BATS may be a popular staple of Halloween-lore but in the natural world these misunderstood mammals need all the help they can get.
Despite their protected status, the creature is one of many among British wildlife under threat.
There are 18 species of bats in the UK, from the tiny pipistrelle to the elusive serotine and the bewhiskered barbastelle.
There are several factors contributing to their decline including habitat loss, climate change and agricultural practices, resulting in a lack of their insect diet, loss of rural spaces and disruption to those roosting in buildings.
Bats, such as the serotine, the UK’s largest species, prefer the warm spaces often found in old building structures.
Warwickshire Bat Group is among those trying to conserve and raise awareness of our nightly neighbours, including a project to discover serotines in the area. The bat – whose species name is derived from Latin for evening – is mostly seen in England’s south, although the group has reason to believe they may be as far up as Shakespeare’s Country.
The group is using ultrasound detectors in the hopes of locating more roosts.
Group member Tricia Scott said: “We want to know if they are they native to Warwickshire or living somewhere completely different, but we hope they may still be roosting in the county.
“After three years we have only one place where we have definitively recorded serotines but we have also recorded lots of other bats including rare barbastelles.”
Barbastelle bats – whose name is a Latin derivative of ‘star beard’, referring to the white hairs on their mouths – are distinctive with squishy noses and white tipped fur. They make their homes in ancient woodland and are listed as ‘Near Threatened’ on the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Red List.
Despite its rarity, the group has had some luck with the barbastelle.
The team worked with landowners to plant hedgerows from their roosts to places where they tend to feed, including over meadows and rivers, which has resulted in some breeding success.
Pipistrelles, which measure just four centimetres in length, are the UK’s most common species of bat.
Tricia, whose spare room doubles as a bat rescue centre, says pipistrelles are regular patients since they have a tendency to set up home almost anywhere.
She said: “They’re remarkably adaptable and have very much learned to tolerate being around humans.
“I once got called out because a lad had shaken out a porch rug and four pipistrelles fell out. And another time I rescued four from an alarm box at an electrical substation.
“One woman had baby bats turn up in her bathroom. They found a crack in window frame and went exploring.
“Sometimes, when they’re young and learning to fly, they can tun up in odd places and then they need feeding up because they’ve run out of steam.”
Tricia says her favourite thing about bats is their echolocation – their ability to bounce sound produced in their larynx, off flying insects.
She said: “It’s just unbelievable. When you watch a bat flying around, when they flit about backwards and forwards what they’re doing is following insects and using their echolocation. So you’ve got a bat that’s maybe four grams chasing after a mosquito or a midge by bouncing sound off it, it’s just incredible.”
To help bat populations, Tricia says allowing some rough and less manicured spaces in your garden will attract insects for them to eat. Bat boxes also make good homes for species like pipistrelles and serotines which like small and insulated spaces.
But if you do find a roost in your home it does not have to be a cause for alarm.
Tricia adds: “I know a few people who are perfectly happy to share their home with bats. They don’t do damage, they don’t chew things, they just find a gap and crawl into it.
“They’re pretty quiet, if you don’t happen to look up at the point when they’re flying out you may not know they’re there at all.”
Visit www.warksbats.co.uk for more information on Warwickshire bat group.