28th March 2009

BCT is gravely concerned about the spread of White-nose Syndrome (WNS), a mysterious condition of unknown pathology that has killed hundreds of thousands of bats in northeastern United States.

Little brown bats with white-nose syndrome in New York (N Heaslip, NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation)

'Emaciated bat carcasses literally piled up in the snow outside hibernation caves in the northeastern United States last winter,' reports Bat Conservation International's Annual Report 2007 - 2008, 'imposing an almost desperate urgency on scientific efforts to solve the mystery of White-nose Syndrome - perhaps the worst ever threat faced by North American bats. [T]housands of bats died of this unexplained malady... with mortality rates exceeding 90 percent report at some hibernation caves. Whole species are at risk, and the danger of WNS spreading to other regions is unclear.'

First confirmed in bat colonies in New York in 2006, WNS had spread to Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts by 2008. Earlier this year it was found in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Although no conclusive evidence of WNS has been found in the UK or mainland Europe, recent reports from the Netherlands and Germany of dead bats with fungal growths similar to the tell-tale signs of WNS have added to concerns that the disease will occur here.

Taking the precautionary approach, BCT has developed WNS guidelines for bat workers and other users of hibernation sites in the UK and wider Europe. There is now an urgent need to develop and implement a WNS surveillance programme, while continuing to raise awareness and encourage vigilance amongst the wider public. There is also a need to formulate contingency plans to ensure a rapid and coordinated response to WNS in the event that it is discovered in the UK or wider Europe.

BCT Chief Executive Amy Coyte said, 'We urgently need to raise funds to continue this work. With the help of our supporters and the wider public, we can encourage vigilance and prepare our defences in the worst-case scenario that WNS is discovered in the UK or wider Europe. Any help people are able to give would be gratefully received.'

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More information about WNS, including the WNS guidelines for bat workers and cavers