New bat cams at Wood­ch­ester Man­sion are help­ing us study pro­tected breeds

New bat cams in­stalled at Wood­ch­ester Man­sion help study pro­tected breeds while also be­com­ing an added at­trac­tion for vis­i­tors. Jo Bar­ber looks at the work of one of the UK’S fore­most bat ex­perts and the man­sion’s val­ued vol­un­teers

Cotswold Life - - INSIDE -

New bat cam­eras at Wood­ch­ester Man­sion, near Stroud, are of­fer­ing the pub­lic the best view of the wild noc­tur­nal crea­tures in the whole of Bri­tain.

High def­i­ni­tion cam­eras with in­frared light­ing, and up-to-the-minute HD screens, have just be­gun show­ing vis­i­tors to the Cotswold prop­erty su­perbly clear views of rare colonies of both greater and lesser horse­shoe bats.

In­stalled at the same time as the man­sion’s re­cent se­cu­rity cam­eras up­grade, the state-of-the-art bat cams en­able peo­ple to watch the en­dan­gered species from an ob­ser­va­tory be­low the tiny crea­tures’ roosts in the roof.

Very much in­volved in the project was one of the UK’S fore­most bat ex­perts, Dr Roger Ran­some from nearby Cam, who has been study­ing the man­sion bats since 1959. His work, sup­ported by many vol­un­tary helpers, is the long­est con­tin­u­ous study of any mam­mal by a sin­gle per­son in the world.

Dr Ran­some’s stud­ies, and the books and pa­pers he has pub­lished from them, have de­pended largely upon records from the Wood­ch­ester Man­sion colony.

He said he owed a huge debt to all those who had helped him over the years. “We can now count the num­ber of bats au­to­mat­i­cally again,” says Dr Ran­some. “These new HD cam­eras al­low us to check which types are be­ing counted.”

Record­ings from the re­place­ment equip­ment are greatly en­hanc­ing the project’s be­havioural re­search as­pects and man­sion vol­un­teer Dr Ray Can­ham says, “A lot of what we know about the greater horse­shoes the world knows as a re­sult of Roger’s stud­ies here, and it is con­tin­u­ing.”

An au­to­matic count in July re­vealed nearly 600 lesser horse­shoes and over 200 greaters, which was marginally down on the num­bers in 2017.

But with the lesser horse­shoes, for ex­am­ple, only mea­sur­ing two to three inches in size, the new cam­eras have re­ally come into their own be­cause of the de­tail they re­veal.

“The im­ages are so clear you can al­most read the num­bers on their rings,” Dr Can­ham says. “They ba­si­cally use the man­sion as their ma­ter­nity ward.

“Vis­i­tors are amazed to see just how ac­tive the bats are dur­ing the day­time – but this is not sur­pris­ing when we re­alise that many of the bats in the colonies have ba­bies to look af­ter and, as most of us know, ba­bies of what­ever mam­mal are high main­te­nance!”

Sight­seers in the bat ob­ser­va­tory be­low the at­tics can also see roost heaters which main­tain a con­stant high tem­per­a­ture to en­sure con­di­tions are ideal for nur­tur­ing the baby bats, known as pups.

The myth of bats be­ing tor­pid in the

day­time has there­fore been well and truly smashed.

“Peo­ple imag­ine the bats are go­ing to be asleep, but they are quite clearly groom­ing and flut­ter­ing around,” Dr Can­ham says.

Wood­ch­ester Man­sion also of­fers sell­out evening bat walks in the sum­mer, when the crea­tures can be seen fly­ing out of the build­ing at dusk to feed. Talks are given, too, by Glouces­ter­shire Bat Group.

Most horse­shoes, how­ever, leave Wood­ch­ester Man­sion in early Oc­to­ber to spend the win­ter hi­ber­nat­ing in dis­used stone mines within about 25 miles of the build­ing.

But, bats aside, grade one listed Wood­ch­ester Man­sion of­fers call­ers a time­warp ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause it was aban­doned un­fin­ished in roughly 1870.

Fast for­ward to 1987, how­ever, when Stroud Dis­trict Coun­cil res­cued the prop­erty be­fore the in­de­pen­dent Wood­ch­ester Man­sion Trust was formed in 1989 to care for it.

Over the past al­most 30 years the trust has since de­vel­oped its own unique con­ser­va­tion phi­los­o­phy. It has the prime aims of pre­serv­ing the sur­viv­ing fab­ric of the house, al­though never com­plet­ing it, and also adapt­ing it for pub­lic ac­cess.

The idea was to bal­ance the man­sion’s mag­i­cal sense of de­ser­tion with the need for pay­ing vis­i­tors to help fund any works at all, Dr Can­ham ex­plains.

“Fire­places are sus­pended high in walls far above three floor­less storeys” he said. “But safety deck­ing has been laid on top of stone ceil­ing vaults to en­able sight­seers to safely ac­cess the up­per lev­els, in­clud­ing the stun­ning top cor­ri­dor.”

So far ma­jor phases of work have run to about £850,000, in­clud­ing re­pairs to the grand stair and to the rain­wa­ter sys­tem with its gar­goyle spouts, re-roof­ing the west range, and devel­op­ment of of­fices for the trust and ac­com­mo­da­tion for the care­taker.

Yet there is a wider role for Wood­ch­ester Man­sion too, in ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing, much of it through its pa­tron HRH Princes Charles’ Prince’s Foun­da­tion.

Stu­dent vis­i­tors in­clude learn­ers from the Univer­sity of Bath’s MSC in the Con­ser­va­tion of His­toric Build­ings, and the City of Bath Col­lege’s stone ma­sonry stu­dents have hands-on in­volve­ment.

Look­ing to­wards its 30th An­niver­sary next year (2019) Wood­ch­ester Man­sion Trust, and es­pe­cially its loyal vol­un­teers, have just be­gun to plan a se­ries of spe­cial events that will in­clude con­tri­bu­tions from the bat project.

Wood­ch­ester Man­sion trus­tees and sup­port­ers are al­ways mind­ful, how­ever, that there are ma­jor chal­lenges to be faced in rais­ing the roughly £4 mil­lion still needed for their whole project to be com­pleted.

‘Most horse­shoes bats leave Wood­ch­ester Man­sion in early Oc­to­ber to spend the win­ter hi­ber­nat­ing in dis­used stone mines’

Find out more at wood­ch­ester­man­

ABOVE: Bats roost­ing at Wood­ch­ester Man­sion, Nymps­field, Glouces­ter­shire; Dr Ray Can­ham at the new screens in the bat ob­ser­va­tory OP­PO­SITE: Wood­ch­ester Man­sion’s din­ing room, show­ing cen­tring and win­dows on the south face. Photo by Si­mon Pizzey

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