Tom McOwat - North Ceredigion Bat Group
Pete Guest Award 2008
Tom's love affair with bats began following a chance encounter with a young PhD student (Bob Stebbings) on the Isle of Rhum. At the time, Tom was looking at sheerwaters whilst Bob was researching pipistrelles. Tom recalls how he became fascinated to watch a small group of noisy bats flying about and disappearing up behind the weatherboard of a small store. On his return to Edinburgh and his subsequent move to Wales in the early 70's, Tom has never stopped looking for bats, and observing their behaviour.
One of the most exciting moments was when Tom became a night feeding station - a whiskered bat landed on him to eat a small moth. On another occasion, whilst catching bats over a pond in Edinburgh, a bat took a fly that had just landed on his cheek! I wonder how the Habitats Regulations would deal with that now.
Tom's knowledge and understanding of bats is second to none and one of his greatest pleasures is in sharing his knowledge and passion with other people. "The great thing about bats is that you learn new things every year. They are a wonderfully diverse and enthralling group". One of his most interesting achievements was to find greater horseshoe bats in south Wales after being told they had died out. Equally there are also some disturbing trends "When I first started exploring buildings for bats I frequently found mounds of droppings 4-5 inches deep...Now a measurable depth of droppings is rare".
Tom is also well known for his artistic skills and he has expertly combined his love of bats, indeed nature conservation in general, with his art work. His artwork can also be seen in many publications and occasionally on some BCT conference name badges!
Tom's dedication to bat conservation, his passion and desire to see bats and people living in harmony is there for all to see. For nearly 40 years he has divided his time between family life and bat conservation including traing new commers. In fact on of his latest trainees said of Tom "I do think of him of as a 'walking book on bats' and he seems to be able to remember immense details on a piece of bat scientific research or information on bats and tells it with such enthusiasm that it is captivating....." He is highly respected throughout the world of bat conservation and this was recognised when Tom was presented with the Pete Guest Award for services to bat conservation at last year's national conference at Reading - a well deserved award.
Steve Lucas is the Wales' Bat Officer and along with several other bat workers, is often out with Tom, assisting in Tom's long standing hibernacula monitoring project here in west Wales. Photograph (c) John Galvin