Give bats a hand

At­tract bats onto your smallholding. Penny Bunt­ing ex­plains how

Country Smallholding - - FEATURE BIODIVERSITY - Penny Bunt­ing is a small­holder and writer liv­ing in the Peak Dis­trict. She also runs award-win­ning en­vi­ron­men­tal project Lit­tle Green Space: www.lit­tle­greenspace.org.uk/

Bats are fas­ci­nat­ing crea­tures – and watch­ing their ac­ro­batic an­tics can be a real plea­sure. Al­though of­ten as­so­ci­ated with Hal­lowe’en, you’re more likely to see bats swoop­ing over your gar­den dur­ing the sum­mer months when air­borne in­sects are in abun­dance.

There are sev­eral old wives’ tales sur­round­ing bats. One of the most com­mon is that they’ll get caught in your hair – and at times the bats on our smallholding have swooped so close to our heads that it’s easy to understand how this mis­con­cep­tion came about.

How­ever, it’s un­likely that such a mishap will oc­cur. Bats have a highly so­phis­ti­cated nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem – known as echolo­ca­tion – that pre­vents a bat from col­lid­ing with any nearby ob­ject (such as a head) and en­ables it to ac­cu­rately lo­cate even the tini­est of in­sects, such as midges. And a sin­gle bat can eat as many as 3,000 in­sects in one night, so echolo­ca­tion must work pretty well.

The old adage ‘as blind as a bat’ would sug­gest that bats have poor eye­sight, but in fact they can see al­most as well as hu­mans – if we had to hunt for food in the dark we might need echolo­ca­tion too!

Bats are one of only three Bri­tish mam­mals that truly hi­ber­nate – the other two be­ing hedge­hogs and dormice. There are 18 dif­fer­ent species of bat in the UK, with 17 breed­ing in this coun­try. The tiny com­mon pip­istrelle, which weighs just 5g – that’s less than a £1 coin – is one of the most UK’s most com­mon bat species, and can be found in a wide range of habi­tats, in­clud­ing farm­land and small­hold­ings.

To at­tract bats to the smallholding, you need to pro­vide them with a read­ily avail­able food source. All species of Bri­tish bats only eat in­sects, and you can en­cour­age more in­sects to visit your plot by adding some in­sect-friendly, nec­tar-rich plants.

Plant­ing a wide range of na­tive trees, shrubs, herbs and flow­ers will at­tract a large va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent in­sects. Night-scented plants, such as ni­co­tiana, hon­ey­suckle, jas­mine and night-scented stock are par­tic­u­larly good as th­ese sweet smelling flow­ers will at­tract night-fly­ing in­sects. Pale blooms are use­ful too, as they are eas­ier for in­sects to see as light fades at dusk.

Fruit trees are ideal – bats are of­ten com­mon in or­chard ar­eas – and are great for other types of wildlife, too, such as birds and bum­ble­bees.

Trees and shrubs at­tract in­sects and also pro­vide roost­ing sites for bats. And don’t forget wa­ter: ponds, streams and ditches give bats some­where to drink – and many of the flies that bats love to eat start life as aquatic lar­vae, so fresh­wa­ter fea­tures pro­vide food too.

Just like birds, bats need a place to roost. Old barns and out­build­ings or holes in trees are of­ten present on small­hold­ings and make per­fect roost­ing sites. Or con­sider in­stalling a bat box or two. Po­si­tion such boxes as high as pos­si­ble, prefer­ably in a shel­tered, sunny spot and close to hedges or trees – bats use th­ese fea­tures for nav­i­ga­tion, so will find their way to the box more eas­ily. The Bat Con­ser­va­tion Trust of­fers in­struc­tions for an easy-to-make bat box at www.bats.org. uk.

Cats can be a dan­ger to bats – es­pe­cially at dusk when bats are just emerg­ing from the roost. If you know you have bats roost­ing on your smallholding, you can help pro­tect them by bring­ing your cat in­side about half an hour be­fore sun­set. And if your cat does catch a bat, con­tact the Bat Con­ser­va­tion Trust Bat Helpline on 0845 1300 228 for ad­vice on how to help it.

Brown long-eared bat: © Hugh Clark/www.bats.org.uk

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