Fersiwn Gymraeg ar gael yma

An exciting aspect of working to protect nature is co-operating with, and learning from, other organisations across Wales and beyond. We recently invited Steve Lucas, Wales Officer / Species Policy and Legislation Specialist at the Bat Conservation Trust as our guest blogger, to offer some wise words on these winged wonders...

This weekend is Halloween. Whether you enjoy trick or treat, or not, this time of year is often expressed through images of vampires and Dracula, ghosts and witches, which isn’t too surprising given this was the time when historically people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off evil spirits. The associations with bats are clear to see and folklore around the world has often cast the bat in a bad role.

Bats have often been misunderstood and many of its symbolic meanings are inappropriately based in fear. In Biblical tradition, bats were believed to be messengers of Satan. The Puritans believed that if a bat flew close to someone, somebody was trying to bewitch them.

Bats are mammals and mammals don’t fly do they? They fly at night when they are not often seen, and their use of echolocation enables bats to fly in huge numbers while seemingly to never hit each other adds to their mysterious nature.

Yet elsewhere they are revered. The Chinese view the bat as a symbol of happiness. The Chinese for bat (fu 蝠) sounds identical to the word for good fortune (fu 福), and also means happiness, wealth and longevity. Five bats together represent the ‘Five Blessings’ (wufu 五福): long life, wealth, health, love of virtue and a peaceful death. To the Indian tribes of the north-western United States, bats are symbols of diligence, while in the Great Plains they imparted wisdom on their people. The association with darkness and death also has origins with cave dwelling as in many cultures, caves were the gateway to the land of death. Yet in Mexico, they are representative of both death and rebirth - bats go underground in the early morning, and then appear again each night so they are reborn.  

And more recently, the Covid19 pandemic has put bats once again in the spotlight with accusations that ‘it’s all the fault of bats’. This means that we need to better understand and appreciate our nocturnal friends. In the same way that birds will feed on invertebrates during the daytime, so bats take on a similar role at night often targeting those annoying midges and mosquitoes! The estimation of the economic importance of bats in agricultural systems is challenging but there are plenty of studies to show just how important bats are within the ecosystem.

Bats account for more than a quarter of resident mammal species in the UK and 15 species have been recorded in Wales. As we head towards winter, here in temperate Europe, bats have just two main purposes: get fat to survive over the winter when food is scarce, and to procreate! The autumn time is when mating behaviour kicks in although mating can go on right through winter. Wintertime is a highly critical period as bats need to conserve energy to survive. To do this they have critically control their body temperature which can mean moving to new places to hibernate. Too much waking and moving about will mean using up valuable fat reserves. After the winter, its more feeding to regain lost weight and get ready for pregnant females to have their young of year at their maternity roosts.

It is the summertime that we tend to see bats especially bats such as pipistrelles that fly at dusk. There is a real thrill to watching bats emerge from their roosts but hearing their calls over a bat detector adds to the excitement. If you haven’t experienced bats before, or indeed want to experience it again then do check out your local bat group. If you would like to get involved in bat surveys, then Bat Conservation Trust’s website has useful information to tell you how you can get involved.