When thinking about the wildlife around us, one group of creatures that might go under the radar are our bats. As the autumn nights draw in and the temperatures cool, these tiny flying creatures will be settling in for hibernation over winter. You might not think there are many about, but of the 18 species that live in the UK, no less than 12 have been recorded in recent years in the wider parish of Exminster and half a dozen or more in the core village. Based on some limited surveys (using bat detectors that pick up the ultrasound calls), there are some real hotspots with hundreds of records being picked up over a night or two in places like Devington Park, Old Quarry Drive, Milbury Lane and Sentry’s Orchard. Perhaps not surprisingly, these seem to coincide where there are higher densities of mature trees and older buildings that offer roosting opportunities. We’d like to get a more complete picture, so do get in touch if you think you’d like to get involved in surveys.
Probably the most common bats you’ll spot as they flash across the sky at dusk will be the tiny Common Pipistrelles or ‘Pips’ which are only 6 or 7 cm long. They’ll quite happily find spaces in houses to roost. At the other end of the scale, perhaps twice as big are the Noctule bats, more likely to roost in mature trees or bat boxes. They are amazing aerial acrobats – and can feed on an unbelievable 3000 insects in a single night. The picture is of the brown long-eared bat that also prefers more wooded habitat and has been picked up in the past along the Berry Brook.
We can all do our bit to help with the way we garden or manage land. Steps like having a variety of flowering plants, especially night scented ones; having water in the garden and leaving wilder areas all help. Bat boxes can be fitted above 4m from the ground (either near eaves of buildings or trees), away from light and disturbance.
Reassurance and helpful advice for anyone with concerns is freely available from a helpline run by the Bat Conservation Trust (Tel 0345 1300 228 or email firstname.lastname@example.org).
Do though take a moment to keep an eye open and get the thrill of seeing these acrobats in action.