Introduction

The National Bat Helpline is a small team devoted to 'helping people, helping bats'. Through the BCT website, email and phone, the Helpline deals with a wide variety of enquiries, from bats found in need of rescue, advice about works or pest control, reporting bat crime or where people have concerns about bat roosts. The Helpline relies on the hard work and dedication of hundreds of volunteers. This includes bat carers who rehabilitate injured bats, roost visitors who help homeowners with bat roosts, and volunteers that answer phones on the Volunteer Bat Care Helpline. The team receives over 14,000 enquiries each year from building and planning professionals, householders with bat roost questions, and members of the public who have found injured and grounded bats.

We are partially funded by Natural England to provide free advice for dwellings and places of worship with bats. However, we rely on the generosity of the public to help us fully fund this and other work we do protecting bats and their roosts.

In spring 2021 BCT changed the way that the National Bat Helpline operated, specifically around the handling of bat care related enquiries. These calls are being taken by volunteers, rather than responded to by BCT staff directly, although staff are continuing to support members of the UK Bat Care Network and BCT still works to promote bat care best practice. These changes are necessary because of a significant funding gap for the Helpline, even with the generous contributions of BCT’s supporters. We need to ensure that the service we provide is sustainable in the long term.

Consultation

We ran a consultation to gather the views of UK Bat Care Network members (to whom bat finders that contact the Helpline are directed) and bat groups on the future of how bat care calls should be handled in the UK. The consultation ran from 5th November 2021 to 17th January 2022. We held two question and answer sessions during the consultation period and produced a summary of those sessions.

Report

The full report on the consultation is now available, along with a copy of the questions that were asked of UK Bat Care Network members and bat groups.

Summary of findings

  • We received 74 responses to the consultation.
  • We presented four options in the consultation: 1. Volunteer call handlers covering both out of hours and in office hours, supported by BCT staff. 2. Regional/bat group helplines take bat care calls instead of the BCT Helpline. 3. Carers are advised of bat finders in their area and given their contact details via an online system. 4. Carer contact numbers are made available direct to the bat finders via an online system.
  • The other services offered by the National Bat Helpline, including the Bat Advice Service for Natural England, remain unaffected by the outcome of this consultation.
  • Option 1. came out as the clear preferred first choice for both UK Bat Care Network members and bat groups. Therefore, BCT will continue with the Volunteer Bat Care Helpline (VBCH) service; in office hours all year round and an emergency out of hours service over the busier summer months (May to September).
  • The VBCH service has not been without issues. We will consider all of the feedback and suggestions about this option provided in the consultation responses. We will continue to work to improve the VBCH and endeavour to achieve a greater level of shift coverage and volunteer retention going forward.
  • BCT recognises the value of Regional and Bat Group Helplines and how they contribute to the UK Bat Care Network. We think it is important to continue to support the running of these local volunteer helplines, and the setting up of new ones where bat groups and/or bat carers wish to do so.
  • An online system that runs alongside the VBCH has the potential to enhance the bat care process for both bat finders and Network members. Development of such a system would be a long-term goal, but consultation findings will help inform any future advances.
  • The consultation responses submitted will be used to inform the future development of the VBCH, the UK Bat Care Network and related services.
  • Thank you to all of the UK Bat Care Network members and bat groups who took part in the consultation.