The Devon Bat Survey at Kingsley
Bats are the only mammal capable of true flight. They are small, with the largest UK bat being the noctule which weighs the same as four £1 coins, and the smallest is the pipistrelle, which weighs as little as a 2p coin. All our bats are insect-eaters, so having a few flitting around might just make those evenings in the garden a little less buggy! They roost in trees, caves, mines, and a variety of buildings.
Unfortunately, bats are in decline like much of our UK wildlife. This is largely due to habitat destruction and changes in agricultural practices which has led to a decline in both the numbers and variety of insects on which bats feed.
Devon is incredibly lucky as it plays home to 16 species of British bats out of a potential 18. This is because of its mild climate, diverse landscape with a complex pattern of different natural and farmed habitats for feeding and roosting, and its generally low levels of light pollution.
The Devon Bat Survey is a citizen science project led by Devon Wildlife Trust, aiming to give people across Devon the opportunity to find out what bats are active near them. This survey contributes data to the county’s biodiversity database held by the Devon Biodiversity Records Centre (DBRC), where it will be used to inform research and conservation activities.
We were fortunate enough to be involved in this survey, contributing a 1 km x 1 km portion of our grounds to their research. Equipment for the survey was booked and picked up for the survey which took place over 3 nights in late August. The equipment was comprised of a bat detector, a microphone, and a bamboo cane. We decided to set this up at the back of the Ecology Zone amongst the newly planted orchard.
The detector was programmed to turn on and off with sunset and sunrise and recorded sounds digitally for 3 nights. I collected the detector and downloaded the recordings and sent these off to be identified. The results were quite impressive.
We had over 1000 recordings of bats over the 3 nights. This does not mean we have over 1000 bats as the recordings
could be of the same bat circulating and returning each night, but it does indicate we have a lot of bat activity in the Ecology Zone. The recordings were identified by a computer to determine different species based on their call. The species are listed in order of frequency of recordings and thus presence.
Species found at Kingsley School:
1. Common Pipistrelle
2. Soprano Pipistrelle
6. Brown Long-eared
7. Lesser Horseshoe
8. Grey Long-eared
10. Nathusius Pipistrelle
In addition, it also identified Dark and Speckled Bush Crickets chirping away in evenings and mornings.
Grey Long-eared, Natter’s and Nathusius Pipistrelle are very rare and the recordings were of lower certainty so further work will be required to get confirmed verification.
However, we are extremely happy to have confirmed at least 7 different species coming to feed in the ecology zone. We are sure this is a consequence of the management of this area creating more habitats such as wildflower meadows and employing a ‘no dig’ approach to food production. This summer we witnessed a huge emergence of flying ants due to the number of ant colonies which have established in our meadow area. Though many people consider this to be a nuisance, the food source this provides for many other animals is vitally important, including bats. The diversity of bats is also a clear indicator of the diversity of insects we have got in the ecology zone, all of which is helping Kingsley establish itself as an Earth Centre and reinforces our commitment to biodiversity restoration and the environment.