Tuesday, 25 March 2008

The Great Hibernaculum Hunt Revisited

A couple of times recently I've described the hibernaculum survey work I've been doing, together with several other members of Lothians Bat Group. We've been looking at potential hibernacula and sites with historical winter records of bats, in the hope of adding to our list of active hibernation sites.

The goal of all this work is to ensure that hibernacula - the most vulnerable of all bat roosts - are protected and also to to contribute as much data as possible each year to the National Bat Monitoring Programme.

(Carol Ann demonstrates how some sites are just plain awkward to access)

Having reached a stage when I've arrived at the bottom of my list of possible sites, when we're running out of winter and when frankly I've seen enough wet, muddy and claustrophobic underground places to last a lifetime, I thought it would be interesting to take stock.

Including surveys of exisiting hibernacula, both in the Lothians and in Dumfries and Galloway, in the past three months I have surveyed:
  • 6 limestone mines
  • 1 copper mine
  • 7 lime kilns (one of them flooded to about half an inch higher than my waders!)
  • 2 tunnels
  • 4 castles
  • 2 soutterains
  • 1 WW2 underground bunker
  • 2 pill-boxes
  • 3 air-raid shelters

Out of all those sites, the following records were made:

  • 16 Natterer's Bats (Myotis nattereri)
  • 5 Daubenton's Bats (Myotis daubentonii)
  • 1 Unidentified myotis bat (Myotis sp.)
  • 6 Brown Long-eared Bats (Plecotus auritus)
  • 16 Pipistrelles (Pipistrellus sp.)

(Two Natterer's Bats hibernating in a cave roof crevice )

The frustration is that all the bats were in the sites where we expected to find them. In other words: no, we haven't found any new hibernacula! That said, there are several sites which have strong potential and will be revisited next year. The disappointing result is probably only to be expected. Bats are extremely discerning about sites they use for hibernation: their requirements regarding temperature, humidity, constancy of both and lack of disturbance are very precise. That is exactly why it is so important to find and protect these sites.

(A Daubenton's Bat hibernating in a gap within the wall of an underground stone bothy)

So, after many days of clambering about in thick gooey mud, with chilly water running down my neck, was it all worth it? Well, yes it was. Nigel, Carol Ann, Rachel, Stuart, David, Natalie, Freda, Max, Peter and all the other bat group members I've surveyed with are great company and there's a real feeling of doing something valuable for conservation, even if it's only to strike a site off the list.

Those sites in which we didn't find any bats often produced other compensations. Amongst other things, I've seen four different Barn Owl (Tyto alba) roosts, more Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus) than you can shake a stick at and some rather attractive grey slugs with a cream stripe (species, anyone?). Plus, loads of fascinating human history: from 3,000 year-old soutterains, through 600 year old castles to World War II bunkers and pill-boxes.

Oh, and I've got through enough Persil to sink a ship....

(Nigel, looking intrepid in a copper mine)

Please remember that hibernating bats are extremely vulnerable to disturbance. Carrying out hibernaculum surveys requires a roost visitor's licence with a specific endorsement. Entering a hibernaculum and disturbing hibernating bats is a criminal offence. Many hibernation sites are also extremely dangerous. If you are interested in doing this type of survey work contact your local bat group, who can help you to get involved legally and without risk of harming the bats or you.

More information on the NBMP: http://www.bats.org.uk/nbmp/index.asp

My Website: plecotus.co.uk

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