Devon residents go batty for science this summer

Tuesday 26th September 2017

Collecting bat survey kit at Chudleigh Town HallCollecting bat survey kit at Chudleigh Town Hall

Hundreds of people in Devon have surveyed their gardens for bats this summer as part of the Devon Greater Horseshoe Bat Project.

The 2017 Devon Bat Survey has been the biggest yet with 600 unique locations surveyed, from Seaton to Plymouth and Salcombe to Combe Martin.

Participants in the survey – which this year runs until the end of October - collect their bat detector and ultrasonic microphone from one of 20 monitoring centres across Devon, including shops, garden centres and community hubs.

Each survey takes place over three nights – so there have been a total of 1800 nights of bat detecting in Devon gardens this summer. So far that has required more than 2700 hours of volunteer time in collecting and deploying the bat detectors.

And this survey effort has resulted in more than half a million sound files recording the nocturnal noises – including those of echo-locating bats in flight - in Devon gardens since April.

These files are being analysed to produce a report for each garden showing which of Devon’s sixteen bat species has been recorded.

Bat surveyors from early in the season have already had their reports, which take around a month for project staff and volunteers to complete.

Devon’s landscapes supported thriving bat populations for centuries until some species suffered serious declines in the last few decades. Monitoring bat activity is an important tool in bat conservation, but there are still many gaps in our knowledge of what species are present in different parts of Devon.

Ruth Testa, manager of the Devon Wildlife Trust-led Devon Greater Horseshoe Bat Project said: “The Devon Bat Survey is so important in helping to increase our understanding of how all bats, not just the greater horseshoe, are using our landscape. By doing it in a way that involves members of the general public, it means that more people become aware of bats around them, raising the profile of these fascinating mammals”.

Taking part in the Devon Bat Survey has proved a hit with wildlife lovers in Devon. One participant near Paignton, after receiving the report from their garden, said: “We are most excited to hear that we have so many different bats in the area. We will most definitely be keeping an eye out for them!”

And receiving survey results has even inspired a little friendly competition among the volunteer surveyors, keen to see whether they can match the number of bat species recorded in their neighbours’ gardens. Jill Turner, owner of holiday cottages near Bideford, commented on Facebook: “Really easy to set up the equipment, now eagerly awaiting the report from our August survey. Others in Littleham have discovered 10+ species flying by so we are excited to discover more about our bat population.”

There are still opportunities to take part in this year’s survey by booking a bat detector online at www.devonbatproject.org. The 2017 survey runs until the end of October.

The Devon Bat Survey will return next spring and continue as part of the Devon Greater Horseshoe Bat Project for another three years.

A report on the full results from all bat surveys across Devon in 2017 is scheduled to be available online in January.