Quantock Hills Blog

Well done to our batty volunteers!

- That's our Bat Monitoring Volunteers who have completed their first year of bat monitoring.

Iain Porter

Posted by Iain Porter on 24 July 2014

Well done to our batty volunteers! On the Quantock Hills we have developed a group of dedicated volunteers who have just finished the last of this year’s bat surveys. Initially we are surveying at Fyne Court and Cothelstone Hill but we hope to do more sites in the future.

Like me many of our volunteers have become fascinated by bats over the last few years.  These animals, the only mammals that can truly fly, have long held a fascination for people. Flying in the dark with no apparent means of finding their way or hunting it is easy to see why they are often associated with the darker legends and horror stories, also helped by the fact that there are 3 species which drink blood, commonly known as vampire bats – don’t worry they all live in South America.

Worldwide there are over 1,100 species of bat but in the UK there are 18 species which are resident with 17 species known to breed in the UK. Somerset is very lucky in that it has records of 16 of the 18 species, the latest to be found was only in 2010 when a Leisler’s bat was found in Taunton. All UK bat species are classed as microbats which tend to be the smaller species. Megabats are larger bat species often living in tropical regions and include species such as the Flying foxes or fruit bats. The most common of the UK Bats is the Common pipistrelle, which weights around 5grams and can eat 3,000 tiny insects in one night.


The fascinating thing about bats is how they manage to find their way at night. All bats can see, almost as well as humans, but at night when light levels are low bats use echolocation to find their way around. Echolocation works in a similar way to sonar, where a bat will make a call as they fly and listen to the returning echoes to build up a sonic map of their surroundings. The bat will be able to tell how far aware something is by how long it takes the sound to return to them.


These calls are pitched at a frequency too high for adult humans to hear – we can hear frequencies from 20Hz (cycles per second) to 20,000Hz or 20KHz. Different bat species will ‘call’ at different frequencies, with Noctules calling around 20KHz and Lesser Horseshoe bats calling up to 110KHz. The reason for bat to emit their echolocation calls at such high frequencies is to get detailed echoes from small insects. The only downside is that high frequencies do not carry far in air so the bat has to emit exceptionally loud sounds, with the loudest known bat call exceeding 140 dB. It is just as well that we cannot hear the bats echolocation as the threshold of pain for humans is around 120 dB!


Interesting bat facts:

·     Bats belong to the family Chiroptera, which means ‘hand wing’ referring to the fact that the forelimbs are modified to form wings.

·     The smallest bat is the Pipistrellus nanus, found in central Africa, which is only 4cm long with a wingspan of 12.5cm

·     The largest bat is the Pteropus vampyrus, found in Java, which is 42cm long and has a wingspan of 1.4m


If you would like to come and explore the Fyne Court looking and listening for bats then why not join me and our local bat expert Kate Jefferies on Saturday 16th August! For more information click here - http://www.quantockhills.com/events/view

For more information on bats:

Somerset Bat Group – www.somersetbatgroup.org.uk  

Bat Conservation Trust – www.bats.org.uk

In the UK bat populations have declined considerably over the last century. This is due to building and development work, loss and degradation of their habitat the loss of commuting routes by road building and removal of hedgerows and threats in the home, such as chemicals and cat attacks. Due to this decline in populations all bats and their roosts are protected by law.


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