16th December 2021

A tribute to Tom McOwat MA

20 October 1947 to 27th October 2021

The nomination for Tom for the Pete Guest Award back in 2008 said “No one does more for bats, and bat workers, on their own time than Tom McOwat.” Tom deservedly went on to win the PGA that year.

Tom first became hooked on bats back in 1970 through meeting Bob Stebbings on the island of Rhum, when Bob was working on his PhD. His interest developed rapidly, and as a native of Scotland, he continued to look for bats in other parts of his homeland. In 1974 he moved to Wales to study wildlife illustration at Dyfed Art College but his fascination with bats grew stronger.

From 1978 he had two years full time employment to work on greater horseshoe bats in west Wales. An outcome of that research was the use of flight lines and publications relating to growth and productivity. This contract was financed by the Nature Conservancy Council, the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, and the Vincent Wildlife Trust (VWT), making Tom one of the very first people to be employed full time to do purely bat work and the first bat person funded by VWT. Tom’s remarkable work didn’t stop here and he continued with a number of other significant projects including productivity surveillance of the greater horseshoe maternity roosts in Pembrokeshire, the Pengelli Barbastelle Survey and if this wasn’t enough, identifying and conserving roost sites much of this in his own spare time as if he had any spare time!

A tribute to Tom McOwat MA

(c) Richard Crompton

Tom very much enjoyed the company of fellow bat enthusiasts. He was a regular participant (and contributor) to BCT’s National Bat Conference, as well as attending European and international events. Over his 50+ years of batting, Tom participated in a broad range of grass roots bat work and helped found bat groups and contributed to the very first edition of the Bat Workers Manual. When Bat Groups of Britain was formed, Tom was an active member and produced the Bat Group News. This later became Bat News and today it is the members magazine of the Bat Conservation Trust. His artistic qualities were put to good use when he designed BCT’s logo when it was formed back in 1991. He was a BCT trustee from 2012 to 2016.

He was the founding organiser of what was then the Wales Bat Field Workshops and Conference - a weekend event that has since become the bi-annual Wales Bat Conference, with practical skills at the core of those weekends. Not only did he enthuse 100s of volunteers to help, some of whom are still keen bat workers today and have gone on to enthuse new generations of volunteers themselves, he also trained and mentored many bat workers for their bat licence.

A tribute to Tom McOwat MA

As well as his bat research work, Tom was well known for his artwork. Before coming to Wales, he was a free-lance illustrator. He later went to Dyfed Art College to study wildlife illustration, and it was during this time that he moved to southwest Wales. He left art school with a qualification in design and illustration and after he retired, he went on to study and was awarded, a Master of Arts in Fine Art Printmaking from Aberystwyth University in 2018. Some of Tom’s work can be seen here. Tom’s wonderful illustrations of bats were used by Prof. John Altringham in several of his books on bats, as well as by BCT in their posters and leaflets. Tom’s art sales were a popular addition to many a conference.

Until he retired, he was employed by Ceredigion County Council as a Graphic Designer. This included mapping and he graduated to a responsibility for digital mapping and GIS. Tom was elected to represent all Welsh Local Authorities on the body overseeing the national contract with Ordnance Survey and other GIS sources and dealt with copyright, publications and subcontracting.

A tribute to Tom McOwat MA

Tom’s work went beyond research and art. His desire to observe bats meant that one of Tom’s long-term projects was to explore and monitor the underground sites on the Gower and across the former county of Dyfed (Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion) during the late autumn and winter times where he built up an important data base of bat usage over the years which was eventually incorporated into the National Bat Monitoring Programme.

Tom quickly found that a fundamental part of his interest in bats were the attitudes of people and the mythology that influenced their perceptions. He supported householders with what Tom himself described as “wayward bats” and undertook development surveys for planning. All of which maintained his keen awareness of the need to work with people to ensure a future for bats. Tom was an incredible advocate for bats and worked hard over decades to encourage vigilance in the conservation of the animals that filled his heart.

He was a fun, kind, compassionate and generous man often lending support and comfort to others in their time of need. He leaves a legacy with his research findings, his wonderful art, and in all those people he enthused about bats and their conservation. Tom was a pillar of the bat conservation community, his reach extending far beyond Wales. and his outstanding achievements have helped shape bat conservation today.

Thank you to Steve Lucas, Bob Haycock and Rena McOwat for their input on this wonderful tribute to Tom.