Bird scientists go batty in Norfolk

01 Jul 2015 | No. 2015-35

New research from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) just published in the international journal Biological Conservation, shows how data collected by an army of volunteer citizen scientists have been used to map bats in unprecedented detail. The 'Norfolk Bat Survey' began in 2013, and has since been extended to some neighbouring parts of East Anglia by popular demand.

The Survey’s organisers have taken advantage of advances in technology to map bat distributions, and activity on a scale never before seen. Bat monitoring has traditionally been challenging, because most species are nocturnal, wide-ranging and difficult to identify. Developments in passive bat detectors, which automatically trigger and record passing bats, along with software for semi-automating the analysis of resulting sound files, have allowed BTO scientists to overcome these obstacles.

The Norfolk Bat Survey relies on a network of ‘Bat Monitoring Centres’ from which members of the public borrow passive bat detectors. With 786 1-km squares (about 15% of Norfolk) covered over two years, the Survey has generated over 600,000 bat recordings, making it one of the most extensive high-quality datasets for bats from anywhere in the world after only two seasons.

The project has improved our understanding of spatial patterns of bat distribution and activity of all species, from the near-ubiquitous Common Pipistrelle to the locally scarce Leisler’s Bat for which the number of records has increased from 10 to almost 300. The study also reveals how bat activity varies through the year. For example, the project shows how several species disperse after breeding into areas that they are not reported from earlier in the season.

Dr Stuart Newson, BTO Senior Research Ecologist commented “It has been really exciting to have an opportunity to work in partnership with local bat groups, local and national organisations and local libraries to develop this project and improve our understanding of bats. Stuart added “This project was initially set up because of a personal interest in bats, but as a result there is tremendous scope now for extending a survey of this design to other parts of the country and abroad, where there are many observers and a freely available reference library of bat calls for training identification software.” 

Nida Al Fulaij, Grants Manager at the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), and funder of this work said, “As a national conservation organisation, PTES knows how critical monitoring is to the long-term protection of our species. This new technology, and BTO’s innovative method of enabling huge numbers of the public to use it, is inspirational for wildlife conservation.”

Notes for Editors

  1. The Norfolk Bat Survey ( is led by BTO in partnership with NBIS, National Trust (Oxburgh Hall and Sheringham Park), Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (Welney Wetland Centre), Wheatfen (Ted Ellis reserve), Sculthorpe Moor (Hawk & Owl Trust), Broads Authority (How Hill), RSPB (Titchwell) and Norfolk Libraries and Information Service (Aylsham, Hethersett, Caister, Attleborough, Watton, Swaffham, Dereham, Gaywood, Long Stratton and Wells libraries), Dinosaur Adventure (Lenwade), Brandon Country Park, The River Waveney Trust (River Waveney Study Centre at Earsham), Norfolk Wildlife Trust, the Norfolk Barbastelle Study Group, Norfolk Woodland Myotis Study Group, Suffolk Bat Group, the Pennoyer Centre, the Breckland Society, the Little Ouse Headwater Project, Farmland Conservation Limited, the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group, the Teacher Scientist Network and Suffolk Biological Records Centre.

    We are extremely grateful to the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) for funding this work, and to the PTES and Natural England (Defra Fund for Biodiversity Recording in the Voluntary Sector) for providing start-up funding for this project. Additional support was given by the Norfolk Biodiversity Partnership, the Geoffrey Watling Charity, Love the Broads and the Essex and Suffolk Water Branch Out Fund.
  2. The BTO is the UK's leading bird research charity. A growing membership and up to 60,000 volunteer birdwatchers contribute to the BTO's surveys, collecting information that underpins conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Thetford, Stirling, Bangor (Wales) and Bangor (Northern Ireland), who analyse and publicise the results of surveys and projects. The BTO's work is funded by BTO supporters, government, trusts, industry and conservation

Contact Details

Dr Stuart Newson
(BTO Senior Ecologist)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: norfolkbatsurvey [at]

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Media Manager)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Mobile: 07585 440910 (anytime)
Email: press [at]

Images are available for use alongside this News Release.
Please contact images [at] quoting reference 2015-35

The BTO has an ISDN line available for radio interviews.
Please contact us to book an interview
Office: 01842 750050

Related content