What are bats?
Bats (Chiroptera) are mammals that have evolved to fly. Our interest is mostly in British bats (MicroChiroptera). There are 16 resident species of bat in Britain, making up a third of our land mammal species. They feed on flying insects especially flies, midges, mosquitoes and gnats; and they avoid predators by hunting just after dusk and sometimes before dawn (they are 'crepuscular'). Bats are warm blooded, so prefer warm conditions, and they hibernate when it is cold. Bats are not harmful to humans in any way, so don't worry if a bat flutters past you. Even if they roost in the loft space of your house they will do no harm, and lots of good in protecting your roof from woodworm!
If you have concerns about a bat or bat colony in your area
contact the bat helpline.
Bats are a protected species and it is against the law to:
- Deliberately capture, injure or kill a bat
- Intentionally or recklessly disturb a bat in its roost or deliberately disturb a group of bats
- Damage or destroy a bat roosting place (even if bats are not occupying the roost at the time)
- Possess or advertise/sell/exchange a bat (dead or alive) or any part of a bat
- Intentionally or recklessly obstruct access to a bat roost
There are good reasons for our concern about bats. In the same way that canaries were once used to detect gas in mines, by monitoring bat populations we can get an early warning of problems in our environment. Bats are important as a predator on insects, making the countryside a much more pleasant place to be out in! A roost of our commonest bats, pipistrelles, will eat about three million gnats in a month! They are lovely inoffensive harmless creatures and our countryside would be a poorer place without them.
Our bat populations are under threat from many factors in our environment
- Loss of habitat
- Loss of food
- Loss of roosting sites
- Light pollution
- Climate change
Blind as a bat?
Although their sight is quite good, bats use sonar to help them navigate around obstacles and locate their prey in the dark. The bat makes a loud noise, at a pitch above our hearing range. (Long eared bats have super sensitive hearing and so can use quieter sounds.) The reflected sound is interpreted by the bat to form a very accurate "snapshot" of its surroundings. As the bat approaches an obstacle, or its prey, it calls faster and faster. We can transform the sound from the bat to a lower pitch with a bat detector, so that we can hear it.
How and where to watch bats
The ideal site to observe bats is near a pool or slow moving stream through woodland. Hedgerows, country lanes and clearings or woodland rides are also good. Villages can also be good if there is a lot of vegetation and plenty of roost sites. Street lights attract moths so you will often find bats hunting there. Remember bats eat insects so if you are getting pestered by midges there will be bats around!