What's it take to be a bat care volunteer?

What's it take to be a bat care volunteer?

Bat carer Jenny Clark MBE training National Bat Helpline staff. Peter Crome / Bat Conservation Trust

There's no one path to becoming a bat care volunteer, and in the UK there's no recognised certification. But learning to care for bats usually involves extensive hands-on training with a more experienced rehabilitator. The first place to go to find training is your local bat group, who may be able to point you toward carers in your area.

Some of the skills you'll need to develop include:

  • identifying bat species
  • making a basic assessment of a bat's health, including factors like injuries, body condition, age, parasites and behaviour. (But remember, by law, only a veterinary surgeon can make a diagnosis.)

"The volunteer and I talked for ages about the different types of bats and discussed the little one that was found in my garden. She was very helpful and full of knowledge. Due to this and actually seeing the bat I have nearly got over my fear of them."

– a bat finder who called the National Bat Helpline

  • making an appropriate care plan, always with the goal of returning the bat to the wild if at all possible.
  • developing a relationship with a local vet and working with them whenever necessary.
  • making sad decisions when necessary. Euthanasia is sometimes the kindest choice. In order to register on the UK Bat Care Network, you'll need to agree that you will have bats put down if they are suffering and can't be helped.

"I was so happy to rescue the bat. Unfortunately, as he had been caught by one of my cats, the internal damage meant he didn't survive. The lovely lady I took the bat to gave me a lot of useful information. I now know when to make sure my cat is kept in to stop her catching any more. I will definitely rescue another bat if I need to."

– a bat finder who called the National Bat Helpline

  • understanding the law relating to bats and other animals, and following it at all times.
  • managing rabies risk. You'll also need to have rabies vaccinations once you're handling bats regularly.
  • talking to the public – for most people, rescuing a bat will be their first close encounter with one, and you will be their link to the larger world of bat conservation. Our feedback shows that bat rescues can transform people's attitudes. Over 70% of bat finders who originally felt negative about bats have changed their opinion to positive or very positive after the rescue! Interactions with volunteers are very important in this process. People particularly appreciate being kept up to date on "their" bat, even if the news is bad.

"I receive regular updates from my bat care volunteer, including pictures and video . Sebastian the bat is doing well, he is in with another bat that he likes and is eating well and now is flying. To think that he went from a small fragile bat with no fur that I really did not think would survive , to a strong flying bat, is the most incredible positive feeling of happiness for our family."

– a bat finder who called the National Bat Helpline

Some frequently asked questions

How much time will I need to devote to volunteering?
To some extent, this will depend on how many bats you’re able to take, how far you want to travel and whether you hand-rear pups. However, bat care is a major commitment and you should expect to devote a significant amount of your free time to it, particularly in summer.

Can I do bat care for work experience or as a student placement?
Unfortunately, this is not practical because of the time and training needed.

How much space will I need to be a carer?

Like the time commitment, this depends partly on how many bats you’ll take in. However, you’ll need enough space to house each bat in its own flexi-cage or tank and to store your supplies, as well as a place where bats can practice flying. We also strongly recommend having a separate room or outbuilding where you can put any bats that need to be kept in isolation.

What supplies do I need to get started as a carer?

The exact equipment used varies from carer to carer, and you should acquire it as you gain experience. Some of the things you’re likely to need are:

  • Housing for the bats – there are a range of options, including modified reptile tanks and fabric flexi-cages. Don’t forget that bats need to be housed individually unless they’re known to have come from the same roost.
  • Tea towels, old T-shirts or other soft cloths – as many as possible, for handling bats and giving them places to hide.
  • Gloves – essential when handling bats.
  • Food and water dishes – plastic bottle lids and furniture casters work brilliantly!
  • Small pipettes or syringes for giving water, medication or formula.
  • Live mealworms – the main food for bats in care. You can buy them from a supplier or raise them yourself. People have occasionally been known to develop mealworm allergies. Information on limiting your exposure, and what to do if you develop an allergy, can be found here.
  • Tweezers or forceps for feeding bats.
  • Heat mats.
  • A digital scale that can weigh small amounts.
  • A space for bats to practice flying. Some volunteers have a dedicated flight cage or share one with other bat carers in their area, while others adapt a room in their home for flight practice.

Please speak to your trainer for more specific recommendations.

Is any funding available?
Unfortunately, BCT does not have the resources to provide funding to bat care volunteers. Some bat groups may have limited funding available; please approach your local bat group directly to see whether this is the case.

My bat group says they can't help train me. What can I do?
If you cannot find a trainer via your bat group, you can fill out our online form to ask for help locating one. We will do our best to find a UK Bat Care Network member who can train you either in person or remotely, although we cannot guarantee this.

When should I get rabies vaccinations?

You don’t need a rabies vaccination to handle bats during your initial training, as long as:

  • You’re wearing appropriate gloves (see the BCT factsheet ‘Wearing gloves when handling bats’)
  • You’re closely supervised, and
  • You seek medical advice as soon as possible if you’re bitten or scratched.

However, once you’ve been trained and are handling bats regularly, you should be vaccinated. You'll need an inital course of three jabs, then a single booster one year later, and then additional boosters (or, in Scotland, titre tests) every three to five years after that. See our rabies FAQ for more information on how to get your vaccines.

Making sure bats get to you

Once you're trained and able to look after bats on your own, we'd strongly encourage you to join the UK Bat Care Network so BCT's National Bat Helpline can refer bats to you. You'll also receive other benefits, such as details of other bat care contacts in your area; updates on important news relating to bat care, the law, and rabies prevention; and our monthly Bat Care Bulletin with a blend of serious news and fun! Membership is completely free; all you have to do is give BCT permission to share your preferred contact details with bat finders in your chosen area. To learn more about joining the Network, please click below.

Next: UK Bat Care Network FAQs