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A wonderfully batty post
Dr Joe Nunez-Mino of the Bat Conservation Trust in the UK wants to change the way we see bats (and it might happen after you read this)
Bats. Either you love them or you’re scared of them.
If you’re scared, that’s understandable – they’re often seen as these icky, dangerous and disease-carrying creatures that thrive in the dark or at night.
And then there’s their connection to vampires. (Although I think a lot of people might like this bit.)
Anyway, like all things in nature, bats deserve a chance to state their case and be heard.
And who better to represent them and help them do that than Dr Joe Nunez-Mino, the director of communications and fundraising at the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) in the UK?
Joe gets the bat phobia, but he’ll also be the first to tell you that this bad reputation is unfair and totally undeserved.
“Because bats are nocturnal, many people have no direct experience of them and the unknown is scary to many,” he admits.
“They are also negatively portrayed in films as something to be scared of. But in fact, bats are a vital part of ecosystems. In the UK, they play an important role in controlling insect numbers, and this is particularly important in agricultural landscapes.
“In other parts of the world, some species help to pollinate plants and spread their seeds, so they are helping with forest regeneration,” he adds.
I bet you didn’t know that
I bet you also didn’t know that there are so many other cool facts about bats, it’s hard for Joe to narrow them down to just a few. But I asked him to try. Here are his personal favourites, to start:
• Bats see with sound
“When you think about it, that is an amazing way to see the world. They do have excellent eyesight, by the way, but in darkness their ability to navigate the world by shouting means they can see structure, pattern and movement through echoes.”
• Bats are extraordinarily long-lived
“Most mammals of the same size of our smallest bat live for a year or two, but bats can live for decades – which means the bats you watch in your garden could be the same ones you see for many years in a row.”
What did we tell you?
If you’re still not convinced, Joe shares with us his favourite type of bat too.
“Every species is unique and wonderful, but for me, it must be the brown long-eared bat because its cuteness is off the scale,” he says.
“When asleep, they tuck their large ears away by folding them up. Watching one wake up is like watching a flower open up. It is simply magic.”
If you love animals – and regardless of how you still feel about bats – it’s hard not to appreciate and understand Joe’s enthusiasm for them.
And if you’d like to show your newfound appreciation for bats too, Joe has suggestions for how we can help.
“Inform yourself and then help to educate others, so that more people can appreciate these wonderful creatures that make up a quarter of all mammal species,” he advises.
“If you make your garden bat-friendly, you will be helping other wildlife too, from building a pond to reducing the amount of artificial lighting.”
He asks us to check out their website for more tips. (Me: Most of them are doable!)
Because bats do need us
More than any of us will ever know. “Four of the 11 mammal species native to Britain classified as being at imminent risk of extinction are bats,” Joe emphasises.
“Bats are slow-breeding; they only have one baby a year (called a pup). When a roost is destroyed, particularly a maternity roost, it can have a huge impact on the local bat population.”
So on top of making gardens bat-friendly, here’s what else you can learn, do and commit to:
• Make bat monitoring more inclusive
“We have surveys that are suitable for everyone; take a look here,” Joe points out.
“To take part in the sunset survey, you don’t even need a bat detector. We are also using technology that enables people to leave tiny bat detectors out overnight in any number of different places, from urban to rural habitats. Our NightWatch project is an example of this.”
• Participate in the Bats in Churches project
“This is one of our flagship projects, which has helped to find solutions in places where large bat roosts were causing extra work and damage in some churches.
“By working together, church users and bat conservationists have found sustainable ways that help to relieve problems that bats can cause.”
• Join or contribute to the National Bat Helpline
What’s it like to be part of this team? What happens at a bat helpline, and what kind of issues do they focus on and solve?
“The Bat Helpline handles enquiries from lots of different people by phone and by email,” Joe explains.
“We have lots of advice available on the website, but some people call to get advice about what to do when they have to do building work on their house, and they know they have a bat roost.
“Natural England Volunteer Bat Roost Visitors can help assess the situation and provide advice so that disturbance to roosts is minimised. The Helpline team are able to co-ordinate these visits and issue advice on behalf of Natural England.
“We also train and work with many volunteers who take calls from people who have found a grounded or injured bat. The Volunteer Bat Care Helpline helps put bat finders in touch with a local volunteer rehabilitator where one is available.
“The Helpline team are the frontline of bat conservation. They don’t just provide advice, they win over hearts and minds.”
There are other ways
There’s also the added bonus of working with the inspiring people at BCT. For Joe, it’s one of the best things about being involved with BCT.
“People, people and people,” he echoes.
“I am very privileged to work with such an amazing dedicated team, and I don’t mean just the people who work directly for BCT, but all the volunteers who give up so much of their time and energy to help bats. The amount of generosity and community is really something to be admired and celebrated.”
And the cool discoveries don’t stop either. It seems like you’ll never get bored at BCT, and there’s always something to make things much more interesting.
What has excited Joe and the team recently?
“There’s still so much we don’t know! All UK bats eat insects, and there is a growing body of evidence to say that insect-eating bats play an important role in keeping down populations of insects that damage crops and gardens.”
Just to be clear: We’re not saying you should ooh and aah over bats, or that you should attempt to touch them, pet and play with them, or turn them into your new best friends (don’t!).
Not that I think most people would. But maybe try not to easily pass judgment the next time you see one bat or a colony, cauldron, camp or cloud? (The last four terms are what a group of bats are called.)
See? You learnt something new that could make you appreciate bats – and help them –just a bit more.