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Rare long-eared bat found in church

04 November 2022

Jan Svetlik, Back from the Brink Project

Grey long-eared bat

Grey long-eared bat

ONE of the rarest mammals in Britain has been discovered living in a church close to the Blackdown Hills, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, in Somerset.

The national population of grey long-eared bats is concentrated in southern England, and is thought to number only 1000, and is so vulnerable that it is listed officially as endangered in the UK. It was made a target species for the project Back from the Brink: a nationwide partnership to save some of the country’s most threatened species from extinction.

The bat, Plecotus austriacus, was discovered by a volunteer for the National Bats in Churches Survey, and was confirmed by DNA analysis of droppings. The survey is run by Bats in Churches: a five-year, £5-million partnership between Natural England, the Church of England, Bat Conservation Trust, the Churches Conservation Trust, and Historic England, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The project is a volunteer-led citizen-science project that has already checked more than 700 churches, and provided data to help to conserve the species and support church communities.

The training and surveys officer at Bats in Churches, Claire Boothby, said: “The survey is allowing us to make exciting new discoveries about bats and their use of churches. As we know of so few grey long-eared bat roosting sites, each confirmation of the species is precious.”

Bats in Churches has already funded practical interventions at 34 churches, and supplied 25 more with surveys and bat-management plans, together with assistance on fund-raising for mitigation work. It also offers practical help with cleaning, solutions for interiors affected by bats, education in the form of bat events, and visits to schools.

The bat weighs 10g, and has a maximum wingspan of 30cm. At about 5cm, its ears are almost as long as its body. When sleeping, it tucks them under its wings. According to the Bat Conservation Trust, the bat has suffered through habitat loss: its favourite foraging habitat, unimproved grasslands, has declined by 92 per cent in the past century.

This discovery is only the second known find of the bat in a church: the first was found in 2019, in Dorset. The number of grey long-eared bats cannot be accurately determined, as the DNA apparently only identifies the species.

The Bat Conservation Trust’s director of conservation, Carol Williams, said: “It’s very encouraging to be aware of more records coming in from Somerset. When there are so few of this species left in England, knowing where the remaining animals are is of great importance.”

Edward Wells, a member of the Somerset Bat Group, said: “What is quite clear is that we are getting more and more records of grey long-eared bats coming over the last five years. It’s quite likely that it has been under-recorded, not least because its close relative, the brown long-eared bat, is our third commonest species, and observers tend to go with the most likely identification.”

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