SUFFOLK WILDLIFE TRUST: Bat needs a good supply of dead and damaged trees to roost in

Barbastelle bat. Picture by Hugh Clark - Bat Conservation Trust ANL-140905-114645001
Barbastelle bat. Picture by Hugh Clark - Bat Conservation Trust ANL-140905-114645001
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The barbastelle bat is unmistakable if seen at close quarters. Its short black ears join across the forehead giving its head a peculiar squarish shape.

As bats go, it is medium sized and lives in woodlands where there is plenty of dead and damaged trees. The barbastelle tends to roost in storm- split branches and behind loose bark – as these tend to be temporary features its chosen woodland habitat needs to be dynamic. The compulsion to ‘tidy up’ woodlands, which removes dead wood and damaged branches, is a continual threat to these animals.

One of Britain’s rarest bats, the barbastelle is currently listed as endangered or vulnerable in most European countries. The first known breeding colony was discovered in 1996 in Norfolk. The bat has a restricted distribution being confined to England north to Yorkshire and Wales.

Prior to 2004, most Suffolk records relate to single animals in hibernation with the exception of six animals discovered hibernating in a purpose-built site in January 2002. They are remarkably tolerant of cold weather and have been noted as entering hibernation sites only when the temperatures drop well below freezing for long periods.

Since 2004, advances in bat detectors, particularly when used in conjunction with computer sound analysis, have enabled the Suffolk Bat Group – one of the Trust’s specialist groups – to survey a number of potential new sites. Ancient woodland and park land have been the target habitats and barbastelles have been found on every occasion.

In Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s Captain’s Wood reserve at Sudbourne, which members helped us to buy in 2005, barbastelles were the second most common species recorded; they have also been found at Arger Fen and Spouse’s Vale near Assington and more recently good populations have been recorded at Knettishall Heath and Lackford Lakes. Very few breeding colonies have been located in the county but as a tree dwelling species that moves roosts regularly this is not surprising. Detector work has so far shown that they are probably widespread in Suffolk where there is suitable habitat.

The Trust comments on planning applications that are likely to have an adverse impact on bats or where opportunities exist to enhance the environment for them. Such applications can include barn conversions, where there is a bat roost that may be affected, or development proposals that may damage or destroy significant foraging or commuting habitat such as proposals for Sizewell C. We also seek the inclusion of bat friendly features in the design of new development such as the incorporation of roosting opportunities or the inclusion of good landscape planting.

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