Going Batty – the Island is of International importance for bats

Going Batty – the Island is of International importance for bats

The Isle of Wight has been identified as one of the most important areas for woodland bats in Europe. It also has 14 of the 18 different species of bat found in the UK.

A recent survey (November 2009) found that there were more than 20 Bechstein’s and six Barbastelle maternity roosts on the Island. The largest single maternity roost for Barbastelle bats was found within one split ancient oak in Parkhurst Forest, with over 115 bats.

Ian Davidson Watts did work here over a number of years and found lots of roosts of rare bats,” said Dr Colin Pope, ecology Officer for IW Council.

“More recently there has been work done on radio tracking bats in Brighstone Forest. We have a lot of research people coming here because the Island is such a good place to study them.”

The Island also has its own Bat Hospital, with proprietors Graham and Donna Street helping and healing bats that become sick or are injured. The couple also raises awareness about bats across the Island at schools, summer fairs, shows and organize walks to see and hear them.

“The most common on the Island are Pipistrelles, then Serotines and then Long-eared,” said Graham Street from the Isle of Wight Bat Hospital.

“But we have a lot of the rarer bats such as the Grey Long Eared Bat, the Barbastelle and we have Bechstein’s in good numbers. The rarest bat is the Greater Horseshoe – it’s a very secretive bat and the males are sole roosters – but we have them here on the Island too.

“Bats are coming out of hibernation about now, but if we get a lot of mild nights and then a cold snap then we’ll get problems,” explained Graham who aims to get to a bat in distress within the hour.

‘We’ve found bats in weird places,” said Graham. “We found one in a recycling bin outside a lady’s backdoor and another one in a hub cap on a car.

“Injuries are usually cat attacks, but most times its dehydration, and bats will often make themselves prominent to a human if they are sick or injured.

“Once a lorry driver was driving along near Island Harbour and a Noctule Bat, the largest British bat with a wingspan of 16 inches, flew in through an open window of his lorry and onto his face! He put it into a box and left it at the ferry terminal for us to collect.”

The last bus from Newport to Freshwater once had a bat fly in through an open window in Yarmouth.

“All the people had panicked and left the bus, and when I arrived they all made the ‘Batman’ music,” laughed Graham. “It was a Pipistrelle bat and we took it back to where it had flown into the bus and let it go.”

Pipistrelle bats are the most common bats in the UK and the Island, and are also the smallest, with a 7½ inch wingspan and weighing around five grams – the same weight as a 10p piece.

“Pipistrelle bats are common in homes, even new houses,” said Dr Colin Pope the Ecology Officer at IW Council.

“There are lots of different species of Pipistrelle bats on the continent and we have at least three species of them resident here on the Island. “

The Bat Hospital have rescued 1,350 bats since they set up in 1997, and now have an average of 100 bats through the hospital every year, usually from April until November.

Vet Ian Green and his team look after the bats, and are now quite adept at pinning their wings.

There are also around 40 bats that live at the hospital, as they cannot be returned to the wild.  Donna makes cozy hanging bat sleeping bags, out of old sheets, for them to roost in or behind, and the bats are fed mealworms during their captivity.

The Bat Hospital is an affiliated member of the Bat Conservation Trust and is a completely independent, self-funding, non-profit making voluntary organization.

“Our son found a Pipistrelle bat at school in 1996 and it took us five days to find someone who could help us and that’s how it all started,” said Graham.

“It took us over,” added Donna. “We’re very passionate about what we do.”

There are two ‘Go Batty in the Park’ walks with Graham during the Walking Festival, which include an illustrated talk and the chance to meet some live bats.

These are on Friday May 13 and Friday May 20 at 7.15pm and start from the Broadway Centre in Sandown – a roost for around 80 Pipistrelle bats. The walks take around 2 hrs 25mins and are over 2 miles with donations to the Bat Hospital – contact Graham Street on (01983) 406756 Mob: 07771 605952