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24 September 2014
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  Inside Out - South: Monday September 1, 2003


A greater mouse-eared bat. Photograph copyright of The Bat Conservation Trust and Phil Richardson
Chris Packham goes in search of the elusive greater mouse-eared bat

The greater mouse-eared bat was declared extinct 12 years ago, however two individuals have turned up in recent years.

Inside Out's Chris Packham joins in the hunt to discover if Britain's rarest mammal has made a comeback.

The greater mouse-eared bat was declared extinct 12 years ago after a lone male died in Sussex - thought to be the last surviving individual.

However two years ago an elderly female mouse-eared was found in Bognor, but died a few days later.

Then last December, a single young male was discovered hibernating in a tunnel near Chichester.

To find out just what has become of the greater mouse-eared bat, Inside Out sent Chris Packham to join bat workers in Sussex on a night search.

Going batty

Bats are one of the most misunderstood animals.

They are not blind and are skillful flyers that are most unlikely to get caught in your hair!

Chris Packham and bat worker scanning the sky at dusk
Chris Packham goes in search of the Britain's rarest mammal

However because they fly mainly at night they produce a stream of high-pitched calls and listen to the returning echoes which provide them with a distinct 'sound' picture of their surroundings.

Of the 16 species left in Britain, six are endangered or rare and six others are regarded as vulnerable.

Whilst the mouse-eared bat may be an elusive character to track, the pipistrelle bat, our commonest species, can be found in abundance at Hampshire's largest bat roost - home to up to 800 bats.

Inside Out captured unique pictures of a dawn swarm, a fascinating activity which still baffles the scientists.

Each summer large numbers of bats swarm outside their main roost. Why they do so is not known but it's thought it may be a way of calling other bats to the roost.

Whilst many people fear the bat - largely due to its fictional vampire connections - they are in fact very useful to us.

The pipistrelle is only four centimetres long and weighs less than a two pence coin but can eat up to 3,000 midges in a night.

Under threat

But even the relatively common pipistrelle, has declined 70 per cent since the 1970s largely due to intensive farming, particularly the use of pesticides and the removal of hedgerows.

A transmitter being fitted to a pipistrelle for radio tracking
The pipistrelle is being tracked using a tiny transmitter

The pipistrelles are currently being studied by bat researcher Ian Davidson-Watts who is trying to find out more about their feeding and roosting habits.

To do this he fits a tiny radio transmitter onto individual bats so he can track them.

The pipistrelle is our smallest bat and it's the first time this particular species has been radio tracked.

Recent research has shown just how vulnerable our bat species are.

A study by the Bat Conservation Trust and the RSPB reveals that bat roosts are being routinely damaged or destroyed by developers.

Most of these offences occur when builders replace soffit boards on houses or renovate derelict buildings such as barns.

Despite an extensive search of likely feeding and roost sites by Chris and up to a dozen bat workers armed with bat detectors the greater mouse-eared failed to put in an appearance.

However the hunt for this most elusive bat continues into the autumn.

See also ...

BBC: Science/Nature - 'Extinct' UK bat bounces back

On the rest of the web
Bat Conservation Trust
Bat Conservation International
Sussex Bat Group
Hampshire Bat Group

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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Readers' Comments

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Inside Out South
In response to Janet Moyse:

All our bat species are threatened and therefore protected by law.

However anyone who is experiencing problems should contact their local English Nature office for advice. They will usually visit the church or house to see what can be done to help.

For example if a church has a problem with droppings they may suggest that shelves are fitted under the roost to catch them.

We hope they can help.
Best Wishes
Inside Out South

Janet Moyse
You say bats should not be moved out of a building but our church has suffered considerably (not to mention the Sunday worshipers!) because of bats. Their droppings, etc. have caused a lot of problems to the furnishings in the church. Any comments on the best way to deal with this problem?

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