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All Bats in the UK are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. There are approximately 17 species known to be breeding in the UK and a few you might be lucky to see are detailed below.
The smallest and most common bat in the UK, Pipstrelles are distinguishable by their tiny bodies, short hind legs and short wide ears. They have dark, red/brown fur on their backs and yellow/brown undersides while the ears, nose and wing membranes are a darker black/brown.
Pipstrelles mate in the Autumn, just before hibernation, but female egg cells are not fertilised until Spring (known as delayed implantation). The gestation period is approximately 6 – 7 weeks with usually just one pup born in the Summer.
Baby bats are tiny and hairless, blind for about a week and heavily reliant on its mother for survival. It lives on its mother’s back – and feeds solely on her milk – until it can fly and hunt for itself; usually between 3 – 6 weeks.
It is estimated that a single Pipistrelle bat can consume up to 3,000 insects in a single night.
The only mammals in the world capable of natural flight, bats live in colonies – typically in trees, buildings, eaves or rock crevices during the summer. These creatures require only a 13mm gap to gain access to harbourage.
Pipstrelle bats hibernate in the winter, they gradually stop feeding and find themselves a suitable location to lie dormant throughout the cold weather.
Bats feed on lacewings, small moths, mosquitoes and midges – they search for prey over water, woodland, marshes and even urban areas; emerging from their roost shortly after sunset to spend the night foraging for food.
Pipstrelles do not cause damage to the buildings they roost in – apart from the mess their droppings cause. Bats are not aggressive, but may pose a threat by biting to defend themselves when provoked.
It is important to note that in countries such as the UK bats and their roosts are protected by law and it is an offence to damage, destroy or block access to their harbourages.
The largest British bat species, but would still fit in the palm of your hand. Adults are a sleek chocolate brown colour with broad brown ears with a distinctive mushroom shaped tragus (inner side of the ear).
In April they form mixed colonies in tree holes or bat boxes. Roosts in buildings are gathering roosts only and the colonies move away at the end of May. Young are born around July with females usually having one young, occasionally they do have twins. The young are suckled on mothers milk for 3 to 4 weeks becoming fully weaned within about 6 weeks. Noctule bats will then hibernate in tree hollows, rock fissures and sometimes bat boxes over winter, occasionally feeding if conditions are suitable.
Noctule bats are quite widespread across England, Wales and south west Scotland. They feed on beetles, mayflies, moths and winged ants flying above tree level then steeply diving to chase insects. They fly over pastures, woodland edges and hedgerows hunting insects, sometime spearing before sunset. Like many other species their habitat is under pressure from modern intensive agriculture.
Daubenton’s is a medium size bat species, compared to the Noctule. It’s fur is a reddy brown colour with a paler underbelly and it has a pinkish face which is bare of fur around the eyes.
Daubenton’s bats mate during the autumn but males will continue to seek females throughout the winter. They will start maternity roosts from late spring, on occasion these can last into October. The young suckle for several weeks and are able to forage for themselves after about 8 weeks. They enter wintering sites from October to January. These are often caves, tunnels or mines. They can be found hiding among the rocks and scree on the floor of caves and tunnels. Individual bats of this species have been known to live up to 22 years.
Summer roosts are to be found in humid, covered sites close to water, for example tunnels or bridges over rivers and canals. Daubenton’s tend to feed close to the roost (approx. 6km). They take insects such as mayflies and midges from very close to the water surface. At times they can be seen using their feet and tail membrane to scoop up insects directly from the surface of the water.
Despite the loss and damage to their natural habitat of wetlands, rivers and waterways these bats remain are fairly widespread across the UK. They are learning to adapt to artificial water sources such as gravel pits and reservoirs.