A guide to Britain's bats - what might you spot this summer?

A guide to Britain's bats - what might you spot this summer?

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We might be past the summer solstice, but the evenings are still long and light enough for us to be spending plenty of time out in our gardens when the weather permits.

This provides a valuable chance to see more of nature than we might at other times of year, with birds, small mammals and butterflies all potentially flying or creeping around our picnic blankets, arbours and benches as we chat with friends and family.

If you sit outside past sunset and into dusk though, you might want to cast your eyes upwards and look out for bats too, because there's a high chance that you might spot some and they're a joy to watch.

Why we should love bats

Bat-watching might seem unpleasant to some people, who have unfortunately developed something of a fear of these tiny creatures due to enduring stereotypes and prejudices.

Contrary to popular belief, bats won't deliberately fly at you - and they won't get tangled in your hair either. Bats are actually extremely shy and will go out of their way to avoid you. They also rely on echolocation for navigation which is highly accurate, so even if they do dare to come closer, the chances of them touching you are very slim.

British bats won't bite you or come into your open windows and suck your blood either, so don't let chiroptophobia prevent you from enjoying these highly entertaining little mammals.

In fact, bats are actively helping us by eating thousands of insects every night, including those annoying little midges that might otherwise have you heading inside in annoyance. This can reduce the need for pesticides and so contribute to a healthier ecosystem for other creatures like bees.

Bats can also actively pollinate some plants and spread their seeds, so they're really as hard-working as butterflies on our behalf. 

Which bats might I spot?

So, now we've persuaded you that bats are to be cherished, which ones should you be looking out for? Britain boasts an incredible 17 breeding species, but some are more common than others.

Here are the top five you could see in your garden or while out walking this summer.

1.    Pipistrelles

This is cheating slightly as there are three sub-species of pipistrelle - common, soprano and Nathusius's, but they are only distinctive to non-experts by the sound of their echolocation. They're tiny and weigh less than a £1 coin, but they're the most likely to be spotted across the country. Look out for them under trees and along hedges up to around ten metres above the ground.

2.    Natterer's

This bat can be found throughout Britain and is very speedy in flight. Medium-sized, you might see it in woodland as it darts close to the ground for insects.

3.    Daubenton's

Look out for this small bat if you live near rivers, lakes or a pond. If you're lucky, you might even see it skimming along the water's surface to catch insects with its feet or tail.

4.    Noctule

Anyone living in southern Scotland or below might spot this species. It's quite large and is typically found above fields and under the trees in woodlands, where it will dive steeply to chase prey.

5.    Brown long-eared

This is perhaps the easiest bat to spot, as it is slower in flight and sometimes hovers for prey, plus it can be found in parks and gardens. It also has quite a distinctive shape that's closest to the silhouette we're used to seeing on Halloween drawings.

Check which bat you're looking at with the assistance of our helpful ID chart if you'd like more information on key characteristics of these and Britain's other species.

Bats under threat

Although a report published last year by the European Environment Agency suggested bat numbers are recovering after years of decline, the organisation warns that they should still be considered vulnerable.

They are slow to reproduce, which makes them vulnerable to a loss of their habitat brought about by increased building work, hedgerow destruction and tree felling, as well as falling food supplies due to changing farming practices.

How you can help

If we've persuaded you to think again about bats, then you'll be pleased to know there are a number of things you can do to help them.

Among the easiest is erecting bat boxes to increase their roosting space. Our Chillon WoodStone® Bat Box can accommodate up to 15 common pipistrelles on trees or the side of buildings, while the Segovia Build-in WoodStone® Bat Box can be built into walls, to name but two. Put them around five metres high and allow for a clear flight path in and out.

You could also revamp your garden to include bat-friendly features like flowers that are scented in the evenings, plenty of foliage and a pond to attract insects.

If you find a bat that appears to be vulnerable (especially during the day), call the Bat Conservation Trust on 0345 1300 228 and they will advise you on what to do, which may include moving it to a shoebox for safety. Don't forget to use gloves if this is the case.

Finally, if you discover a bat roost during building work, stop immediately and call the trust for advice, as they are a protected species.

Why not see if you can enjoy spotting and conserving the bats in your area this summer and beyond?