Bat Appreciation Day
What is Bat Appreciation Day?
For this year's Bat Appreciation Day, we've decided to put together this ultimate guide to bats to help us all appreciate our misunderstood flying friends a little better. This guide will highlight just how significant bats are to a healthy ecosystem and why they need our support and protection.
The Bat's image has improved considerably in recent years as people know more about these fascinating, delicate animals. The only mammals who can truly fly, bats perform a valuable service by controlling populations of midges, mosquitoes and other insects. It is perfectly natural for bats to fly around at dusk as they forage for flying insects.
Bat populations in the UK have declined considerably over the last century. Habitat loss has played a large part in this decline of numbers. Changes in the countryside due to new agricultural practices and construction has led to a significant loss of big old trees, hedgerows and disused buildings such as old barns and other structures.
There are, of course, many things we can do to help protect our native bat populations here in the UK. Some of the most beneficial changes are the simplest that we can all do in our gardens and outdoor spaces. Providing food sources and habitats for bats is easier than ever with specially built bat boxes and wildflower mixes to attract the insects that bats eat.
Why are bats important?
Bats play an essential role in many environments around the world. Some plants depend partly or wholly on bats to pollinate their flowers or spread their seeds, while other bats also help control pests by eating insects. Some bats are 'indicator species' in the UK because changes to these bat populations can indicate changes in biodiversity aspects. Bats might suffer when there are problems with insect populations (because our bats feed on insects) or when habitats are destroyed or poorly managed (for example, some bats only live in extensive woodlands).
Here in the UK, we have 18 species of Bat in total. The one you're most likely to spot is the pipistrelle bat. A small brown bat weighing just 5 grams can eat thousands of insects in just one night. Their diets is one of the reasons bats are known as biodiversity indicators. Having a good-sized population of bats in an area is likely to indicate a healthy, diverse, insect-filled environment, which is beneficial for not just bats!
Where do bats live?
Bats live in roosts during the day. These roosts differ with the seasons, and bats will often move around to find roosts that meet the conditions they require. Many bats will shelter inside. We currently have bats living on the roof of our farmhouse and a few of the barns. They find boards and rough surfaces to hang from inside, much like the surface that our Bat Rack hanging roost resembles. Some bats prefer caves and hollow trees and will use both at different times of the year.
In the winter, bats will seek out and use hibernation roosts. Bats do hibernate here in the UK, an extended period of inactivity or deep sleep that allows bats to survive harsh weather and cold winters. They live off on the fat they have stored up during the summer months and need to find roosts that remain at a constant, cool temperature. Usually underground at sites such as caves.
Two key facts to remember about bats roosting habits is that bats use structures that are already available as they do not construct roosts. And that bats do not bite, nibble or chew on wood, wires or other parts of your building. They are not rodents. Bats roost in all kinds of places around the UK, but usually, they stick to three common types: built structures, underground and in trees. However, more recently, they've taken up residence and started roosting in bat boxes.
What do bats eat?
Bats in the UK eat insects; each species varies in which insects and how they hunt them, but they all eat bugs! These insects range from lovely big juicy moths to tiny flies and midges. They will often catch the insects in flight and eat them on the go, only stopping to hang up when trying to gobble down larger prey. They all have to eat a lot to keep their energy up for flying. We can all do our bit to help out by planting wildflowers to help attract the insects that bats eat.
We haven't mentioned so far what time of day bats will catch these insects that they eat. You'll usually see, or hear, bats at dusk when they start to emerge from their roosts to eat. The insects they like to eat will often come out in numbers at night, in the dark. At night bats ears are more important than their sight. It's important to remember that bats aren't blind. They use echolocation to find and catch the insects they eat. They do this by making noisy sharp sounds and waiting for the returning echo to give them the information they need on the insect they're chasing. Including its size, shape and direction of travel. All of this they do whilst flying in the dark!
Are bats dangerous?
Bats always try to avoid contact with humans and other animals. Bats can bite, much like many other animals with teeth. But as they avoid human contact, this happens very rarely and usually when someone has handled the Bat directly. A bat found outside may be injured, grounded by a storm or pesticides, or ill. In these cases, the Bat Conservation Trust should be contacted for help.
According to the Bat Conservation Trust, "The only known zoonotic disease associated with bats in the UK is rabies caused by European Bat Lyssaviruses (EBLV). There are two known types: EBLV1 and EBLV2. These are not the classical rabies virus, which has never been found in a bat in Europe. EBLVs have only been found in a small number of bats in the UK. There is no risk if you do not handle bats."
Five fun bat facts!
Here are five unique and often unknown facts about bats;
- We have bats to thank for dates, vanilla, bananas, breadfruit, guavas, Iroko timber, balsa wood, sisal, Tequila and chewing gum! Bats have adapted and help pollinate these plants.
- The world's smallest bat is the Bumblebee Bat measuring up to 29 – 33 mm in length and weigh only 2 g as a full-grown adult.
- Bats are more closely related to humans than they are to mice.
- Bat droppings, called guano, are one of the richest fertilizers.
- Bats are the only true flying mammals in the world.
Which type bat box is best?
If you’d like to go that extra step and help provide a habitat for your local bats why not try putting up a bat box. We’re here to give you a guide on how to choose the right bat box, how to encourage more bats into your garden to roost and where best to put the bat box.
Bat boxes and racks are available in a few different varieties here at Wildlife World. There are simple single chamber bat boxes such as our Chavenage Bat Box. These can provide roosting for Pipistrelle, Serotine, Noctule and Leisler’s bats. Or you have the option of going for a double chamber bat box which offers a higher capacity for roosting bats. Such as our Original Bat Box and the Conservation Bat Box.
If you already have a nice sheltered, warm and dark space that would be perfect for roosting bats, much like the roof of a barn or large shed. Why not try putting up our Bat Rack for bats to use as a hanging roost.
How to put up a bat box?
With all bat boxes its best to fit them on a tree in your garden or in woodlands, a fence or onto your house wall, nice and high – up to around 5 metres but anything over 2 metres will suffice. All of our bat boxes at Wildlife World come with either recycled plastic (for long life) or FSC timber fixing plates or panels with holes for screws to make attaching the box to a wall, tree or fence as easy as possible. Position the box south facing to ensure it gets as much warmth as possible throughout the day to store overnight.
You could spend a few evenings beforehand in your garden noting whether you can see an existing feeding or flight route as you will be more likely to get occupation if you can see a lot of bats around already.
Once your bat box is up, it’s illegal to inspect it or disturb the bats without a licence. All British bats and their roosts are protected by UK law and it is an offence to handle or intentionally disturb a wild bat unless you possess the appropriate licence. These restrictions are vital to ensure these threatened small mammals are afforded as much protection as possible. If you’d like to know whether your bat box has a roosting resident look for any signs of bat droppings or keep an eye out at dusk to see if any bats are flying to and from the box.
For more information on looking after bats head over to the Bat Conservation Trust.
To see our full range of bat products click here.