I love to see bats flitting around the house when they emerge on the first warm night of spring. It’s a sign that winter’s ending, with a promise of warm summer evenings to follow.
But for many people, bats inspire fear and loathing. Ecologist and bat expert John Drewett says, “I think it’s because bats are in horror movies – vampires and so on.”
John makes home visits to people who discover bats, and adds, “I’ve had some people panic so much, they’ve gone to stay with relatives.”
Happily, though, he is usually able to find a solution and bring the people back. Often, he says, it’s a simple matter of providing information. Once people understand something about the creatures and their lifestyle, their fears are allayed.
I met John, who kindly gave his expertise for a feature in Countryside Magazine this month, because bats are a highly protected species.
Several laws protect bats and the places where they choose to live. So when they choose to live in a building also occupied by people, this can cause conflict.
In the Church where I met him, the bats have become part of the congregation. St Andrews in Grinton, in the Yorkshire Dales, has launched a conservation project, with selected areas of the churchyard allowed to fill with wildflowers and long grass. This provides habitat for insects, the food of the bats.
When it comes to homes, though, John says that no one has to share their living space with a bat. In fact, the bats usually prefer places that people can’t get into. He says, “Bats will often roost in wall cavities, or in soffits. They quite like modern houses, built since the 1970s, as they have lots of gaps. People can live quite happily in a house and not know that there are a couple of hundred bats in the roof. Then, they’ll perhaps have a barbecue, see the bats emerge and be convinced that they’re being taken over by bats. In reality, the bats may have been there for twenty years.
He says, “If a bat’s flying in the room, often it’s flown in through the window. Normally it flies round until it’s completely exhausted, trying to find a way out. Eventually, it settles. If you then put a glove on (to avoid bites), you can gently pick it up and put it outside – you’re allowed to do this if it’s in your house.”
“If a bat is injured, a Trust volunteer can fetch it and care for it.”
“I give advice on how bats live: they won’t cause any damage; they don’t chew like mice, or make nests like birds. They just leave their droppings as they go in and out. They’re not a hygiene hazard; they’re just the indigestible bits of insect wings, and crumble to dust.”
For anyone with concerns about bats, John recommends first calling the National Bat Helpline, on 0345 1300 228, or visit www.bats.org.uk
John Drewett offers professional consultancy, especially on planning permission where bats may be involved.