Bats and Woodland
Most UK bat species evolved to use trees as roosts, while many also forage in woodland. In addition, trees provide excellent commuting habitats. Sensitive and proactive woodland management can help protect bats as well as enhancing the habitat for bats and a host of other wildlife.
Because bats are so sensitive to light, heat and humidity, woodland managers need to consider the impact of operations in the vicinity of trees with roosts. Remember that bats and their roosts are all protected by law.
Coniferous, deciduous and mixed woodlands can all be home to bats if there are suitable places to roost or feed. Bats use woodland for different reasons, depending on bat species, the season and the type and size of woodland.
- In small to medium sized woodlands, noctules will use trees as roosts. However, they might forage up to 20km from the woodland at night.
- At the other extreme, Bechstein's bats will both roost and forage in a suitable woodland of 25 to 50 hectares or more in size, only rarely venturing further afield.
- Although Leisler's bats sometimes roost in houses in summer, they move to hibernate in woodland trees in winter. Greater and lesser horseshoe bats are unlikely to use trees as roosts but they frequently enter woodland to feed.
- Resident in woodland all year round, male pipistrelles establish temporary mating roosts in trees in late summer, where they will display to attract passing females.
Bats are also found in other structures within woodland, such as buildings, sheds and underground sites like mines and bunkers. Read more about bat habitats.
While most UK bat species can be found in woodland, some bats are woodland specialists - they have a strong preference for roosting in trees and foraging in woodland.
Bechstein's bats most frequently roost in old woodpecker nest holes. Records so far indicate that oak and ash are important trees for roosts of this species. In general, they prefer wet woodlands with small streams. Further information on Bechstein's bats.
Barbastelles roost in trees year round, usually in ancient or old growth deciduous woods with substantial understorey. Their roosts are chiefly found in splits or behind loose bark. The bats frequently move between roosts, so a large number of damaged and dead trees are normally present in favoured woodlands. Further information on barbastelles.
In summer, Natterer's bats generally roost in trees (both deciduous and coniferous), in buildings or bat boxes close to their feeding habitats. These habitats may include broad-leaved woodland, hedgerows and treelines along agricultural land - as well as conifer plantations of, for example, Corsican and Scots pine. Further information on Natterer's bats.
Noctules are primarily tree dwellers and live mainly in rot holes and woodpecker holes. A roost of breeding females can be particularly noisy on a hot summer's day. In late summer, single males establish mating roosts in tree holes. Further information on noctules.
Lesser horseshoe bat
Lesser horseshoe bats seldom roost within woodland, but they enter wooded habitats to forage. Their maneuverable flight allows them to twist and turn between the trees and within dense vegetation, catching small moths and midges as they go. Further information on lesser horseshoe bats.
Brown long-eared bat
Brown long-eared bats mainly roost in tree holes, buildings and bat boxes during the summer. Roosts in trees may be close to the ground and the immediate surroundings of the roost can be more cluttered with vegetation than for some other bat species. Brown long-eared bats prefer to forage in decidiuous woodland where they glean insects from leaves and bark. They have a slow, fluttery mode of flight. Further information on brown long-eared bats.
This information, and more in depth guidance, is available in Woodland Management for Bats, published by the Forestry Commission for England and Wales in partnership with BCT, CCW and English Nature (Natural England)