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Bats as Indicators of Biodiversity


Bats are a vital part of our native wildlife, accounting for almost a third of all mammal species in the UK and occupy a wide range of habitats, such as wetlands, woodlands, farmland, as well as urban areas. They can tell us a lot about the state of the environment, as they are top predators of common nocturnal insects and are sensitive to changes in land use practices. The pressures they face - such as landscape change, agricultural intensification, development, and habitat fragmentation are also relevant to many other wildlife species, making them excellent indicators for the wider health of the UK's wildlife.

"Bats are integral to the environment and are a good indicator of the wildlife we often don't see - such as the insects they feed on. The evidence gathered by organisations such as the Bat Conservation Trust and its volunteers is invaluable to better focus research and conservation action."

Joan Ruddock MP, Minister for Biodiversity

Using BCT data

water survey (ayoungman)BCT has been monitoring UK bat populations for more than 10 years under its National Bat Monitoring Programme (NBMP), with the help of more than 3,500 dedicated volunteers.

These long term population trends have been used to inform conservation work and provide a picture of the state of the UK's bats but they are now also being used to provide an indication of the state of our environment as a whole. They complement existing environmental indicators, such as birds and butterflies in that they are nocturnal, and so are more relevant to less documented environmental changes such as light pollution.

UK Biodiversity Indicators

leavesSince 2008, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has included bats in their set of ‘indicator species,' which help measure progress towards the Government's target of halting biodiversity loss. The indicators show changes in aspects of biodiversity such as the population size of important species or the area of land managed for wildlife. They provide part of the evidence to assess whether the targets set out above have been achieved.

The eight bat indicator species are lesser horseshoe bat, common pipistrelle, soprano pipistrelle, Daubenton's bat, Natterer's bat, serotine and noctule. Download a copy of the UK Biodiversity Indicators - summary booklet

EUROBATS: Intersessional Working Group on Bats as Indicators 

BCT has led recent projects on the development of biodiversity indicators using NBMP data and is a member of the EUROBATS Intersessional Working Group on Bats as Indicators. Examples of recent indicator work include:

BICCO-NET: the biodiversity impacts of climate change observation network

common pipistrelle (hugh clark)BCT contributed to the BICCO-Net project through its provision of access to various NBMP datasets, such as the Field Survey, which covers noctule, serotine and pipistrelle bats and the Waterway Survey which covers Daubenton's bats.

BICCO-NET aimed to develop a process for collating, analysing and providing rapid web-based feedback of evidence of climate. Key monitoring data sets, covering a range of terrestrial and coastal taxa and habitats were combined and a combination of statistical analysis and qualitative assessment was used to identify species, communities and habitats that are most likely to be impacted by climate change in the UK. The main report and a summary for policy makers can be downloaded from the Defra website.

The second pahse of the BICCO-Net project is currently underway. It involves further analysis of the impacts of recent changes in weather patterns on species populations including bats, using NBMP datasets. It will also investigate likely future responses of species to further predicted changes in climate. Output from BICCO-Net will have a significant influence on climate change adaptation policy and future strategies for monitoring climate change impacts.  

Indicators of sustainable change in Eastern Europe

BCT works in partnership with The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) on this Darwin project delivered in Romania and Bulgaria. Teams of NBMP volunteers have been trained to conduct roadside surveys to record bat distribution and abundance on long-distance transects. The Indicator Bats Program - iBats is a partnership between ZSL and BCT, working in partnership with a number of national NGOs. Together we run a number of national and international bat biodiversity monitoring projects to track changes in global biodiversity.  

Bats as indicators of environmental quality

Daubenton's over water (Kevin Durose)

In 2003, BCT developed models for predicting the occurance of Daubenton's bat using environmental data from the Environment Agency River Habitat Survey (RHS). In 2008 this work was revisited and sites in the NBMP Daubenton’s Bat Waterway Survey were matched to RHS monitoring data to understand links to environmental variables. The model was recently updated incorporating newly available RHS variables. A paper outlining the development and testing of the model was published in 2009 in Aquatic Conservation.

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0345 1300 228