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Bats in the Belfry?

by Maggie Morland

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Bats don’t usually roost in belfries - it’s draughty and noisy, but churches and churchyards are great places for wildlife so bats love to live and feed here at St Paul’s.

They need plenty of insects - a tiny pipistrelle weighing the same as a 20p coin can eat 3,000 insects a night!

Bats use their hands to fly, the membranes between their fingers form ‘wings’ which can move independently, so they’re very manoeuvrable.

Droppings inside St Paul’s indicated that bats were roosting somewhere. They are protected by law, so before any work began to repair the chancel a survey was needed.

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Barry Collins with the passive bat detector

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Pipistrelle bat
(By Barry Collins)

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Brown long-eared bat
(By Barry Collins)

Survey carried out in August 2017 - bats hibernate and are most active during warmer months. But how do you find tiny, nocturnal, flying mammals in the dark?

Bats shout and listen to the echo to ‘see’ the world around them – ‘echolocation’.

Bat detectors change bat calls into sounds humans can hear.

Remote bat detectors, a night vision viewer and video camera were set up inside the church, and ecologists monitored outside.

Pipistrelle bats, probably males or non-breeding females, were found roosting underneath the slates, coping stones and roof ridge above the chancel.

Two species of roosting bats were discovered, Common and Soprano Pipistrelles. These two similar bats were only identified as separate species in the 1990s.

A brown long-eared and a noctule bat were also heard nearby.

Careful removal and replacement of the chancel roof, with gaps left between the roofing slates, should ensure the bats return in spring to their roosting places, none the wiser!

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When the tiles were removed it was easy to see
the roof spaces where the bats were roosting.