Create perfect environment for flying mammals
THERE is something comforting about watching pipistrelle bats flying outside the gallery in their traditional figure of eight patterns as they nightly hunt for insects. Although they will soon be off the streets as the winter approaches, this is as good a time as any to consider what you can do to attract the only true flying mammal in the world to the environs of your own home.
Flying uses a lot of energy, so bats have huge appetites. For example, a tiny common pipistrelle can eat around 3,000 midges, mosquitoes and other small flies in a single night. If that is not reason enough to garden for bats, I’ll eat my hat.
Moths, beetles and craneflies (daddy long-legs) are popular with other species, but flies are the main food for most British bats.
Grow a wide range of plants to attract insects – and by planting a mixture of flowering plants, vegetables, trees and shrubs, you can encourage a diversity of insects to drop in and refuel.
Native plants tend to support far more species of insect than hybrids or exotics, so they should be used as much as possible.
Different plants attract different types of insects. Flowers with long narrow petal tubes, such as evening primrose and honeysuckle, are visited by moths. Only their long tongues can reach deep down to the hidden nectar. Short-tongued insects include many families of flies and some moths – they can only reach nectar in flowers with short florets.
These are important in providing food for insect larvae and adult insects, shelter for flying insects and roosting opportunities for bats. In a small garden, choose trees that can be coppiced – cut down to the ground every few years – to allow new shoots to spring from the base.
●●CREATE a wet area
No wildlife garden would be complete without a water feature. Not only will a small pond, marshy area or even a bog provide bats with somewhere to drink, but they will also attract insects, as many of the tiny flies favoured by bats start life in water as aquatic larvae.
●●MAKE a compost heap or log pile
Recycle kitchen and garden waste – such as fruit and vegetable trimmings, annual weeds and lawn clippings – to produce useful garden compost, as well as an ideal habitat for insects. A log pile in a damp, shady spot will also encourage insects, particularly beetles.
●●AVOID using pesticides
Chemical pesticides kill non-target beneficial invertebrates including natural predators and can do more harm than good.
●●ENCOURAGE natural predators
Hoverflies, wasps, ladybirds, lacewings, ground beetles and centipedes are friends, and natural pest controllers. Allow weeds to grow to provide ground cover for natural predators.
A problem often faced by bats in gardens is cats. If you own a cat, you can help save lives by bringing your cat in for the night half-an-hour before sunset.
The bats will also be able to return at dawn undisturbed by cats. If you find a bat that appears to have been injured by a cat, call the bat helpline on 0345 1300 228 for details.
●●A pipistrelle bat takes flight