Sunday, 5 September 2010

WW2 Bunker to Bat Hibernaculum

Several winters ago a couple of good friends and I were searching structures I had trawled from an archeaeological database, in the hope of finding previously unrecorded bat hibernaculum. A group of massive World War 2 structures had caught my eye on a satellite photograph. These turned out to be former RAF bomb stores - useless for hibernating bats, but now handy cattle sheds for a farmer.

Nearby a small square of concrete on a small hillock within a pasture field caught our eye. Taking a closer look, we found a small hole in the ground alongside the concrete square. When we crawled through the hole we found a hidden world. A group of brick-walled underground rooms formed an airfield defence bunker. The concrete square was a pill-box, allowing the commander a 360 degree view of the surrounding RAF airfield, now long gone.

The bunker was humid and seemed to have the sort of steady low temperature suitable for hibernating Myotis and Brown Long-eared Bats. Whilst it was full of historical interest, including an iron bedstead and a utility WC, sadly there were no crevices in the masonry which could be used by hibernating bats. Nonetheless, I couldn't help thinking it had potential and that fact was filed away in the tardis-like bucket of trivia which masquerades as my brain.

Fast forward two years to a conversation with Stuart McPherson of East Lothian Council and my randomly-wandering brain spat forth the news of this potential bat hibernaculum on his patch. We arranged to look at the site with the landowner and a plan was hatched. With a generous grant from Scottish Natural Heritage we would dig out the entrance to the bunker, to give bats easier access and to help them to find it. Inside we would install crevice boxes to facilitate hibernation and a hedge would be planted, linking the bunker to nearby woodland and hedgerows.

The difficult part was going to be the clearance of several tonnes of soil and rubble. "No problem" I blithely said, promising that Lothians Bat group would be able to produce a team of volunteers to take the work on (and provide funding in kind to balance the SNH grant). With my fingers firmly crossed I wondered how long it would take to do it on my own....

I needn't have worried. One August weekend found a team of 7 intrepid bat workers, equipped with spades, shovels, picks and buckets, together with a tractor and trailer provided by the landowner. I am here to tell you it is simply astonishing what a group of bat-centric conservationists can achieve when two and a half tonnes of spoil needs digging out and moving. As well as making the bunker far more accessible for both bat workers and bats we discovered all sorts of reminders of our 1940's forebears. The star find, considering this was an RAF base was an empty brylcreem bottle!

As ever, Nigel Terry went above and beyond the call of duty, splitting his trousers as he toiled and sweated. This blog can exclusively reveal the highly appropriate nature of what was revealed....

Words fail me!

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