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Science

BCT is committed to ensuring that conservation policy, practice and guidance is based on a robust scientific evidence base. BCT uses and generates scientific evidence to underpin bat conservation in the UK and further afield.  Experts from a number of academic institutions support BCT with technical advice.

Priority research questions

BCT has identified nineteen priority research areas where further evidence is needed to help inform and direct bat conservation. Click here to download the full list.

We encourage research to address these priority questions and welcome opportunities to collaborate. Please contact us at science@bats.org.uk for further information.

Scientific awards

BCT has established an annual award, the Vincent Weir Scientific Award to reward and encourage research on the conservation biology of bats by new researchers.

Past and ongoing science and research collaborations:

Lack of knowledge is recognised as one of the major threats to the conservation of bats, so BCT aspires to engage in, support, commission and encourage work that will lead to a better future for bats. We aim to drive forward conservation research, and collaborate on scientific studies to inform the conservation of bat populations.

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Bats and the built environment

Species conservation and landscape-scale studies

 

Bats and the built environment

Maximising building design for biodiversity, University College London

Integrating biodiversity into the built environment is an increasingly important element of sustainable design. However, current biodiversity approaches taken by industry, planners and designers are often tokenistic, contributing little to overall ecological value and resilience. To address this issue, a four-year partnership study between BCT and University College London was launched in September 2012. The research aims to overcome barriers to integrating biodiversity into the built environment by developing simple tools that measure the ecological value of urban green infrastructure.

In the first year of the project a systematic review was conducted to investigate the ecological effects of different forms of urban development. It was discovered that the core of cities are very degraded in terms of the number of species they support, but that urban suburbs often support diverse ecological communities, sometimes being more ecologically rich than less disturbed areas outside of cities. These patterns are now being looked at in more detail in order to understand how cities can be designed and developed to support biodiversity.

Deploying recording equipment on a green roof in Ealing. A. FairbrassThe project also aims to improve the way biodiversity is monitored in cities. Monitoring urban biodiversity is typically difficult due to the difficulties of getting access to sites, safety concerns of surveyors and equipment security issues. This project is investigating whether soundscape monitoring could provide a new opportunity for monitoring biodiversity in the urban environment. This has involved microphones being deploying across London to record the urban soundscape and the development of methods to automatically identify the sounds recorded, which include bats, birds, invertebrates, foxes and squirrels, as well as the anthropogenic sounds that are typical of a busy metropolitan city. In addition to developing the technology to automatically identify the sounds recorded, the project is also investigating what these sounds can tell us about the environment they were recorded in. Perhaps the characteristics of the soundscape can be used as a proxy measure for the ecological health of an environment? If so, soundscape monitoring could provide an opportunity to monitor long-term biodiversity trends in the urban environment.

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Bats and breathable roofing membranes, University of Reading 
Horseshoe bat on a breathable roofing membrane S Waring

Several manufacturers are reporting breathable roofing membranes as 'bat friendly'. These claims have not been substantiated by any scientific research. In fact, there are an increasing number of reported cases where bats have died after becoming entangled by fibres that had been pulled loose and concerns have been raised following reports of roost abandonment. To address these concerns a four-year partnership study between BCT and the School of Construction Management and Engineering at the University of Reading was launched in 2009. Gaining an understanding of the impacts of the use of breathable membranes on bat roosts in roofs will allow us to disseminate findings and recommendations as a guidance document for use by both the building industry and conservation organisations. See here for an update of the current findings of this study. A review of the issues surrounding bats and breathable roofing membranes can be found here.

More information can be found on the project website.

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Lighting, University of Bristol Street-lighting K Gunnell

Few studies have attempted to quantify the impact of artificial lighting on the foraging and commuting behaviour of bats. The bats and lighting project at the University of Bristol is supported by BCT. Research has focused on the threatened lesser horseshoe bat as well as other more widely distributed species such as the common pipistrelle. The results of this study so far, have been reported in a number of publications, listed here.

More information can be found on the project website.

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Ecology and conservation of urban bats, University of Stirling

Green spaces within urban areas can be important for ameliorating the impacts of urbanisation on biodiversity, and can hold relatively rich wildlife communities. Understanding how different species use urban environments and how habitat management and urban planning can promote population persistence is therefore important in conserving them. Although it is well known that some bat species forage in urban gardens and parks, and are able to exploit opportunities created by man-made structures, such as using buildings as roost sites, little is known about the ecology of bats in urban environments. Whilst some studies have shown a general avoidance of urban areas by bats, others have suggested that urban environments may have a positive role to play in resource availability for some bat species, particularly in landscapes dominated by intensive agricultural land use.

The aim of this PhD is to investigate the ecology of bats in urban areas and how this is influenced by habitat composition and configuration of the surrounding landscape. Work is currently underway to assess resource availability and bat activity and abundance in urban woodlands. Future work will use data from BCT’s National Bat Monitoring Programme to investigate associations between urbanisation, species diversity and foraging activity. 

Some results of this study have been reported in the following publications:

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Bats, churches and the landscape: sustainable conservation of bats in the East of England, University of Bristol Cley Church. M. Ryan

In the early 1990’s BCT’s original Bats in Churches project estimated that 60% of pre-16th Century churches host bat roosts.  However, bat use of churches sometimes causes damage to historic artefacts, difficulties in maintaining structures and problems for church users.  SITA Trust and Natural England are
funding BCT and the University of Bristol to conduct a PhD research study on soprano pipistrelles in East Anglian churches. 

Soprano pipistrelle droppings on a church window ledge. M. RyanThe project seeks to understand why bats are attracted to certain churches,
how they use churches and the surrounding habitat throughout the year and why they select certain locations within churches to roost.  A regional survey has been undertaken to establish the occurence of bats in relation to church and habitat data. The field research involves radiotracking and studies of roost microclimate conditions. In a small number of churches, heated bat boxes are being trialled as an approach to mitigate the impact of the roosting bats on the church community. The study aims to reduce the impacts of bats and safeguard long-term conservation of bats and heritage.  This project will complete in spring 2015.

Special Edition Bat Group Bulletins about this research are available.

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Improving mitigation success: Natterer’s bats in churches, University of Bristol

Natterer’s bats sometimes form large maternity colonies in churches, especially in East Anglia where they can cause problems.  Between 2011 and 2014 Defra funded University of Bristol, with BCT and Phililp Parker Associates as sub contractors, to develop approaches that mitigate the impact of bats on church communities whilst still maintaining the Favourable Conservation Status of bats. Radio-tracking was used to determine whether the bats depended on the churches as roosting sites or also used other roosts, and to reveal how they used the landscape. The project involved modifying environmental conditions to encourage bats to relocate to alternative, less sensitive areas of the church building. To do this  alternative roosting areas were provided both within and outside of church buildings and deterrents were trialled under license inside the body of the church.  Radio-tracking was then used to determine how bat roosting and foraging behaviour were affected. The research was overseen by a Project Advisory Group including Natural England, Defra, the Church Building Council, English Heritage and National Trust, to ensure that the work was is in the interests of both bat and church conservation, and addressed the concerns of all stakeholders.

Special Edition Bat Group Bulletins about this research are available. Summary information on the research methods and results and the full research report have now been published.

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Impact on bat populations of exclusion from roosts in houses, University of Bristol

In some circumstances, house owners or tenants are affected severely by the presence of a bat roost, for example in the case of genuine phobias. In exceptional circumstances, bats can be excluded from a roost in a house under license. Although a key requirement of current legislation is that licensed activities will not be detrimental to the population, very little is known about the real impact of exclusion on colonies and the status of local populations. Between 2011 and 2014, Defra funded research at the University of Bristol (with BCT and BTO as subcontractors) focused on the soprano pipistrelle, a species that is commonly the subject of domestic exclusion requests. The work attempted to assess the impact of roost exclusion, where alternative roosts are not provided, on subsequent roosting and foraging behaviour and modelled the likely impact on local population status. The study aimed to provide evidence to support the appropriate implementation of the Habitats Directive, and improve Natural England guidance and decisions. Natural England considered the research to be vital for determining whether their current licensing procedures are having a detrimental impact on bat conservation.

Studies to assess how bats responded to exclusion took place in 2012 and 2013 at a total of five bat roosts. The research was overseen by a Project Advisory Group (PAG) which included University of Bristol, BCT, Defra and Natural England. BCT and the PAG were committed to ensuring that all relevant bat conservation and welfare issues were addressed, and considered aspects such as the criteria for site selection, methods and timing of exclusions, ethics, welfare, and conservation relevance to ensure the study minimised the impact on bats and bat roost owners and took into account the interests of the wider community of batworkers, roost visitors and roost owners.

Special Edition Bat Group Bulletins about this research are available. The final project report has now been published.

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Species conservation and landscape-scale studies

Habitat use by woodland bat species in Britain, University of Bristol

This study of woodland bat species focussed in particular on the cryptic small Myotis bats: whiskered bat, Brandt’s bat and Alcathoe bat. Locations where Alcathoe bat were confirmed present were limited to south-east England.

A greater number of bats were trapped in the interior of woodlands than at the edge of woodlands, and the presence of water bodies was found to affect species differently. Daubenton’s bats were caught in greater numbers in woodlands close to water bodies in than in woodlands away from water bodies. Bechstein’s bats were captured at woodlands away from water bodies between the middle of July and late August and at woodlands close to water bodies between late August and the end of September.

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Conservation biology of the grey long-eared bat, University of Bristol Grey long-eared bat Hugh Clark

Grey long-eared bats are extremely rare in Britain. The pre-breeding population might be as low as 1000 individuals, and three colonies in Dorset and one in Devon have become extinct in the past 40 years. If grey long-eared bats are to survive in Britain in the long term, it is vital that effective conservation measures are based on sound scientific research. Our scientific partnership project with the University of Bristol will inform our conservation policies. The results of this research have been published in the journals Biological Conservation and Ecology and Evolution and led to the publication of a conservation management plan for the grey long eared bat.

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Bats and the Landscape, University of East Anglia 

This Phd research collaboration has been analysing data from BCT’s National Bat Monitoring Programme to provide an insight into the relationships between roost location, and field survey observations and landscape character. The research for this project was completed at the end of 2009 and two papers on the findings of this project were published in the journal Biological Conservation in 2011.

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Welsh Agri-environment Monitoring Project

This project was commissioned by Welsh Government and was led by RSPB. BCT collaborated with four other conservation NGOs to ascertain whether the Tir Gofal agri-environment scheme had been successful in delivering benefits for nature conservation in Wales. The partners monitored a range of target species on Welsh farms to address the question: do agri-environment schemes help maintain and enhance biodiversity? Read more.

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Existence and Detection of Demographic Allee Effects, Université Paris-Sud

NBMP data was used for a PhD research study on the existence and detection of demographic Allee effects. A demographic Allee effect describes a positive relationship between population growth and population size due to explicit or implicit social cooperation. Populations exhibiting an Allee effect show a threshold population size above which cooperation is most effective (causing increasing population growth rate), or below which cooperation breaks down (causing decreasing population growth rate). Demographic Allee effects pose a threat to populations of cooperative species, and a limitation to invasive species.

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Current and future conservation status of European bats, University of Kent and the Institute of Zoology 

Species-specific predictions of responses to environmental change are necessary for the development of effective conservation strategies to reverse the decline of biodiversity under a changing climate. However, a lack of high quality species data along with over-simplified models of species responses to change, can limit the accuracy of predictions. This PhD study aimed to address these issues, focussing on European bats.

Methodological improvements were developed for the generation of bat distribution data across Europe, in the form of a continental-scale tool for acoustic identification of European bats. This was published in the Journal of Applied Ecology in 2013.  A comprehensive database of new and pre-existing
Bat records in Europe C Waltersspecies occurrence records was collated and used to explore: a) the effects of sampling bias on predictions of range change under climate change; b) how seasonal behaviours, such as hibernation and migration, can impact predictive species distribution models (SDMs); c) The effects of excluding habitat suitability on predictions of range change; and d) the comparative risk from climate change amongst European bats.

This study highlights the need for inclusion of information regarding species ecological traits, seasonal movements and habitat preferences in models of risk from climate change, as well as the importance of explicitly dealing with bias in species occurrence data, in order to generate more realistic predictions.  Eight species were highlighted which are predicted to be at greatest risk from climate change in Europe, four of which are not sufficiently protected in their current, or predicted future range.

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Developing a prototype indicator of trends in European bat populations at their hibernation sites

This study was commissioned by European Environment Agency (EEA) and undertaken in collaboration with partners Dutch Mammal Society and Statistics Netherlands, and the support of ten national monitoring schemes in nine countries (Latvia, Hungary, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia, the United Kingdom and the German states Bavaria and Thuringia). In 2008, BCT was funded by EEA to examine the rationale and precedents for the use of bats as biodiversity indicators, assess the availability of data and propose a methodolgy to develop a European biodiversity indicator of trends in bat populations. Subsequently, in 2011, EEA funded new work to produce the first European-scale indicator of trends in bat populations. 

The project calculated an overall European indicator, a Continental indicator and individual European trends for 16 species. The hibernation monitoring schemes that contributed data for this project covered 6000 sites, 6 biogeographical regions, 27 species, and time series ranging from 6 to 26 years.  EEA has published this work as an EEA technical report, and the results have also been published in Mammalian Biology (Return of the bats? A prototype indicator of trends in European bat populations in underground hibernacula.)

Prototype European hibernating bats indicator. Batlife Europe/Statistics NetherlandsBack to top

 

 

 

 

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