17th January 2013
Andrew Watson was secretary of the Mammal Society Bat Group in the 1960s. Under his leadership, this group nurtured the enthusiasm of a key group of people who would later encourage the formation of local bat groups in the late 1970s and early 1980s after bats had been included in the Protection of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act 1975 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Andrew himself was hugely enthusiastic about bats and took every opportunity to promote them - with lectures at meetings and radio and TV appearances. His enthusiasm was infectious. He kept diverse species in captivity - not only British species but also vampires (Desmodus rotundus) which he fed on blood obtained from a local abattoir. One of these escaped during a talk he gave at the Zoological Society of London. During another talk there, he produced a sock from his jacket pocket, in which he kept the smelliest bat known - the naked bat Cheiromeles torquatus from Borneo! This was before the import of such exotic species was more strictly regulated than it is today!
Andrew Watson and Lord Cranbrook tuning the first commercially available bat detector, made by Holgates of Totton.
Andrew's most important contribution was encouraging an electronics company, Holgates of Totton, to produce the first commercially available bat detector (and the photograph above shows him tuning the machine with Lord Cranbrook, the Mammal Society President). Although it was never a commercial success, the demand for such a device led a decade later to mass production of detectors by QMC Instruments.
Andrew also organised a bat camp in 1963, attended by many of Britain's bat enthusiasts at Lord Cranbrook's estate at Great Glemham in Suffolk, where mist nets, the new bat detector and the new Mammal Society bat rings were demonstrated. A guide to British bats was also discussed.
One of the activities of the Mammal Society Bat group was a reprint circulation scheme organised by Andrew with other members of the Bat Group. Several times a year, a large envelope arrived which was required reading before being sent on to the next member of the scheme.Andrew's interest and enthusiasm continued long after the Wildlife and Countryside Act had led to a growing interest in bats and their conservation, and the formation of many local bat groups. He was very active in training and wrote key reports for The Nature Conservancy Council on, for example, the impact of roost visits. His roost visit report forms were models of their kind.
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