22nd May 2008

New Welsh project to help lesser horseshoe bat

One of Europe's threatened bat species, the lesser horseshoe bat, will be helped by a new project being launched in Wales today (22nd May 2008) by the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) and the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW).

The 'Landscapes for Lessers' conservation project will work across Wales to identify existing and novel solutions to address the many threats facing the lesser horseshoe bat.

The lesser horseshoe bat is one of our smallest bat species and it is rare in the British Isles, largely confined to Wales, western England and western Ireland. The bat has shown a marked decline in numbers and distribution in recent decades, although there is evidence of a slight recovery in the last few years. Welsh data shows an annual increase of 6.5%. Whilst this is good news for the lesser horseshoe bat, it is considered doubtful as to whether such increases can be sustained in the longer-term in face of numerous pressures on this species.

Louise Mapstone, Biodiversity Officer at BCT, said: "Wales is a stronghold for the lesser horseshoe bat so we are keen to prioritise conservation efforts here to help ensure their survival. Bats use all aspects of the landscape, so while this project focuses on helping the lesser horseshoe bat, it will also provide a wider benefit for other species that use similar habitats such as butterflies and birds."

The lesser horseshoe bat is particularly vulnerable to changes, which threaten its roosts, reduce its habitat and decrease its food supply, such as:

  • Growing urbanisation
  • Land-use changes
  • Lighting
  • Building demolition and renovation
  • Intensive farming practices

The project will involve working in partnership with a wide range of stakeholders, including the agricultural and building sectors, as well as bat experts and other wildlife organisations. The aim of this phase of the project is to plan how to deliver a landscape-scale approach to lesser horseshoe bat conservation throughout Wales. This would encompass all requirements of the lesser horseshoe bat on a broad scale, such as protecting roost sites, creating appropriate habitat for bats tor travel around safely and forage for insects, and raising public awareness about these threatened mammals.

It builds on a pilot study in Pembrokeshire, which compiled information on the local status of the species, improved understanding of how they used the landscape and made recommendations for activities that would support their conservation.

Jean Matthews Mammal Ecologist at CCW, said: "The number of lesser horseshoe bats in Wales has been increasing recently, probably due to a run of milder winters. It is unfortunate that colonies of bats are often only discovered because the buildings and habitat they use are threatened by development. This project is looking for imaginative ways to help this species survive in a changing environment."

A third of the UK's mammal species are bats, and they are a sign of a green and healthy environment. However, populations of all 17 of our native species have declined dramatically since 1900. Seven species of bats, including the lesser horseshoe bat, have been identified by the Government as priority species under its Biodiversity Action Plans scheme, which contributes to the aim of halting biodiversity loss by 2010.

Anyone interested in getting involved in the project or offering support is invited to sign up at www.bats.org.uk/l4l

For further information or to arrange an interview, contact:Jaime EasthamTel: 0207 501 3635 / 07813257291E: jeastham@bats.org.uk

Lesser horseshoe bat facts

  • The lesser horseshoe bat is rare in the British Isles and is largely confined to Wales, western England and western Ireland.
  • The lesser horseshoe bat is one of the smallest British species.
  • At rest, the lesser horseshoe bat hangs with its wings wrapped around its body and is about plum-sized.
  • Like the greater horseshoe bat, it has a complex noseleaf which is related to its particular type of echolocation system.
  • Adult lesser horseshoe bats are pinky buff-brown in colour, just 3 or 4cm in length and weigh between 5 and 9 grams.
  • Lesser horseshoe bats were originally cave dwellers during summer months, but now often roost in roofs of larger houses and stable blocks. In winter, they hibernate in caves, mines, tunnels and cellars.
  • They feed in open deciduous woodland, scrub, parkland, wetland and permanent pasture. They eat flies (mainly midges), small moths, caddis flies, lacewings, beetles, small wasps and spiders.