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New survey reveals the secret world of Norfolk’s bats - and sheds light on continental visitors

PUBLISHED: 07:35 13 July 2015 | UPDATED: 09:15 13 July 2015

A soprano pipistrelle bat rescued and cared for by Jane Harris, consultant ecologist. Picture: Denise Bradley

A soprano pipistrelle bat rescued and cared for by Jane Harris, consultant ecologist. Picture: Denise Bradley

Copyright: Archant 2013

Renowned as bloodsuckers, vampires and creatures of the night, bats have long suffered from a deeply sinister and mysterious reputation.

Stuart Newson. Senior ecologist at the BritishTrust for Ornithology. Picture: Paul StancliffeStuart Newson. Senior ecologist at the BritishTrust for Ornithology. Picture: Paul Stancliffe

But a new study, conducted in Norfolk, has put them in a new light, giving new insights into these enigmatic creatures.

The two-year project involved more than 800 volunteers recording bat activity across the county.

Their data allowed scientists to learn more about their migration patterns –including that one species in particular travels across from the Continent – their breeding and feeding habits.

The study, believed to be one of the most extensive of its type anywhere in the world, has been co-ordinated by the Thetford-based British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) .

Nathusius pipistrelle bat. Pic by Hugh Clark / Bat Conservation TrustNathusius pipistrelle bat. Pic by Hugh Clark / Bat Conservation Trust

Dr Stuart Newson, senior ecologist there and project manager for the Norwich Bat Group, said: “We have collected a million bat records from around Norfolk.

“Norfolk is really leading the way. We are still learning about bats. There is still so much unknown about them.”

He said their reputation was unfair. “They are fascinating,” he added. “A lot of people link them with mice but bats can live for up to 16 years.”

Families, schools and nature enthusiasts were asked to help record the bats on recording devices, available at sites across the county.

These machines monitored the sound and frequency of bats in the area, allowing researchers to establish their type and number. In return for their help, participants were sent a report of which species of bats were recorded in their area.

Species in Norfolk can range from the size of a little finger up to 35cm.

The results show common and soprano pipistrelles are most active shortly after sunset – matching the timing for small insect prey.

Brown long-eared bats are heard throughout the night – reflecting their habit of finding food on foliage.

Nathusius’ pipistrelle were recorded across the whole season, and the species were found to have a stronghold on the Broads. Most surprising to the scientists, there were recordings of this species in spring and autumn along the north Norfolk coast, showing some movement, potentially from Europe.

“We now think we get migrants from the continent, but we know almost nothing about it,” said Dr Newson.

“But most important is knowing where we get different species. We cannot preserve species or take measures unless we know what is there.”

Dr Newson said other counties in the UK were hoping to begin a similar crowd survey project.

Have you started an unusual nature project? Email sabah.meddings@archant.co.uk


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