Do Bats carry disease?

Only very small numbers of bats have been found to be carrying the Rabies European Bat Lyssavirus (EBL1 or EBL2) in the last 25 years in the UK. We know this because a screening programme has been in place for the last 20 years and has tested thousands of bats. Most positive samples come from Daubenton’s Bats, but in recent years it has been isolated in the Serotine bat and a single Soprano Pipistrelle (which was known to co-habit a roost with Serotines). Humans very rarely encounter these species in the SOuth Lancashire area, as  Daubenton’s Bats tend to live in places such as bridges and culverts, preferring these to housing, and Serotines are yet to be found in the area. They also feed when it is very dark, usually over a still water body such as a pond or reservoir. The rabies lyssavirus can only be contracted by a bite, scratch, or blood contact so if you don’t come directly into contact with the bat there is no risk. Only a tiny 4% of UK Daubentons’ bats are known to have come into contact with the disease. Some website refer to histoplasmosis however this is only found in tropical and sub-tropical climates and has never been found in UK bats, or their droppings.

Do bats drink blood?

No British bats drink blood. They all feed on insects. Throughout the world bats feed on a wide variety of foods, including insects, fruit, fish, frogs, nectar and there are three species out of about 1200 that drink blood. They inhabit the tropical and subtropical areas of central and South America.

Do Bats damage property?

The largest UK bat is the size of a small pear. The commonest UK bat, the Pipistrelle, has teeth which are designed to chew up small, soft-bodied insects like midges, so they don’t stand much chance of damaging wood and concrete. The only evidence you may see of bats in buildings is a few droppings, which are harmless. A bats main interest in life is feeding, sleeping and making baby bats, not damaging their homes. They are also not related to the rodents, so don’t have teeth that constantly grow. They don’t therefore need to gnaw!

What do bats eat?

All UK bats eat insects from midges and moths to spiders and even beetles. For example a single pipistrelle bat will eat on average an estimated 3000 midges per night during the summer. Overseas bats will eat all manner of foodstuffs from nectar and fruit to occasionally frogs fish and even other bats!

Where do bats live?

Bats should live in trees and caves, but humans have had the effect of reducing these places, so bats have had to find new places to live. Pipistrelle and Serotines often choose buildings like houses and factories to roost in. Others species prefer places such as bridges, barns, churches (porches and roofs, not the belfry, as the saying suggests!) mines, ice houses, cracks in cliffs, vaults, bunkers and deep basements, as well as old nest holes of birds, and, of course, bat boxes. Some bats may actually prefer these “new” roosts, although losing their natural roosts is one of the main problems in bat conservation.

Why are bats endangered?

Loss of natural roost sites such as trees, which are removed for development, and change of land use, and suitable trees (old ones with holes in) being cut down, for public safety reasons. Cave roosts are often visited by vandals and are used in recreational activities with little or no regard for bats living there; sometimes they are also blocked by landowners concerned about safety. Buildings that bats use are refurbished and modified, sometimes destroying the roost and it’s access points. Ignorance is one of the main factors. Bats are generally portrayed as vermin, and unfortunately some still believe this. Land use change from woodland to arable farmland and removal of hedgerows and loss of ponds all contribute to a decline in bat numbers. Fragmentation of the landscape, in this manner, also plays a part. Use of insecticides, pesticides and animal medicine lead to reduced numbers of the insects that bats eat. Climate change could also have a big effect; during a particularly long winter, some bats may not survive the hibernation as they use a lot of energy during this period. This energy needs to be built up in the preceding autumn, and again, if the weather has been poor during this time they may not have had the chance to build up the energy reserves necessary.

Female British bats usually only have one baby a year so if number reduce dramatically due to loss of summer roosts or poor climate conditions, it takes the bat population a longer time to recover than if they had three or four litters a year. More recent threats being investigated could include wind farms and White Nose Syndrome, although this latter has not yet been found in UK Bats. Artificial lighting can also impact on bats.

Are Bats protected?

Yes. All British bats are protected by the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 and fall within the remit of Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981, as amended by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, as well as a number of European conventions. It is illegal to kill, injure or disturb a bat in the UK. It is also illegal to damage, destroy or obstruct a bat roost.

Why is conservation of bats important? –

A common question, and one that is relatively easy to answer. Why do they need a purpose, they just exist, just like every other animal on earth. But there are still some who need an answer; bats are natures best pest control system. In a single night one pipistrelle bat can eat up to 3000 insects. They do not pollute rivers or land and as such are much more efficient at insect control than insecticides. In North America it has recently been calculated that bats save agriculture around $22.9 billion per year in insecticides with none of the adverse environmental effects, such as pollution and killing ‘useful’ insects. Bats are also very important in assessing the “health” of certain environments. They act as an indicator species as they are predators at the top of their food chain. In other parts of the world bats have important functions in pollination of plants as they feed on nectar, and collect and distribute pollen as they do this. The agave cactus which produces the fruit that we make tequila from, would probably not exists without bats, as they are the key pollinators of this species. Fruit bats eat fruit and distribute seeds of very important pioneer species of rainforests, generating regrowth of cleared forest. In poorer countries where bats are present in large numbers, they produce large amounts of guano (droppings), which locals collect and sell as fertiliser. In China bats are considered a symbol of luck. Bats are also an extremely successful species. Due to having wings, they are able to exploit a number of ecological niches, unavailable to other terrestrial animals. Apart from all this, and many other benefits, bats have a very pleasing aesthetic quality. Just watching these magnificent creatures flying around on a warm summers night, is extremely relaxing and even therapeutic. But don’t just take our word for this. You could visit one of those parks listed on this site and watch them for yourselves, or join the bat group as we do this all the time.

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