23rd August 2018

The largest common pipistrelle bat winter roost in the UK[1] has been found at Seaton Delaval Hall in Northumberland, revealing previously unknown information about the bats’ hibernation habits.

Sixty-one pipistrelle bats were recorded in stone crevices and in the arches of a balcony at the hall earlier this year.

Significantly, the discovery also turns on its head ecologists’ long held belief that the pipistrelle prefers to hibernate in very dark, damp conditions, with these bats found hanging out in a dry, arid, relatively well-lit area of this grand 18th Century building.

The discovery comes following a £3.7million award from the National Lottery to repair and conserve the 18th-century Hall. The National Trust commissioned an ecological survey ahead of the work starting in November.

Tina Wiffen, bat ecologist said: “We discovered the bats when we were undertaking an ecological survey to assess the possibility of introducing new art and visitor information installations into the Central Hall of the building – a project being supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund[2].

“On finding the bats, we conducted a formal survey and at least 61 bats were counted in early March – with more visits then needed for verification. It’s likely that even more bats are here, hidden in deeper crevices.

“As a result the site will now be even more closely managed and monitored to ensure that the bats can continue to use the hall as their winter roost.”

Built by Sir John Vanbrugh, the architect behind Blenheim Palace, Seaton Delaval Hall, near Whitley Bay, was the former home of the theatrical Delaval family.

Bats have made their home at Seaton Delaval for hundreds of years. It is widely thought that bats first came to roost at the Hall after it was ravaged by fire in 1822 and left exposed to the elements for around 40 years before being reroofed in the latter half the century, making the space warmer and drier, but with the bats still able to gain access through the crevices in the stonework.

David Bullock, Head of Nature Conservation at the National Trust visited the Hall recently to verify the findings. He said: “I’ve never encountered hibernating pipistrelles in such numbers before. The cavities in the stones in Seaton Delaval Hall’s Central Hall provide one of the few known hibernation sites of what could be hundreds of bats.

“Most bats like cool, moist and dark hibernation locations. In contrast, the pipistrelles residing in the Central Hall were in light and dry crevices. We would never have thought to look in these conditions. That says to me that we’ve been looking in the wrong places.”

The discovery of the bats will now play a major part in plans for the Hall, which includes carrying out critical buildings repairs and a new programme of activity to bring the drama and theatrics of the Delaval family alive. Little is planned for the Central Hall and, as a hibernation roost, any necessary works can be carried out in the warmer months.

Seaton Delaval Hall’s General Manager Emma Thomas said: “We’ve been caring for the bats at Seaton Delaval Hall for a long time and they’re as much a part of the Hall’s history and character as the Delaval family.

“They’re a big hit with visitors who are really interested in their story and it is wonderful to see the excitement when people are lucky enough to catch a rare glimpse of a pipistrelle darting about the Hall and grounds.

“Seaton Delaval Hall is their home and our visitors will help us to protect and care for them for many years to come.

Philip Briggs, BCT’s Monitoring Manager, said, “Through our National Bat Monitoring Programme we have received data from thousands of bat hibernation site across the UK. Pipistrelles are rarely found at these sites and usually in small numbers so this is a very significant find and sheds new light on the kinds of places our most abundant species may disappear to during the winter.”

An appropriate level bat survey class licence is required to survey bats at their hibernation sites, but anyone can help monitor the UK’s bats by taking part in other National Bat Monitoring Programme surveys.


Notes to picture editors

Photo (c) Chris Damant

Images with credits can be downloaded here

Notes to editors

[1] Based on data submitted to the Bat Conservation Trust’s National Bat Monitoring Programme (NBMP). The information gleaned from the survey has been registered with the Bat Conservation Trust through the NBMP. The knowledge will also be used in further research projects to enable ecologists to deepen their understanding of pipistrelle bats’ habits.

[2] Seaton Delaval Hall was recently awarded £3.7 million by the Heritage Lottery Fund to help fund critical repairs and conservation work. In addition funds will be used to improve visitor facilities bring new life to Seaton Delaval Hall for visitors and the community. Building work will begin in November, with the Hall closing to the public from Monday 5 November until Saturday 16 February.

About Seaton Delaval Hall

Celebrating its tricentenary in 2018, Seaton Delaval Hall was commissioned by Admiral George Delaval and designed by Sir John Vanbrugh, the architect behind Castle Howard and Blenheim Palace. Partially destroyed by fire in 1822, it is considered to be one of the finest examples of baroque architecture, having had little subsequent intervention.

The hall was home to the larger than life Delaval family, known as the ‘Gay Delavals’ due to their high spirited and flamboyant lifestyle. In an age notorious for extremes of behaviour, they stood apart as the most outrageous of all Georgian partygoers and pranksters. House guests were victim to elaborate practical jokes: drunken guests would awake to find their rooms had been turned upside down with furniture fixed to the ceiling; a mechanical bed would give way to drop the unwary occupant into a bath of freezing water; and walls were said to disappear just as guests were undressing.

The Delavals loved a performance, staging events from rope dancers and sack races outdoors to masquerade balls and even their own theatrical productions, which earned rave reviews at the time.

Following the death of the 22nd Lord and Lady Hastings, the National Trust acquired Seaton Delaval Hall in 2009, achieved in part as a result of extensive fundraising support from the local community. Since then, the Trust has undertaken much needed conservation work at the hall including relaying the Central Hall floor and stabilising its statues; rewiring the West Wing, connecting to mains drainage and sewerage and reroofing the East Wing. Thanks to the generous donation from the Heritage Lottery Fund, 2018 sees the start of the next act when the stories of Seaton Delaval Hall’s colourful past can be brought to life. For more information about Seaton Delaval Hall visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/seaton-delaval-hall.

About the National Trust

The National Trust is a conservation charity founded in 1895 by three people who saw the importance of our nation’s heritage and open spaces, and wanted to preserve them for everyone to enjoy. More than 120 years later, these values are still at the heart of everything the charity does.

Entirely independent of Government, the National Trust looks after more than 250,000 hectares of countryside, 778 miles of coastline and hundreds of special places across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

More than 24 million people visit every year, and together with 5 million members and over 65,000 volunteers, they help to support the charity in its work to care for special places for ever, for everyone.

For more information and ideas for great seasonal days out go to: www.nationaltrust.org.uk

About the Heritage Lottery Fund

Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about - from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. www.hlf.org.uk

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For more information from Heritage Lottery Fund, contact Siobhan Palmer, HLF Media Officer on 0207 591 6056 / spalmer@hlf.org.uk