BATS were given a wake up call in a Northumberland forest yesterday.
The exercise was part of a project to map the distribution and numbers of bat species in the North East.
The Forestry Commission is mounting a major survey to check bat boxes in the 155,000-acre Kielder Water & Forest Park, and in woods near Rothbury, including Holystone.
This follows a Durham Bat Group project which involved monitoring boxes in Hamsterley Forest, near Bishop Auckland, Country Durham.
Bats have declined dramatically in the last 100 years and are now on the European Protected Species list.
However, at Kielder – where much of the forest was planted on moorland, starting just after the First World War – new bat-friendly habitats have been created.
Eight species are known to live in the Kielder area including common and soprano pipistrelles, Natterer’s, Brown long eared, Daubenton’s, Whiskered, Brant’s and Noctule.
Tom Dearnley, Forestry Commission regional ecologist, said: “We have 232 bat boxes in Kielder and Rothbury, with real bat hotspots like including Sidwood, near Bellingham, Holystone, and Kielder Castle itself which has maternity roosts of soprano pipistrelles and brown long-eared bats.
“Checking boxes is the best way to find out what species are present, which changes according to the age and structure of the forest. This is a good time to survey as we are avoiding the sensitive maternity and hibernation periods.”
All the forest staff carrying out the survey are licensed to carry out the work.
After scaling ladders, the team carefully lowered dozing bats found in the boxes to the ground where they were sexed, weighed, the species noted and the wing span measured.
Amongst the boxes are special ones designed for hibernation which have polystyrene insulation to keep the interior temperature at a stable level during the winter. The Forestry Commission also retains natural roosting sites and older broadleaved trees.
Mr Dearnley said: “Bats are a good indicator of the health or otherwise of the local habitat.
“Using that yardstick, the maturing and diverse woodlands at Kielder in particular are providing a haven for the creatures.”
The Forestry Commission is staging a public bat night on Saturday, September 25 at Kielder Castle when people can join rangers using ultra sound detectors to track bats. Book on 01434 250 209.
Harsh winter was good news for bats
BRITAIN’S struggling bat population has been boosted by the long, hard winter.
In the 20th century, bat numbers in Britain declined because of habitat loss and they are now on the European Protected Species List.
But numbers are now up at Kielder Forest, while earlier surveys from forests elsewhere in the North East have also showed good numbers of bats.
Forestry Commission ecologist Tom Dearnley said: "A hard winter is good for hibernation, and so for subsequent bat numbers the next year.
"If a winter is cold-warm, cold-warm it causes a variation in the bats’ body temperature and hibernation can be disturbed.
"If they come out of hibernation before spring, they use up a lot of energy and it can be hard to replace it when there is very little food for them."