6th February 2008

One of the UK's rarest mammals - the Bechstein's bat - will be surveyed and monitored under a new three-year project designed to improve our knowledge of the species and help protect them.

The Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) is launching the Bechstein's Bat Project on Thursday 7th February.

The Bechstein's bat is a rare tree-dwelling bat, mostly found in old growth woodlands. The bat is difficult to detect using standard methods due to its elusive feeding, roosting and echolocation behaviour, so little is known about its distribution in the UK, which can hamper conservation efforts. Until 1990, just 140 records of the bat existed in the UK.

Under the new project, BCT is aiming to undertake the first survey for Bechstein's bats across their entire UK range in England and Wales.

The survey is based on an exciting new method which uses an ultrasound synthesizer, called an 'Autobat' (developed at the University of Sussex) which simulates social calls to lure the secretive bats into a harmless harp trap, so that they can be identified before release. The method was developed by leading bat experts Dr David Hill and Frank Greenaway and uses a model to predict the occurrence of female breeding roosts based on characteristic landscape features and habitats that correlate with the bats' presence.

The surveys will be undertaken by volunteers from local bat groups who will be trained in using these new methods.

Helen Miller, Bechstein's Bat Project Officer at BCT, said: "The project will give us detailed data for the Bechstein's bat for the first time, which will make an enormous difference by informing our conservation work for this species. It will also leave a legacy of trained, enthusiastic volunteers who can help keep track of the Bechstein's bat in the long term to help ensure their survival."

A third of the UK's mammal species are bats, however, populations of all 17 of our native species have declined dramatically since 1900. Development, modern agriculture, pesticides and public misconceptions have all contributed to their decline. Seven species of bats, including the Bechstein's bat, have been identified by the Government as priority species under its Biodiversity Action Plans scheme, which aims to halt biodiversity loss by 2010.

Amy Coyte, chief executive of BCT, said "This project will directly inform the government's UK Biodiversity Action Plans for the Bechstein's bat, substantially improving knowledge of the bat's habitat requirements and allow landowners to manage woodlands for this rare species."

"The more knowledge we have about Bechstein's bats, the better we will be able to conserve them and ensure they are around for future generations to enjoy."

For further information:Jaime EasthamBat Conservation Trust T: 0207 501 3635 E: jeastham@bats.org.uk

Bechstein's bat facts

- The Bechstein`s bat is a rare tree-dwelling bat, mostly associated with old growth broadleaved woodland. A few individuals are found in underground sites during hibernation, but it is likely that most individuals roost in trees all year.

- The most recent population estimates are of around 1500 individuals with overall population trends unknown in the UK.

- It feeds on invertebrates including spiders and resting day-flying insects which are picked from branches and leaves.

- Head and Body length: 4.3cm-5.3cm

- Wing span: 25cm-30cm

- Found in Southern England and possibly parts of Wales.

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