Many of us will never see one close up, but bats are one of the most fascinating animals around. The only true flying mammal, they’re more closely related to we humans than mice and are a sure sign of a healthy environment.
They also play an essential part in the natural world, accounting for more than 20 per cent of all mammal species in the UK. But around a quarter of the world’s bat population is threatened with extinction, with many UK bats struggling to survive as our diminishing wooded and open grass spaces mean bats can’t find the right habitat to feed and roost.
But we can all make a difference to the future of these creatures of the night, helping to enrich our neighbourhood wildlife – and our gardens too!
Food for bats
“The habitats bats rely on in the countryside are threatened by intensive farming and development, so gardens are increasingly important havens for them,” says Dr Joe Nunez-Mino from the Bat Conservation Trust. “Include plants in your garden that attract insects at night, such as evening primrose and night-scented stocks – the night- time insects then provide food for your local bats.”
Daisies, Scottish thistle, common honeysuckle and lavender are all great news for bats, too. If you have a wall or fence in your garden, grow climbing plants against it to attract more creepy crawlies and choose trees that have to be cut down to the ground every few years, such as hazel. This is because the young shoots and leaves that follow support lots of leaf-eating insects which are delicious bat fodder.
Wild gardens are best
Leave a tiny patch of your lawn to run wild and be a home to insect larvae. A pond or marshy area also encourages insects.
Turn your lights out
Being nocturnal, bats love the cover of night to go out hunting. Which is why it’s a right pain when they’re confronted by artificial night lights such as street lights, garden security lighting or decorative fairy lights.
Give them a hand by switching off lights in your garden at night. Or if you don’t want to turn off your security lighting, try changing your settings to a dimmer light or fit a hood over the top of them to limit light pollution.
Set up a bat box
You can buy a readymade bat box or make your own with well-sealed joints, rough sawn wood, small entry slits and a little bat ladder or landing area leading to an entry wide enough to admit bats – around 15-20mm. Nail it to a tree or wall and don’t disturb it as bats and their roosts are now legally protected.
The RHS, Bat Conservation Trust and The Wildlife Trusts are running a competition to find the best insect-friendly plant display in the country. If your garden has a display to tempt the tastebuds of a bat then email a photo along with your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org Prizes include a bat box, a bat detector and a visit from a bat enthusiast. The closing date is November 6.