A Bad Year for Humans but a Great One for Bats.

This year has been exceptionally difficult to manage all our countryside and wildlife projects with COVID-19 affecting all of our lives and normal practices. None more so than our bat conservation work throughout our local countryside.

 

 

One of the scores of bat boxes installed in our local woodlands.

 

In the months prior to the coronavirus ‘lock-down’ additional bat boxes had been purchased to install in another woodland in Hassocks. The well-insulated woodcrete boxes had arrived on a huge pallet delivered by lorry. All were prepared and numbered with labels ready for installation when we were suddenly halted by the national ‘lock-down’. They therefore remained exactly where they had been delivered for the whole summer, for when the ‘lockdown’ restrictions eased sufficiently for our group to resume activities, so many other tasks had been delayed and required our more urgent attention.

Work on these delayed projects were dealt with first but because of the tremendously high work effort that was necessary to deal with them, which often required 7 day working on a number of simultaneously occurring projects, we had to progress them on a basis of urgency. When all this hard work eventually permitted us to catch-up again we once again turned our attention to our local bat population.

 

 

Our bat populations are endangered and require our help to survive. We are committed to this objective. This is one of the many we found in boxes this year.

 

We began our initial bat inspections at the latter end of August in parallel with other projects. They were continued throughout September and were finally completed at the beginning of October.

The woodland locations where our bat boxes are installed are always carefully selected for suitability to maximise benefit to the local bat populations. These locations are spread throughout our local countryside and require a lot of volunteer effort to travel to and undertake.

 

 

A woodland view from one of our bat boxes high in a tree.

 

The timing and duration of these checks are usually difficult to fit into the ‘ideal window’ at the end of the summer when temperatures are still warm enough to sustain the insect populations which provide the food the bats depend upon. This is especially so when the autumn weather becomes wet and the number of suitable days within this period are lessened.

 

 

To obtain the best bat occupancy results checking has to be undertaken in suitable weather conditions. We were fortunate this year and this resulted in many like this one being found.

 

Due to the effort required and the time each woodland installation takes to check, only a single location can be completed on any one day. Often the formation of the teams of 3 to 5 people led by a licenced person required to undertake these are difficult, as they are restricted by the volunteers’ availability to attend several project days a week.

 

 

Teams of volunteers perform these vital checks.

 

The volunteers are essential to assist with the transportation of the sturdy multi-section ladders and equipment required over often very long distances. This year all the volunteers worked exceptionally hard in an effort to meet these demands, whilst often attending on other days in the same week to meet the requirements of our other conservation projects. This allowed the checks to be completed within the allotted timescale. We were undoubtedly helped by the initial warm, dry late summer days in achieving this.

 

 

Each box in the local countryside has to be visited and inspected.

  

The average time taken for each woodland to be checked ranged between 3 and 7 hours depending on the number of boxes installed. The checks on each box included recording all resident bats, cleaning out any old birds nests, clearing out hornets/wasp cones, old droppings, spiders webs, earwigs, slugs or any other insects occupying them to enable future occupation by bats. All the boxes and fixings are also checked for security or damage.

 

 

Hornet’s cones are often found in boxes.

 

With each box erected at a lofty height in the woodland tree canopy to provide maximum suitability for bats, a multi-section ladder is required. This has to be a heavy duty one to ensure safe working at the high heights required. Normally the erection of the 3 ladder sections are shared by members of the team to manoeuvre around tree branches, trunk protrusions and very awkward trunk configurations.

This year with all volunteers observing the Government’s social distancing rules, all tasks had to be performed with this in mind . This meant individuals travelling separately to each location and work-spacing apart. This made the ladder erection the sole task of a single person which obviously took much longer and was more taxing. Normally 2 or 3 individuals stand together at the foot of the ladder with one person holding the ladder away from the trunk while another person extends it upwards.

 

In previous years a ladder was extended with another person holding it away from the tree and any obstructions. 

 

 

To meet this year’s coronavirus requirements ladder erection was left to one person in each working party.

 

 

The heavy sections first had to be placed together and assembled….

 

 

…then each section was raised as far as possible against the tree.

 

 

Each section had to be manoeuvred over the trunk obstructions and around branches.

 

 

When one section had been extended as far as possible the next one had to be raised as far as arms could stretch…

 

 

…while still trying to ensure the ladder didn’t slide off the tree whilst being raised and tilted around obstructing branches. Watching both ends of the ladder simultaneously proved very difficult and guidance had to be sought from watching volunteers.

 

 

With this activity at each tree requiring so much effort it was a relief to eventually climb up to the box.

 

The whole activity is risk assessed and safety equipment is offered to all attendees in accordance with their individual roles. Intelligent assessment, extreme care and common sense is applied in all situations and it works well.

 

 

A volunteer recorded results as each box was visited…

 

 

…and performed the vital safety role of standing on the bottom of the ladder while the check was carried out.

 

 

Our local woodlands contain scores of our bat boxes all requiring annual occupancy checks, cleaning and any maintenance required.

 

One large tree housing a box in one of the woodlands was found to have blown down but fortunately the box had not smashed. It was prised from under the fallen trunk and released from its fixing. A quick survey of the wood found another suitable tree with satisfactory bat access and it was re-mounted.

Our findings in terms of bats occupation were extremely good this year which made all the concentrated effort worthwhile. Further pictures illustrating the task this year are shown below together with some of the results achieved:-

 

 

Volunteers carrying ladder sections between trees…

 

 

…and clearing the ground of  troublesome bramble growth that prevented the ladder being placed into position.

 

 

For coronavirus safety reasons one person performed the ladder erection…

 

 

…with the other volunteers in close attendance to meet any need that arises.

 

 

Each box was carefully opened…

 

 

…while the checker was assisted as far as possible by other members of the team.

 

 

Once the box door was removed…

 

 

…the interior was examined for residents.

 

 

The findings included a cluster of common pipistrelle bats discovered roosting in this box…

 

 

…with this one housing a soprano pipistrelle.

 

 

This was one of a number of common pipistrelle bats clustered in a further box…

 

 

…with another box containing a lively individual that immediately moved towards the open door.

 

 

All bats found, as this one, have care applied and if necessary are moved away when the door is replaced to ensure that there is no chance of them getting a limb trapped in it.

 

 

Some boxes were found to house lone bats…

 

 

…while others contained larger groups.

 

 

This box in a northern woodland contained a Natterer’s Bat. The Natterer’s bat is a medium-sized bat which feeds on midges, moths and other flying insects that they find in the dark by using echolocation. They often  forage on the spiders and beetles in the foliage of trees growing in the semi-natural broad-leaved woodland and also on insects along tree-lined rivers and ponds. They additionally use grassland habitats where they can sometimes be seen flying very low over the ground. Their flight is relatively slow.

 

 

The woodland where this bat was found has historically been favoured by several different species of bats as it skirts a large expanse of water which encourages a high insect presence for them to feed on. Although not rare, Natterer’s bats are less common than many others and their habitats in the UK merit protection. The additional presence of this species of bat in our boxes is some reward for the extremely hard work that we expend each year to support our local bat populations.

 

 

Yet another gathering of common pipistrelles utilising one of the roosts we have provided for them.

 

These are sample pictures of the volunteer effort required this year and some of the bats found in a very encouraging season. It has been the best year for box occupancy since 2009 when they were first erected to Bat Conservation Trust guidelines. The measures we have in place are assisting the bats to survive and flourish in a world that has pushed them into becoming endangered species. It is also a reward for all the hard work that we expend on them.

At the end of our inspections in early October we then turned our attention to the erection of the bat boxes we had purchased at the beginning of the year for a new woodland location. We are always trying to increase our support for endangered species and these would obviously boost the number and coverage of boxes we had already provided around our local countryside.

We assembled a team of 3 volunteers who worked together to enable the task to be completed within 5 hours, as the chosen day was the only dry one in a wet week. To achieve this they worked non-stop without any break for food. We are obviously very grateful to them all for their dedication to achieve the work as we are with all the excellent volunteers who have formed teams to help with bat box inspections this year and previous years.

 

 

The equipment and boxes were carried into the new wood where the first pre-selected tree was situated.

 

 

The ladder was raised to the required height and the installation began.

 

 

This woodland contained ideal habitat conditions and access routes from the outside and within.

 

 

The heavy boxes were carried with care up the ladder with the tools required to mount them.

 

 

Each ladder site was pre-cleared of brush vegetation by the volunteers to allow the ladder to be manoeuvred into position and enable a safe footing to be established.

 

 

In addition to the care was that was taken to ensure a firm footing for the ladder, one of the hard-hatted volunteers stood on the bottom rung while the box was fixed and handed up any additional items required.

 

 

At the lofty height chosen for the box and whilst juggling the heavy tools required to fix it using both hands, these safety precautions were essential.

 

 

When completed the ladder was removed leaving the box available for future bat occupation.

 

 

These precautions were followed for every selected location…

 

 

…regardless of the ground incline or wet or dry soil conditions.

 

 

Clearance below each box location was required…

 

 

…as was the removal of impeding foliage above to allow clear flight paths to and from the boxes.

 

 

A lot of attention was given to provide perfect conditions for box occupation to maximise the survival prospects of our endangered local bat populations.

 

 

The ground here was undulating, providing a ‘hill and valley’ woodland landscape. The volunteers performed magnificently in carrying ladder sections with one person on each end, up and down the slippery slopes and succeeded in transporting the equipment required to each of the selected trees without any mishap. Each demonstrated the personal interest and enthusiasm required to achieve this wildlife conservation initiative which is vital to bat survival in an increasingly hostile world.

Our group is reliant on its supporters and volunteers to continue our conservation success and we currently have some great people supporting our work in whatever way they can, so we thank them all. Any other people interested in helping us have only to contact us by using the link on this website. Additional help is always welcome.