The humble bat is one of the farmer's best friends
Published 27/08/2014 | 02:30
On summer evenings just after sunset, when the swallows and house martins are heading for their nests, hundreds of bats emerge and take over the task of patrolling around my home, helping to keep the flies and midges under control.
They are brilliant at their job. Our most common bat species, the tiny pipistrelle, can consume over 3,000 midges and mosquitoes in one night. They provide the perfect form of natural pest control.
Last summer I was delighted to find that they had moved in to the attic in my house, entering and exiting through a tiny crack in the timber at the apex of the roof.
They also inhabit some of the farm buildings, as well as using cracks in the gnarled bark of the old trees which provide a safe roosting habitat.
To further encourage them I have put up bat boxes to provide extra living space and make the house and yard as attractive as possible for them.
In dwelling houses bats prefer to occupy confined spaces such as behind hanging tiles and soffit boards or between roofing felt and roof tiles rather than the main attic space.
Do try to avoid chemical treatment of timber frames in attics as this can poison an entire colony and make the area unsuitable for bats for up to 20 years.
If we encourage friendly predators such as bats and owls around our homes, we will help them cope with the increasing threats that modern farming practices pose. By doing so we have fewer biting insects and rats to annoy us.,
A pair of nesting barn owls will consume at least fifteen hundred rodents in one season.
Bram Stoker did bats no favours when he created the fictional vampire character Count Dracula.
Vlad Dracul, or Vlad the Impaler on whom Count Dracula was based, was prince of Wallachia in central Europe in the mid-1400s and was famous for impaling his enemies on stakes.
Stoker's Dracula turned in to a bat at sunset and enjoyed sucking blood from the necks of his human victims who then also became vampires to prey on the local population.
Dracula is a marvellous story which has produced endless horror movies, but unfortunately it fixed in all our minds a subliminal fear that bats are potentially dangerous.
They are not helped either by their rather odd appearance, but the little pipistrelles and other native species are wonderful to watch on summer evenings as they dart and dive along their chosen flight paths, hoovering up insects as they pass.
The current decrease in bat numbers sadly mirrors the ever-changing countryside.
Natural habitats such as hedgerows, woodlands and ponds have been declining and fragmenting.
This is why it is so important that we try to create new habitats and manage and enhance existing habitats to help bats recover and survive.
It's not just farmland birds that have suffered from loss of habitat. Pesticides and intensive farming practices have reduced the insect swarms which are the bats only food source.
Wind turbines are another hazard. According to the Bat Conservation Trust in Britain, there are concerns that these
structures have been erected on migration routes of bats and birds. The positioning of mid-sized wind turbines in hedgerows is also a concern.
This is all part of a debate that has been raging for years and one suspects that the dangers of turbines may well be exaggerated.
I couldn't possibly comment so please refrain from sending me hate mail on this issue. Like most of us, I am trying to keep an open mind on all alternative energy sources.
One thing is certain; bats are our friends, so do try to help them. Barbecues get a whole lot better when you can spend the evening in peace and comfort, sipping your drink without swatting biting midges and mosquitoes.
VITAL: Bats patrol the countryside consuming the flies and mosquitoes
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