Bats account for 25 percent of all UK mammal species and 20 percent of the world’s mammal species! Following our plans to develop and repair the Exiles Club and cottage on the PK Porthcurno site, Planet PK has become more aware and focussed on the local bat population and how we can protect it during the development process. Bats are wrongly stigmatised as being pests but are protected under UK law due to a decline in population from careless deforestation and urbanisation. Only quarter of UK bat species like to rest in buildings, and do not cause damage in doing so! Bats are amazingly complex and endlessly fascinating creatures; I hope you enjoy reading about them as much as I did!
In the UK we have 17 species of bat and ¾ of them roost in trees, while only ¼ roost in urban areas. The specific habitat that bats live in depends on the species. Some, like the common pipistrelle, live in wooded areas, where others prefer wetlands and grasslands. Proximity to farmland is very important for many bats, as they host an abundance of insects and have good access to water. Bats in the UK eat moths and other insects which they find using echolocation. A single bat may eat over 3,000 insects in one night, despite rarely being heavier than a £1 coin themselves. They need all this energy as they capture food whilst in flight!
Contrary to popular belief, bats aren’t blind at all and have rather splendid vision. However, in the dark of night they use a form of biological sonar to communicate and hunt. This is called echolocation – not only used by bats, but also by other mammals such as dolphins, whales, and certain species of shrew. A bat’s echolocation works by emitting high frequency noises which bounce off the surrounding solid objects, it has such amazing accuracy that a bat could distinguish the shape and size of something as small as a single human hair. Upon emitting the noise, they can calculate exactly how far away the object is, how quickly it will cross their path and how they are going to navigate it.
Bats can all broadly be categorised as either ‘whispering’ or ‘shouting’ bats. Whispering bats emit noise at 60 decibels, which if it was audible to humans, would be equivalent to the volume of a normal conversation. Shouting bats emit noise at 110 decibels, which would be equivalent to the volume of a jackhammer or fire alarm!
Male bats use echolocation to sing territorial songs and attract subadult female bats who will be disperse their natal colonies to avoid inbreeding. By creating a chorus with several bats singing at once, they offer information of the identity of their colony and how big it is. If it’s a familiar song to the female bats, they’ll be more likely to join the colony.
Threats and How to Help Bats
Bats are facing all kinds of threats, mostly due to urbanisation and deforestation. Expanding city-scapes which encroach onto wild areas introduce light pollution to the hunting grounds of bats, acting as a form of habitat loss. Many bats are forced to abandon their roosts as artificial light encroaches onto it, streetlights and lights from houses also disrupt their commute to their hunting grounds, losing them valuable time as they will opt to go around the light rather than through it.
Many bats that have no choice but to roost in the roofs of houses and other buildings face their own set of threats. Constant development on buildings disturbs roosting bats and can force them to abandon their home, they may even die in the process. Because of this, bats have been protected by law and surveys must be carried out on properties that likely host bats so that they remain undisturbed.
You can help your local bat population in many ways. Planting night scented flowers like evening primrose and honeysuckle as well as creating a pond in your garden would provide a great habitat for bats. Keeping areas of your garden a bit overgrown and turning off outside lights would also be a great help as well as getting professional bat surveys done if you are planning on doing work to properties!
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Twitter – @PlanetPK_
Maeve Cushla, Young Curator, PK Porthcurno
Header Photo: Maeve Cushla