The Barbastelle bat is one of the UK’s more rare bats and there is a lot we don’t know about its life, its behaviour and its habitat. The good news is that the Barbastelle has been found in the Bovey Valley and, under the Moor than meets the eye project, the landscape partnership has put together a plan to study this small flying mammal.
On Saturday 28th February, around 25 people got together at the Woodland Centre in Yarner Woods to put this study in motion. The atmosphere of the day captured the anticipation you might expect from a group of enthusiastic nature lovers about to embark on a new adventure.
The day began with a presentation from Helen Miller of the Bat Conservation Trust. Her passion for bats, even the ugly ones, shone through as she explained the basic ecology of woodland bats and the special skills they possess. The Barbastelle is a woodland bat, roosting in trees and foraging within and around woody areas, though individuals can fly 6-8 km each night searching for food before returning to roost. They prefer oak woods and are known to roost in cracks in trunks, splits in branches and under peeling bark. Trees with decaying limbs and unpruned storm damage may look a bit untidy but they are an ideal home for the Barbastelle.
Dr Ruth Angell gave a short talk on the recent work she had been doing around the reserve to check for Barbastelle activity. Over the last year, she had been using some remote ultrasound recorders in both Yarner Woods and the Bovey Valley Woods, finding that they were still living in the Bovey Valley. We also heard from Simon Lee of Natural England about the Nature Reserve at Yarner Woods, being England’s first NNR back in 1952. Helen Parr from Devon Wildlife Trust explained how a new project was being developed to record information on another rare bat that lives in Devon, the Greater Horseshoe Bat. They have a maternity roost in the area too.
The final spot of the morning was taken by Andy Carr from the University of Bristol. He’s working on a PhD entitled “Bats in Woodland”. A major part of his study is to find out where the Bovey Valley bats go each night; radio tracking techniques are going to be needed to collect the information. There’s a lot of work to be done and Andy is recruiting a team of volunteers to help. He’ll offer a series of training courses and an opportunity for them to take part in a once in a lifetime project.
The afternoon was taken up by a walk in the high oak woodland surrounding the Woodland Centre. Dave Rickwood of the Woodland Trust led the walk and we had the chance to inspect many of the dark recesses of the trees where bats could be roosting. Endoscopes provide a view into these cracks and crevices that we wouldn’t normally be privy to, but must be used with great care not to disturb any of the residents.
The training of Barabastelle tracking volunteers will begin in April and the surveys will be carried out all through the summer. The final mapping of all this data is going to be revealing and fascinating, but the questions is, what will be uncovered about the nocturnal activities in the Bovey Valley?
If you want to help with this unique project, contact Dave Rickwood of the Woodland Trust firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Matt Parkins