Photo:Common pippistrelle in flight (photo by Barracuda1983 (Own work) [GFDL] via Wikimedia Commons)
There are 18 species of bat in the UK with 17 being know to actively breed in this country, making up a quarter of the mammal species found in the UK . Bats live in the countryside, towns and cities, becoming significantly more active throughout the summer months hunting for invertebrates. Depending on the bat species and time of year bats can be found across a variety of environments hibernating, forging, commuting or raising their young.
Waterways act as a massive network allowing bats to both hunt along and commute from roosts to feeding sites across our varied landscape, making canals and rivers an important environment linked to the success of bats. Many features along our waterways also provide opportunities for bats to thrive:
Roosting: Bridges, houses, barns, and trees are just some examples of features that bats will use for roosting purposes. In the summer months female bats will often form maternity roosts to raise their young and will sometimes return to the same sites. During autumn and winter bats will start heading off to hibernation roosts depending on the microclimate within the roost, with bats generally preferring cool and consistent temperatures away from disruption and predators. Cracks and crevices can be accessed for roosts from as little as 50mm deeps and 12mm wide with optimum conditions at 400mm deep and between 17mm-35mm wide.
Commuting: The distance bats travel to feeding sites varies depending on species with species such as the Brown long-eared bat (Plecotus auritus) generally only traveling up to 1km from their roost, whilst Noctule bats (Nyctalus noctula) have been recorded travelling up to as far as 26km. With over 3600km/m of canal and generally linear features intersecting a variety of habitats, waterways such as canals and the habitats surrounding them are an important factor in bat ecology.
Feeding: All UK bats are insectivores and will hunt for insects on wing, meaning that they will mainly catch and eat prey whilst in flight. Due to their energy intensive lifestyle of flying, bats require a lot of insects to replenish their energy with the Common Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) being able to eat over 3000 insects per night. Many flying insects use water sources throughout their lifecycle for breeding and feeding, leading to large groups of insects such as midges grouping in an area, this is good news for the bat who now has access to an all you can eat banquet offered by many waterways.
All bat species are listed on Schedule 5 on the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). This means that it is an “illegal offence to intentionally kill, injure or take any wild animal listed on Schedule 5 and prohibits interference with places used for shelter or protection, or intentionally disturbing animals occupying such places” unless under specified circumstances. The maximum fine on conviction of offences is currently £5,000. Seven of the eighteen bat species are also listed as a UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UKBAP) priority species. This means that species identified as being the most threatened and requiring conservation action and will have specific conservation management plans in place.
Structures and areas that are inhabited or used by bats for shelter and protection are protected by law, prohibiting the intentional damage or destruction of these places/structures. It may be necessary for local planning authorities or developers to conduct bat surveys to determine the potential presence on site, the likelihood of the site for bat use and whether bat roosts are likely to be affected from the proposed development. If bats are found, planning can be delayed and an appropriate person can be contacted to legally translocate the bats, if permission to do so is granted.
The following legislation offers protection to UK bats:
You should record the presence of protected species on a national database. This can done by contacting the local Statutory Nature Conservation Organisation (SNCO). Alternatively you can record online at the National Biodiversity Network. You should also alert the appropriate land owner, council and or management body to the presence and location of this species.
If you encounter or believe that there are bats present on a site where work is being conducted contact the Bat Conservation Trust or your Local Bat Group for advice and guidance on what should be the next steps you take.