species Directive, and the Agreement on the Conservation of Bats in Europe (under the Bonn Convention). Beneath the legislative veneer however lies the important point that robust information on trends in bat populations at a range of geographic scales is essential to the long-term conservation of bats.

The BCT team from the early days


Time Proof Design 
Our world is a dynamic place, and time proofing any monitoring framework is not easy.
In exploring designs for the programme, one of our main challenges was that we knew technologies would change through time, and we would need to be able to adaptively manage this over the long term. Our goal was not to conduct a Roman style census count of every single bat, but instead to be able to compare population indices across years and look for responses to a multiplicity of factors, including climate, changing over time. Consultations with key RSPB personnel and statistician Steve Langton helped myself and my colleagues Colin Catto, Paul Racey and Tony Hutson reach consensus on a sampling based strategy to minimise bias and maximise precision, using methods that were the best available to us at the time. Sometimes starting is the biggest hurdle in project development, and we were keen to see the UK lead the way in Europe.

Citizen Superheroes
As I have watched the progression of the NBMP from the other side of the pond, I have found it remarkable, that so many citizen scientists contribute to NBMP and that so many collaborators have joined in partnership to fund the program and keep its momentum going (Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Natural England, Natural Resources Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage. Bat Conservation Ireland contributes Northern Ireland bat records collated by the Irish Bat Monitoring Programme which is funded by the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland Environment Agency). Perhaps the secret to it is in the social nature of the program. Inviting your friends over for a BBQ and bat count is certainly a unique evening’s entertainment. Or perhaps the secret is the nurturing team at BCT (notably Dr. Kate Barlow) who have continued to lead the programme, providing regular feedback to, and cherishing, volunteers. Or perhaps the magi lies with the simple mystery and love of bats. One of my future hopes is that we can quantify the social networks and wider conservation benefits of NBMP citizen science members, as I personally know many people who started out as volunteers who have carried on to invigorate local bat group bat work, initiate spin-off conservation projects, or progress into conservation careers themselves. To me, this will always remain a big success of this program, equally as important as the big data.
Allyson Walsh out with an early design detector


Back to the Future
Looking forward, where would I like NBMP to be in 20 years time? Having filled in paper forms in the drizzle last night, it goes without saying that a shift to an App based system for data recording would be a positive goal. But ultimately, rather than being the harbinger of bad or good news, I would like to see the NBMP increasingly utilized as a springboard for conservation action. Knowledge and choice gives us power. The power to make evidence based decisions and chose a different future.  It is more than likely that monitoring programs like the NBMP, designed to attain a high degree of scientific rigor in the hands of the public as well as capture and kept the attention of non-scientists, will become more prevalent in our future. And I am hopeful for this future.

My hope stems from one of my fondest memories of the NBMP. One day I received a phone call from a lady with her knickers on her head. She explained to me that she had done her washing and grabbed a pair for protection because there were bats flying around the utility room inside her home, She explained she didn’t want them getting stuck in her hair. After explaining to her that she was safe (and hence could remove the knickers from her head), and what to do about the bats, our discussion then progressed to all about bats and their conservation status. By the end of the phone conversation, she had agreed to count her bats as part of the NBMP! Probably one of the biggest impacts you can make in conservation is to influence people’s mindsets and behavior, and participating in the NBMP opens up a plethora of opportunities to do just that. So if you are wavering on whether to go out in the to do that final NBMP count of the season - please do Carry On Batting!

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Power of Light by Neil Wyatt

As both an environmentalist and an amateur astronomer, I always take my bat detector with me when I spend a night imaging the stars. But sadly there are two things that limit the pleasure I get from my hobbies – clouds, which I can’t do much about, and light pollution. I live near the edge of a medium-sized town, and looking north there are virtually no stars visible in the orange soup of the sky. To the south-west a few factories don’t help either, but I have a wedge in the sky to the south where I can get some reasonable views and pictures. But if I want to see or photograph faint objects, I have to drive to darker skies.



When you are out bat-watching, how often do you see more than a handful of stars, let alone the Milky Way?

So, I’ve decided to try and get something done to help rescue our dark skies, and am one of a number of people championing a petition to Government asking for action to be taken on light pollution.

The petition now stands at nearly 7,000 signatures, but we need at least 3,000 more over the next few weeks if we are to get a response from the Government. Such a response will be a valuable point on which future campaigning can be built. The petition is at


As I am sure bat group members are particularly aware, light pollution doesn’t just drown out the stars. It has a profound effect on wildlife by affecting the daily behaviour patterns of many species including bats, birds and many mammals. The impacts of street lighting on moths, by attracting them out of woodland areas and making them vulnerable to predation and possibly impacting on bat feeding patterns have been well documented. I have heard blackbirds singing at midnight and seen birch trees that haven’t dropped their leaves all winter - because of light pollution!

Light pollution can also disturb the sleep patterns of humans and cause anxiety, and recent research has shown even more worrying health effects from the disturbance to people’s body clocks.

But the most striking effect is how light pollution robs us all of the magnificence of truly dark skies and the sight of natural wonders like the Milky Way.

The answer is not a ban on all lighting, but serious action to make sure the right types of light are used and in the right places. For example, new LED lights are very efficient, but their light is harder to filter out and the high blue content has a bigger impact on the melatonin levels that control the body clocks of people and animals.

Please show your support by signing the petition and passing on the message to your friends -  we have been suing thr hashtag #NightBlight, which also links to the CPRE’s impressive maps of light pollution in the UK  It’s an important step towards achieving change.


Thank you.

Further information: