BATS

C.A. Williams and Cornwall Bat Group

Background

There are 17 species of bat in the UK all of which have suffered a large decline in the last century and are amongst Britain’s rarest mammals. In Cornwall 13 of these species are resident with only Leislers, Bechsteins, Grey Long-eared and Greater Mouse-eared not confirmed. At the present time it should also be noted that records for Serotine are from bat detectors only and have not been confirmed from in hand or roost records. Amongst the bat species found in Cornwall are five of the six UK National Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) priority species, with Cornwall being a particular stronghold for two of the UKs rarest bats, the Greater and Lesser Horseshoe bats. The range of these two bat species has contracted so they are now only found in south-west England and Wales. There are also records for vagrants reaching our shores and in recent times these include Kuhl’s Pipistrelle and a European Free-tailed Bat.

In the Isles of Scilly the common resident bat is Common Pipistelle, although there is the possibility Soprano Pipistrelle may also breed. There are records of long-eared bats, as well as Noctule and Nathusius’ Pipistrelle visiting the islands.

Threats

A number of factors have been identified that have impacted on bat populations. In the wider countryside these include the use of pesticides, the loss of insect-rich habitats such as old pasture, the removal of features that give connectivity such as hedgerows, changing farming practice (e.g. silage instead of hay production) and habitat fragmentation.

Tree roosting bats have suffered the loss of dead and decaying or damaged trees that provide roosting opportunities as a result of past woodland management practices.

Roosts within buildings have in the past, been lost to loft conversions, other property improvements, maintenance work, demolition, remedial timber treatment, pest control and re-roofing which have been carried out in an inappropriate manner. There is now a greater awareness of the legislation that protects bats and an understanding of the reasons for this level of protection. Chemicals for treating wood-boring insects and rots that have a lower mammalian toxicity are now widely available. Nursery roosts are particularly vulnerable as these host the females from the whole colony. Disturbance within roosts and predation particularly by cats have had an impact. Of course, in addition to this, the stochasticity of our climate means that a cold, wet season can impact on the breeding success of a colony. The added uncertainty of the effects of climate change may result in a further pressure on our bat populations, particularly for those at the edge of their range.

Legislation protecting bats

Bats and their roosts are protected by law. It is a criminal offence to:

  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.

The Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (WCA) was the first legislation to provide protection for all bats and their roosts in England, Scotland and Wales. (Earlier legislation gave protection to horseshoe bats only). It was amended several times with significant amendments being made by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 in England and Wales, and by the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 in Scotland. These acts strengthened the WCA by adding the word ‘recklessly’ to the offences of intentional damage, destruction or obstruction of a roost, and to disturbance of a bat.

In 1992 the European Union’s Council Directive on The Conservation of Natural Habitats of Wild Fauna and Flora (better known as the Habitats Directive) came into being. This Directive gave rise to stronger protection for all UK bats, roosts, and the wider habitats of some bat species too. In England, Scotland and Wales this Directive was implemented by The Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) Regulations 1994 (better known as the Habitats Regulations).

The Habitats Regulations have been amended several times since 1994, most recently in 2007. The 2007 Habitats Regulations amendments strengthened the Regulations by removing the Agriculture and Animal Health Act defences, the dwelling house defence, the ‘incidental result of an otherwise lawful operation’ defence, and the defence that enabled certain actions to take place to prevent serious damage. These defences were removed to bring the Habitats Regulations more into line with the EU Habitats Directive. It also made non-compliance with a derogation licence a criminal offence.

Definitions and limitations

Each bat species present in Cornwall will now be considered in turn. The use of the number of 1km squares in which each species has been recorded to indicate comparative spread has severe limitations. These are:

The red data book status for Cornwall is based upon the number of 1km squares in which they are recorded as present between 2000 and 2008 plus the experience of Cornwall Bat Group members to authenticate the perceived status within Cornwall.

Rhinolophus ferrumequinum Greater Horseshoe Bat

Rhinolophus hipposideros Lesser Horseshoe Bat

Myotis mystacinus Whiskered Bat

Myotis brandti Brandtís Bat

Myotis nattereri Nattererís Bat

Myotis daubentonii Daubentonís Bat

Pipistrellus pipistrellus Common Pipistrelle

Pipistrellus pygmaeus Soprano Pipistrelle

Pipistrellus nathusii Nathusiusís Pipistrelle

Nyctalus noctula Noctule Bat

Eptesicus serotinus Serotine

Plecotus auritus Brown Long-eared Bat

Barbastella barbastellus Barbastelle