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Gormley spends €60,000 counting 'Protestant' bats

Treacy Hogan

Published 21/06/2010 | 05:00

ENVIRONMENTAL crusader John Gormley is counting bats in the belfry at a cost of €60,000.

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A nationwide survey on the long-eared Irish bat has been approved by the Environment Minister to establish how many of the protected nocturnal animals remain in the country.

It comes hot on the tails of a recent controversy when the minister signed off on a survey of Ireland's frogs at a cost of €70,000.

Fine Gael was hopping mad at the expenditure, branding it "outrageous" given the country's dire economic plight.

But wildlife officials in the Department of the Environment vigorously defend such projects as they frequently prevent native Irish animal species from becoming extinct.

Now more than 100 sites have been surveyed to find out exactly how many of the long-eared bats are left in the country.

And most of them have been found roosting in the belfries of churches, particularly old Church of Ireland establishments.

In fact, preliminary study findings have found the long-eared bats prefer Church of Ireland churches ahead of Catholic churches.

This is believed to be because these churches tend to have more spires and steeples.

The project, costing about €60,000 over three years, is mainly being carried out by bat-loving volunteers.

Many students and biologists from abroad come to Ireland to study at first-hand Ireland's rare species of animals, such as the long-eared bat, the red squirrel, the red deer, the pine marten and the natterjack toad.

The bat project is a three-year monitoring programme in all counties funded by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and managed by Bat Conversation Ireland.

According to Bat Conservation Ireland, the huge ears of this bat are its most distinctive feature -- they are almost as long as its body.

The group says that although they are probably quite common in Ireland, it is difficult to see long-eared bats in flight because they prefer to forage in woodland as they fly amongst the foliage, picking moths and other insects off leaves.

These bats emit quiet sounds through their nose.

The long-eared bat roosts in buildings such as houses with large attic spaces, churches, outbuildings and in tree holes.

Irish Independent

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