Monday, 12 January 2015

In this post, we speak to environmental consultant Adrian Woodhall from AWEcology. Adrian has been a member of Bat Conservation Trust since 2011. He founded AWEcology the same year after a long career in property, conservation management and ecology with a variety of land owners including the National Trust. Adrian also volunteers his time as a bat surveyor on the NBMP Daubenton's and barbastelle surveys, and helped out at the Bat Conservation Trust stand at Birdfair 2014.


Q. How did you get into bats? Can you remember the first time that you saw a bat? 

When I was a kid we stayed on a heathland caravan site in Suffolk- I can remember bats flying round at dusk and realising they were different to the normal birds you would see. So it sparked an interest but it was not until I was managing SSSI sites in north Somerset with limestone caves that I started to deal with bats on a more regular basis- these were mainly lessor horseshoes using the cave entrances for roosting- these were low caves so it was easy to see a bat. I then joined Somerset Bat Group and helped do surveys in many fantastic roost sites- we also had talks from researchers looking at bat behaviour and habitats so my interest just grew

Q. Do you have a favourite bat species? Why is it your favourite?

I have no favourite species but I have had some fantastic experiences dealing with a number of species- lessor horseshoes emerging from a cellar along a narrow passageway not caring that I took up half the space- just flew round me; serotines emerging from under roof tiles and flying along a hedge- these are big bats when up close and you ‘duck’ when they fly towards you! Noctules displaying is always interesting as they swoop and dive at dusk…

Q. What’s the best and worst thing about being an environmental consultant? 

Best thing I am doing something I have found interesting since I was a teenager, and the other consultants I deal with (mostly) have a passion for wildlife and helping it. Worst thing is dealing with people who are following the law but resent it every inch of the way- very difficult to find common ground when there is little empathy with the subject. It does get good though when you thought the builders you are dealing with are going to be difficult but then turn round to you and suggest very simple things to enhance a roost

Q. What is the most obscure place that you’ve found bats? 

I was working for another consultant on a re-entry survey last summer- I tracked a pip55 flying round one side of the barn, and then she tracked it re-entering between two bricks about 2m above the ground on her side- absolutely nothing round the entrance to indicate this was a roost but the bat got into the space through a gap about 11mm wide and flew straight in without circling round! It just indicates how aware bats are of their own environments if they can do something this skilful in one take.

Q. Aside from bats, which species do you also frequently get asked to survey?

I have surveyed newts quite a bit and regularly help out on reptile surveys- always interesting as you never know what will be under the mats!

Q. What in your opinion is the greatest challenge facing bats?

It looks like many populations are starting to stabilize after large falls in size. This is great but I hope that we continue to help landowners manage land for many purposes- food production is very important but there are good husbandry techniques such as allowing hedges and headlands that give locations for bats to feed, but also give space for other wildlife. It would be so easy just to treat most land, apart from highly designated areas, as ‘industrial farmland’ to the detriment of us all. I also think the licence system is having a number of challenges at the moment- anything devised has got to be workable for bats, and for people, as it is obvious to me that if the system is too hard and takes too long some people will at best bypass the system, and at worse, just do what they want with little chance of getting caught if a protected species has got in the way.


Adrian's website can be found here



Thursday, 4 December 2014

Tragic stories about bats in Australia have been reported in the news over the last couple of weeks. We spoke to Tiere Thorpe from Sydney Wildlife...
©Sarah Thorpe


By Tiere Thorpe (tt.yeah@gmail.com)

Volunteer – Flying Fox rescuer and rehabilitator


The Casino Heat Stress Event – November 2014

©Sarah Thorpe
The small town of Casino is in northern New South Wales. The extreme heatwave saw temperatures soar up to 44C which was deadly for our Black Flying Foxes and Grey Headed Flying Foxes that were roosting there. The timing was simply awful as most mature females had pups under wing, as the birthing season is always late spring (around mid October). These babies are totally dependent on their mother’s milk and as such mothers and babies were the most vulnerable to heat stress. As the heat increased, the flying fox camp became littered with dead bodies. A systematic search through the piles of dead, revealed some live pups still clinging to their dead mums. These have been taken into care by wildlife carers along the Eastern Coast of NSW and in the Sydney basin, deeply haunted by mass death but who care about the life and death of these important yet persecuted species.


Q. How many bats are you currently looking after?

©Sarah Thorpe
Across Sydney, there are over 200 baby flying foxes in care at present. Most of these are from the Casino Heat Stress event. There are also local rescues occurring each week, some orphaned pups and many adults from misadventure into powerlines, backyard fruit netting, and car accidents, chemical poisoning and raptor attacks. With so many flying foxes in our care facilities, it can be hard to keep track of ‘who is who in the zoo’. It’s all about the latest fashion of course.... coloured thumb rings and painted toe nails help us with identification and individual treatment plans.

Q. How do you look after pups in your care?

 Flying fox pups that come into our care are usually hypothermic / hyperthermia, often have a maggot load, some abrasions and are emotionally traumatised.  Many babies have witnessed their mum’s terrifying and often tragic struggle to survive whether it is from entanglement, power line electrical current or hyperthermia from extreme weather events. The first couple of hours in our care is vital and needs to be handled correctly to stabilise the pup and set it on the road to recovery and ultimately release. Hydration is a key aspect to our initial and ongoing care, as is setting up a routine with consistent foster parents. Flying foxes are not lactose intolerant like many mammals. We feed them full cream cow’s milk with added calcium and glucose supplements.
©Sarah Thorpe

At around 6 weeks of age, we introduce fruit to increase the pup’s carbohydrate intake, assist in their growth and to provide enrichment to these smart little guys. Always trying to imitate nature, this is offered late in afternoon and evening to encourage nocturnal behaviour. It would be next to impossible to provide them with a natural diet of nectar, pollen and native fruits. Apples and pears are a mainstay for the pups with the occasional melon and grapes added in for variety. Unfortunately this predominately fruit diet takes up a large proportion of our donations. Australian flying foxes have a largely liquid diet and they have evolved to pulp the fruit between their tongue and rigid palate, extract the juice and discarding the fruit pulp. Aside from addressing the never ending appetite of our little charges, we must clean and sun our pups everyday as mum would in the wild. All this is done in a nurturing bond that forms between the foster parent and the pup. Just like human children, without love these little ones fail to thrive.

©Sarah Thorpe
As foster parents we are always looking to imitate nature, we notice that in the wild young pups (under 4 weeks old) spend almost all their time attached to mums nipple and grasping her body with their little feet.  Staying attached to mum is very important.  As foster parents we provide mumma rolls (imitating mums body) for the pup’s feet to grip and a dummy or pacifier (a substitute nipple). These two simple things considerably reduce stress levels for a pup in our care, helping them feel safe and secure.

A busy 12 weeks will pass quickly and our pups will be weaned off milk and onto fruit and ready for the next stage of rehabilitation – crèche. This is where we provide the right environment amongst other flying foxes minus our emotional involvement. Hopefully by this stage our pups are becoming emotional independent and confident. They will spend a few weeks with other like-minded, self assured pups as human contact begins to withdraw and their innate behaviours emerge – washing and toileting themselves, socialising and nocturnal food seeking behaviours. This is the time when our volunteers work extremely hard, chopping copious amounts of fruit to fill little growing bellies (up to 400g per night per bat).

©Sarah Thorpe

Q. What are the chances of young orphaned bats survival once they are released?

©Sarah Thorpe
The timing of release of our hand-reared orphans is critical to their survival and integration into the wild colony and fortunately based on science.  A three year tracking study of hand-reared orphans released at the Gordon release facility in Sydney was published by Augee & Ford in 1999. This provides guidelines for a successful release and integration into the wild flying fox colony. Another observation made was that in early February the older wild males are seen taking the youngster out of the camp in the early evening to teach foraging and navigational skills. Our aim is always to get our youngster out into the colony to coincide with these brief but necessary excursions.  With our release protocols based on the above study, our hand-raised pups have a very high chance of survival.

M.L Augee and Denise Ford (1999) Radio-tracking Studies of Grey-headed Flying-foxes, Pteropus poliocephalus, from the Gordon Colony, Sydney.

Q. Apart from the current heat wave what other challenges do bats in Australia face?

There are many factors forcing our flying foxes to become increasingly urbanised, placing them in zones of conflict and terror as they attempt to co-exist with humans.
Evidence makes it very clear that our flying foxes preferred diet is myrtaceae flowers and forest fruit. However, with the increasing clearing of native vegetation and the replacement with commercial crops, we now see increased conflict between farmers and flying foxes. Despite the fact that our flying foxes provide an amazing free ecosystem service, recent political and legal changes (2012) have reduced protection for these vulnerable species. The Queensland and NSW Governments have reintroduced shooting permits allowing orchardist to inhumanly cull these animals.
Habitat clearance also has another effect – it increases the distance between native food sources and hems in flying fox populations, forcing them to look for other food sources locally. We have seen this recently in Sydney, just before spring flowering. We had many rescued flying foxes suffering from starvation, especially pregnant females, juveniles and the elderly who have lower fat reserves and the inability to fly greater distances.
Local governments also have power to disperse flying fox colonies and destroy their roost sites without assessment or accountability. These regular dispersals are undertaken using sound, smoke, helicopters and any stress-inducing method to unsettle the flying foxes from their habitat trees. The dispersal procedure is ongoing and expensive and despite research showing it is an unsuccessful short or long term control mechanism – sadly it is still used!

Q. How can members of the public help with the current tragedy?

Donations are always very welcome. Sydney Wildlife does not receive any funding from the government. We rely solely on donations from members of the public and the generosity of our wildlife volunteers who are all unpaid. Our flying fox rehabilitation is a costly process, requiring an ongoing commitment from a small but dedicated group of bat carers within the organisation. The current Heat Stress victims from Casino have many injuries including ongoing hydration issues, organ damage, skin abrasions, eye ulcers and wing membrane damage. Any financial assistance given to the flying foxes always goes straight to their daily care and medical expenses.
©Sarah Thorpe

We are able to take heat stress donations via the Tolga bat hospital
http://www.tolgabathospital.org/

We are also listed on the Global Giving website (globalgiving.org ‘Help Baby Bats Take Flight’) where there is a regular update for those who donate and become part of our commitment to help this vulnerable species.

Be a flying fox advocate – educate members of the public about the importance of flying foxes as keystone species: no other animal does their job; in fact the survival of many animals relies on flying foxes to do their job each night. They are long range pollinators and seed disperser of many Australian coastal trees and these gentle night workers are absolutely essential to the health of our ecosystems and forests (as well as being incredibly cute and smart J). At the current rate of die-offs, we may sadly witness this species becoming functionally extinct in our generation. Functional extinction always precedes actual extinction.

©Sarah Thorpe


Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Bat Blog!

Chester University student Jemma Chesworth studied bats in her undergraduate project, and she shares her experience with us!

Hello!

I am a third year Animal Behaviour and Welfare student studying at Chester University. For my third year dissertation study I chose to study bats because although there are 17 breeding species of bats around the UK, many are rare or uncommon, and due to urbanisation they are becoming increasingly hard to spot. This was my chance to get up close and personal to these fascinating animals- the only true flying mammals!

I chose to do this study at Delamere Forest in Cheshire, as the land is vast, holding a variety of different mosses, wetlands and species of plants and trees. It is Cheshire’s largest area of woodland and a haven for wildlife. The Cheshire Wildlife Trust have been working alongside Delamere Forest to improve their wetlands by re-wetting some of the smaller areas. The aim of my study was to identify which wetland sites were preferred by bat populations. I chose 5 sites out of all the wetlands at Delamere Forest and studied for 5 days a week at each site, for a total of 5 weeks. The sites varied in how dense the surrounding woodland was, and how wetted the wetlands were. All of this was recorded, as well as the weather, the temperature, and the time of day. As bats are nocturnal I undertook my study each evening from 9:30pm onwards. I would record continuously at each site for one hour.




















The software I used was a Roland wave mp3 recorder R-05, which has a memory card slot to store all of the recordings, and a bat box duet so that I could listen to the high frequency calls.

Sitting in a dark forest was not appealing at first, it seemed scary, but I brought along my mum to sit in silence with me (with her phone turned off so the signal did not interfere with my bat box) and we both found it rather enjoyable.

Each of the five sites I visited fascinated me in different ways. At some sites I could hear more bats than others and the woodland scenery I was in was amazing. I enjoyed sitting in the silence watching the sunset and the bats slowly coming out as the darkness came in. I would see the occasional bat flying around but as it got darker I wouldn’t be able to follow them with my eyes anymore, so instead I just listened to them. Having one of my senses cut off pulled me into a new world. Listening more carefully to the sounds around me was surreal at first as hearing bat calls was something I had never done before. At some sites I could hear bats constantly flying overhead, and I also had a few near misses from bats colliding into me. At other sites however there was very little or no bat activity. Although I have not finished my study to reveal which species of bats there actually were, I believe to have found a Nathusius Pipistrelle which has not been recorded in Delamere Forest before. This will be confirmed when I have uploaded my data to the bat analysis software.

©Hugh Clark


I still have a long way to go before my project is finished, and I haven’t yet identified all of the bat species that I heard, and at which specific sites I could hear bats most frequently, but all of my data is now collected. I have been working alongside the Cheshire Wildlife Trust to help them to keep a close eye on their bat populations within Delamere Forest. I am hoping my study will provide a base project on how to attract more bats to woodlands in surrounding areas, and how to improve the other wetland sites at Delamere Forest to make them more bat friendly. I learned a lot more about bats that I ever thought I could, and I am hoping my study will inspire other people to help protect these amazing animals.


Jemma Chesworth

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

BATS AND CHURCHES

(reproduced with permission from Forest Group of Churches May Newsletter)

In the United Kingdom we have 18 species of bat, all are insectivorous and a great biodiversity indicator. A single bat can eat up to 3000 midges in one night making them an excellent natural insect controller, but unfortunately over recent years their populations have declined, making each roost important for future survival. Due to their decline, bats and their roosts are protected under European law with a roost defined as any place that a wild bat uses and is protected whether bats are present or not.



Churches have been enduring features of the British landscape and due to their structure have made excellent roosting opportunities for generations of bat populations, particularly in areas where alternative roosts are scarce. About 60% of pre-16th century churches contain bat roosts and we therefore play a pivotal role in securing the future for these fascinating creatures.

I have been attending Ray Lodge Church since a small child and am currently employed by Bat Conservation Trust on the National Bat Helpline. Because churches provide an important community for both ourselves and bats it is essential that each can live in harmony with the other. At Bat Conservation Trust, and on behalf of Natural England, churches may be eligible for a free bat roost visit carried out by volunteers. I recently accompanied a volunteer who visited a local church in Woodford Green as they wished to carry out porch refurbishment works. The church appreciated the service and from the subsequent advice a letter of consent was granted by the faculty for the works to be undertaken as the bats safety was ensured.



Numerous resources are available, so if your church requires assistance or seek information relating to bats please do contact me on the National Bat Helpline, 0845 1300 228 or alternatively by email djackson@bats.org.uk. Every church’s worship is unique and with our support we can help the future survival of this unique mammal species.

David Jackson
Bat Advice Officer
National Bat Helpline - Bat Conservation Trust

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

BCT Visit the RSPCA

Our Bat Care Network Co-ordinator Jess Barker recently visited the RSPCA's National Call Centre. Here she shares her experience with us...
‘The RSPCA invited me to visit their National Call Centre (NCC) in my first summer as Network Co-ordinator, but the increase in my workload somewhat knocked me for six, so it never happened. This year I was determined to make it happen! I’ve worked with very skilled individuals at the RSPCA throughout my career in animal welfare charities, and also at BCT, but I did go to the NCC with my view somewhat coloured by negative things I’d heard about advice and waiting times on their Helpline.

My day was split between shadowing staff on the phones, being shown around by David (one of the quality control managers) and giving two talks to NCC managers and staff on bats and the work of the Bat Helpline.  It took no time at all to be struck by two things: how gigantic the call volumes are, and how very committed the staff are to ensuring their advice is good and cases being prioritised appropriately.

The Bat Helpline handle in the region of 13,000 enquiries a year. By 10.45am on the day of my visit, the NCC had already taken 544 calls and would meet our yearly volume within a busy few days. On back to back calls call handlers were doing all the reassurance and advising that we do on the Helpline, but also facing far greater emotional strain from hearing descriptions of cruelty, and trying to assist aggressive callers. The range of calls is very wide, so call handlers have a knowledge base with snappy information on various topics, including a bat flowchart which was developed with BCT.

The ‘tasking’ teams pick up records of calls where further action is needed, and send cases out to staff in the field. I sometimes experience frustration at the realities of prioritising limited resources, but this is nothing compared to what the RSPCA face! To help keep RSPCA Inspectors for the cases where particular experience and authority is needed, the RSPCA also has Animal Collection Officers and Animal Welfare Officers, who can take on transport and assessment work.

Anyone who has worked in a call centre will be familiar with the call board which shows how many calls are waiting and for how long, turning red after the oldest call has been waiting for a certain length of time. The NCC have these, and knowing this helped me be patient a few weeks later when I called about a trapped cat. When David talked about ensuring call quality, you could tell he had a lot of faith in the call handlers and if there was any suggestion things had gone wrong he was going to do all he could to find the facts of the matter, as we do on the Bat Helpline. Every call handler has four calls monitored and scored a month to ensure advice is being given correctly, and all calls are recorded.

I came away from my day so impressed at the attitude of the staff, the workload they cope with and the tough decisions they make. Negative stories always seem to carry more weight, but following my experience of the NCC I’d ask anyone who hears one to balance it against the thousands of calls with positive outcomes that we don’t hear about.’

If you are worried about a bat, please call our Helpline on 0845 1300 228 and our helpline officers will advise you on what to do next.

The RSPCA Helpline is a 24-hour service for reports of mistreated, neglected, injured or distressed animals. Initial advice for those concerned about an animal is available via the RSPCA online chat service (http://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare).


Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Overcoming old attitudes at high altitude.

BCT member Caroline Ware shares her experiences of the ‘Living With Villagers’ project helping educate young people about bats in Nepal.

The main focus of my recent trips to Sankhuwasabha in eastern Nepal was not bats but the Himalayan giant nettle. This led me along a sinuous trail through the foothills of the Himalayas, to villages where the nettle is harvested and skilfully transformed into beautiful and functional cloth.

Along the nettle trail in Sankhuwasabha – Spinning nettle fibre
There were of course several amazing distractions along the way, such as a trip to Chitwan National Park where we saw rhinos, elephants, crocodiles and many exotic bird species. But when I asked about the bats found there, I was told that Nepalis do not spend time looking at nocturnal animals, in fact they regard people who do as ‘eccentric and inauspicious’. I didn’t ask again but continued my journey with bat detector at hand. Eventually I met someone who not only spends time watching nocturnal animals but who is working positively to change attitudes towards them.
Sanjan Thapa works with the Small Mammals Conservation and Research Foundation (SMCRF) in Kathmandu. His mission is to improve the survival of bats in his country, while at the same time pioneering work to classify them. There are 53 known bat species in Nepal and work is in progress to update and validate this list. Initial results have been published in Bats of Nepal, A SMCRF Field Guide, by Sanjan and his colleagues. Sanjan is now focusing on the taxonomy of four genera Pipistrellus, Eptesicus, Hypsugo and Myotis.

Hypsugo sp © Sanjan Thapa
Parallel to this taxonomic research, Sanjan is working on an educational and engagement project in the more remote areas of Nepal, because, as he says, ‘understanding and influencing people’s attitudes towards bats is the foundation of successful conservation’.
On the advice of Malcolm Pearch of the Harrison Institute (http://www.harrison-institute.org), I’d sent Sanjan a few echolocation records that I’d collected along the nettle trail in 2010. Almost by return I was sent a draft of Altitudinal Variation in Bats, Understanding People’s Perceptions to Bats and Creating a Bat Conservation Awareness in Sagarmatha (Everest) Zone, Eastern Nepal, by Sanjan and others.
While I was in Nepal this time, he invited me to drop in on a project he was running in the village of Madi, a ‘two-hour walk’ from Chainpur – the former capital of Sankhuwasabha and a short detour from the nettle trail.
            The project is called Living with Villagers, a volunteering scheme attached to the SMCRF and Sanjan’s personal initiative. He was spending approximately nine months teaching biology and chemistry to Year 11 and 12 pupils at Madi High School before moving to other schools around Nepal. His pay includes board and all meals and he takes home £200/month. Now in the second year of Living with Villagers, Sanjan is based at a school in Barabisse in Sindhupalchowk district, west of Sankhuwasabha, 86 kilometres north east of Kathmandu. A placement in Gorkha in west Nepal is planned for 2014/15 with Years 4 and 5 of the initiative still to be decided.

During this time Sanjan will also continue his taxonomic research, which he hopes will eventually be converted to a PhD thesis, subject to funding.
Back to Madi. Although I had brought along my bat detector and recorder, and Sanjan had added my few observations to a very long list of echolocations and sightings in his notebook, I had a feeling there was another motive for my being invited to Madi – the reason my friend Ang Diku Sherpa and I had spent nearly four hours walking the ‘two-hour’ route from Chainpur to Madi.
And yes, I was asked to accompany him back to the school after noon and help supervise an art competition, from which I must pick three drawings that best demonstrate awareness about bats and their role in the environment.
A class of 60 students, aged 14 to 15 years old, were waiting with excitement. I helped hand out drawing paper and packets of wax crayons before Sanjan explained that everyone must draw a bat or whatever they know about bats. This sparked much discussion and chattering, which also brought a gaggle of younger children from outside, giggling around the door.

In the classroom - getting started

Ang Diku translated what the students were saying, while Sanjan tried to send the younger children away.
            Why do we have to draw a bat?
‘We don’t know how to draw a bat,
Can I draw anything else apart from a bat?’

How do we draw a bat...?
The drawing competition was taking place during their free time, so not surprisingly they were feeling a bit rebellious, but eventually they settled.

Making progress...

Adding the details..

Concentration - time's nearly up....
Some 40 minutes later the drawings were completed and we returned to Sanjan’s house with the art work. Most of the drawings showed a basic understanding of bats, that they used banana trees, liked fruit and lived in caves. Some of the better artists captured the wing shape nicely, but many looked very bird-like. Just a few showed a detailed understanding of the anatomy, including bone structure.
Choosing the competition winners

Photo 10: And the winners are...
The drawing competition is the first phase of an education programme in the school, looking at local people’s perceptions of bats, and this will be followed by scheduled surveys. Over the next two to three months Sanjan planned to introduce these students to bat conservation and teach them about the essential role they play in the natural and economic world, such as seed dispersers, pollinators and agricultural pest controllers. Teaching material includes videos provided by Bat Conservation International, posters of different species of bats produced by SMCRF, and material from Bat Conservation Trust that I had brought along, including the Green City Bats project resource pack and copies of the Young Bat Worker.
Sanjan distributing posters to the same class later in the year. © Mr. Shiba Raj Subedi
After the teaching sessions Sanjan will ask the students to take part in another bat drawing competition. I’m looking forward to seeing the results.
This educational project is designed to further people’s understanding of bats and their role in the ecosystem. And just as bat workers find here, working on activities for and with children helps to instil an enthusiasm and interest across generations.
By creating awareness among the students, and by extension their families and others in the village, superstitions about bats as nocturnal animals will gradually be eroded and it’s hoped will inspire a wider bat conservation movement in Nepal.

Sanjan teaching about bats to the same class later in the year
 © Mr. Shiba Raj Subedi
The work of Sanjan is inspirational. Not only is he taking on attitudes that are embedded in Nepali culture, but his project is self-funded through his teaching posts, and he has taken on important taxonomic research in a country with three times more bats species than Britain.
But Sanjan and these bats also need help – either through grants or loan of bat monitoring equipment.

Other bats around Madi include Rhinolophus lepidus © Sanjan Thapa

For more information about this project see Sanjan’s article "Living with Villagers" in Small Mammal Mail:  http://www.zoosprint.org/ZoosPrintNewsLetter/2014_Vol.5_No.2_SMM.pdfI or contact Sanjan at thapasanjan@gmail.com

Thursday, 2 January 2014


VOLUNTEERING FOR BATS' BENEFIT!

OOH! - That would be the 'Out of Hours' Helpline. Just don't call it the Bat-phone!

0845 1300 228

Having come across the Bat Conservation Trust's Out of Hours Helpline through my work at BBC News and on realising they were crewing up I thought 'perfect'! 

You can offer as many or as few evenings or weekends you have available a month and rotas are drawn up on a month by month basis and can be flexible if needed. 

Who could resist helping this fellow?


So I responded to the email address posted on www.bats.org.uk and having chatted with Sabah, the Out of Hours Project Co-ordinator, signed up for a trip to the bat cave, otherwise known as the Bat Conservation Trust Offices, for an evening's training with Sabah and Jess (Bat Care Network Co-ordinator). 

After the talks and powerpoints, and a session using the super straightforward internet based computer systems, I left the offices fully briefed on the systems, up to speed on all aspects of bat care advice and raring to go. 

A folder packed full of reminder info under my arm I headed home. For home is where the help is... 

Manning the 'bat-phone' - D'oh!
As an Out of Hours Volunteer you commit to being at home, in front of a computer for your shift - typically during the week it's from 5.30pm to 11 pm one evening and then from 7 am to 9am the next morning - or during the day, or evenings at weekends. You have a member of staff to whom you can turn if you get any particularly tricky calls (for example if anyone is scratched, bitten or reports a suspected foreign bat landing in the UK) but the basics are wonderfully simple. 

Calls to the Helpline get diverted to the phone number you provide (my mobile has never been so busy!) so you pick up your phone and you're off. You log on to the computer system that guides you through important information to get from the caller and reminds you of the key messages you should pass on and then you log into BCT's most prized system of all, the Bat Care Network. 

The charity could not provide the bat care help without this network of wonderful individuals who permit BCT to either give out their numbers or to be contacted in the event of a bat needing help in their locality. 

The carers on the list are dotted right around the UK and entries outline availability and what they can and can't undertake in terms of bat care. As a helpline volunteer you take the call and after chatting to the individual who has rung you to establish what help they need you either offer the advice or put them in touch with their local carers - job done!






Obviously it's not quite that simple. Each call is different and you meet some wonderful people on the end of the phone. Sometimes callers are concerned only with the welfare of the bat that's in trouble, and want to know what they can do to help, sometimes they are scared themselves, troubled by their visitor or letting you know of someone boarding up a roost site or chopping down a tree. Bat roosts are protected by law and we have an Investigations Officer who assists in investigating and reporting bat crime to the Police to whom we refer such calls.

The Out of Hours service is an emergency service so general routine queries are logged or asked to call back during the BCT's working hours - but no one goes away unassisted! 

The Emergency calls can come through in fits and starts and its often noticeable how bat activity seems to happen in geographical areas on a given evening - one night you will get a lot of calls from a rural part of Scotland, another week it could be south Wales that most folk call from - it makes you think the bats are chatting with one-another and picking their times to get into trouble! You can have evenings when it barely rings and other nights when it's relentless!

I've taken calls on bats in hairdressers, hallways of homes, behind hanging baskets, from a parade ground in an army barracks, a school and high rise block of flats in west London. If you find a bat out and about in the daytime it's usually in trouble and always worth giving us a call. I love it when I get a call back to update me on progress or resolution - and get to hear some lovely stories of successful releases!


Last summer there were a few calls of bats flying around in homes, having flown in through an open door or window (presumably following insects attracted by the lights). They get in a flap when in doors with lights, noise and people and pets. The best instant advice if a bat is flying around a room is to close the interior doors, get folk out of the way, turn off lights and noisy radios and TVs and open the windows.  Bats inside are trying to get out and this often allows them the space to find their way out! 

Cats have been at the bottom of most of the calls I worked on over last summer - either bringing in bats as 'gifts' for their owners or being seen stalking an injured, grounded bat. 
With a cat-caused injury a bat will need specialist care - and probably antibiotics - so it's one that we will always refer to a carer to administer help. 

Bat care box

Basic bat care advice is always given to the caller, to contain the bat (if it's not flying) and meet its immediate needs (namely popping it in a well ventilated box with a lid, with a towel in which to snuggle and a few drops of water to drink in a lid from something like a milk carton) and they are always asked to handle the bat as little as possible, and always use gloves if they are going to. You don't want to hurt yourself or the bat and while bats seldom bite or scratch there is a very small risk of a rabies-like virus from handling an infected bat (which is itself extremely rare - very few bats have tested positive for this virus in the last 20 years of testing).

It's always lovely when folk engage and want to learn about bats - for some it’s their first encounter with these lovely little mammals – it’s often the start of a new interest and people often ask for leaflets and information about bats to be sent to them. Most people are astonished at how small they are and how cute!

I have chatted with lovely people, helped hundreds of bats through the advice I've given or the experts I've put in touch with bats in need. It's been a great volunteer experience and one which will suit even the relatively time poor wildlife lover! You get to help some fabulous people and some magical mammals!  I also ended up moving to BCT in a different role after I had started as a volunteer so it’s not just the bats’ lives that you get to change for the better!

Abi McLoughlin Out of Hours Volunteer 2013


JUST IN CASE YOU EVER NEED IT  : 0845 1300 228

BASIC BAT CARE:1. Contain the bat:a) Like a spider, by placing a box on top of it and sliding a piece of card underneath.b) alternatively, cover the bat with a cloth/teatowel and carefully scoop it up and place it in the box.2. Put a tea towel or soft cloth in the box for the bat to hide in.3. Put in a small, shallow container e.g. a plastic milk bottle top with a few drops of water (not enough for the bat to drown in). Make sure the water is topped up regularly.4. Keep the bat indoors somewhere quiet and dark5. Most importantly, call the Bat Helpline on 0845 1300 228 for local bat carer numbers.Only a bat that has been confirmed as fit and healthy by a bat carer should be released, and never during the day. Always wear gloves if handling a bat. Tell someone immediately if you are bitten or scratched.