Friday, 15 July 2016

Driven Batty

If you had asked me a month ago what I know about bats I'd have said "very little"!

That was before I took a week-long break on a farm in Cumbria.

You may be thinking that a week on an isolated farm is the ideal place to get a bit of peace and quiet, and it is, but at certain times of day the converted barn that I was staying in was anything but silent as its resident swallows and bats made their presence felt.

I first noticed the bats on the first evening of my stay. I heard some scratching in the roof space above my bedroom so went outside to investigate. Sundown is quite late at this time of year in Cumbria, so it was 11pm - and still light - when I ventured out into the garden to find out what all the noise was about.

When I stood just below the eaves of the house, a squeaking noise could clearly be heard coming from the direction of the barn roof. Shortly afterwards a bat flew out from a space between the roof tiles at great speed! It was soon followed by another. And then another. And then another. When the count reached 18 I stopped counting but the bats did not stop coming. I reckon there must have been at least a thousand in there, sleeping all day, and flying out at dusk to feed on insects on the wing.

There are a few things everyone needs to know about bats.

All bats are protected

Bats do a lot of good in our environment. Over 500 species of plant rely on bats to pollinate their flowers. Bats are insectivores (they eat insects) and will eat thousands of insects every night, including blood-sucking mosquitoes. Bats also play a vital role in distributing seeds of trees and other plants.

Some bats are 'indicator species'. This means that changes in their population can mean that there are also changes happening in the biodiversity of their environment.

So bats are very special little creatures. In fact, they are a protected species in the UK.

According to the Bat Conservation Trust, you are committing a criminal offence if you:

1. Deliberately capture, injure or kill a bat

2. Intentionally or recklessly disturb a bat in its roost or deliberately disturb a group of bats

3. Damage or destroy a bat roosting place (even if bats are not occupying the roost at the time)

4. Possess or advertise/sell/exchange a bat (dead or alive) or any part of a bat

5. Intentionally or recklessly obstruct access to a bat roost.

So bats are important and they are protected by the law. But what should you do if you find a bat in trouble?

Bats in distress

A couple of days into my stay I was in the garden in the early evening when I noticed the now unmistakable sound of squeaking bats. This time, however, it was clear that the noise wasn't coming from the roost in the roof. I followed the sound, and it led me to a covered drain on the ground. Looking up, it became clear what must have happened. A drain pipe leads from the guttering below the roof, very close to where the bats were roosting. Some of the bats must have flown down the drainpipe by mistake and become trapped in the drain with no way of getting out.

I knew immediately that the bats needed help. I knew also that a number had probably already died down there. Upon lifting the drain cover my suspicions were confirmed: six poorly bats and a number of others that had already succumbed to being stuck in the drain for however long. 

Before doing anything else, I immediately called the National Bat Helpline for advice. It being the evening by now, I got no reply from the local number that was suggested so I immediately called the local out-of-hours vet, who was incredibly helpful.

Should you ever find a bat on the ground and in trouble but are unable to reach either a bat rescue centre or a vet right away, this is what the vet told me to do:

1. Bats don't do well on the ground or away from the location you found them in, so don't leave them on the ground and don't take them far away from where you found them.
2. Never touch a bat with your bare hands as they can carry dangerous diseases.
3. If you need to move the bat, pick it up the way you would a spider, i.e. put a box over it and slide a piece of card underneath.
4. Put the bat into a box (I used a washing up bowl) with a piece of material, such as a tea towel or small towel, and a small container, such as a plastic milk container top, filled with water. Do not put a lid on the box.
5. This is important. Bats naturally want to climb. When they've climbed high enough they will be able to launch themselves and fly away. So put the box somewhere high up by a wall so they can climb out and keep on climbing. The perfect place for the bats I had found was in the garage which was close by and where other bats were roosting.
6. Now leave the bats alone!

The vet told me that I should call again if any of the bats were still there the following day. However, I'm delighted to report that they all recovered, climbed out of the box and up the wall and eventually flew off!

One of the bats that was rescued
One of the bats that was rescued

This wasn't the only bat encounter of my stay. A bat appeared in the hearth. Another was found roosting in the curtains in the living room. And yet another was found on the outside wall of the barn, close to the ground and facing downwards. All three were subjected to the same procedure that the vet had suggested and all three survived and flew away. I left a note for the owner of the barn to let her know what had happened. Hopefully, no more bats will fall into the drain or get into the barn through the chimney!

If you find a bat in distress

I encountered these bats in Cumbria, but there are plenty in Peterborough too!

In almost all cases bats should be left alone. However if you come across bats that you think may be in distress please get in touch with either a vet or the Bat Conservation Trust on 0845 1300 228 and follow the advice that you are given. 

Bats are precious, protected and we need them as much as they need us! But it so important to give them the right sort of help, so always, always contact the Bat Conservation Trust or a local vet if you come across a bat you think may be in need of help.

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