A novel approach to monitoring bats

01 Apr 2014 | No. 2014-26

A new study, just published in the journal British Wildlife, Newson, S., Ross-Smith, V., Evans, I., Harold, R., Miller, R. & Barlow, K. (2014), Bat-monitoring: a novel approach, British Wildlife 25, 264-269. shows how recent advances in technology can give anyone the opportunity to find out what species of bats are present in their local area. The study reveals the tremendous success of the Norfolk Bat Survey, a ‘citizen science’ project involving volunteers from across the county of Norfolk.

Recent developments in bat recording technology mean that it is now possible to collect large amounts of information on the bats that hunt on the wing at night. Automated bat detectors record the echolocation calls of passing bats and these are then analysed by special computer software to identify the species present. Such detectors are expensive and up until recently the technology had only been available to environmental consultants and university research groups, rather than the wider public.

Thanks to funding from the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and Defra, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), in liaison with the Bat Conservation Trust, has been able to trial a novel approach for enabling large-scale, high quality, monitoring of bats through a project known as the Norfolk Bat Survey www.batsurvey.org. By collaborating with a range of other organisations and local libraries, the project team has established 21 'Bat Monitoring Centres' across Norfolk from which members of the public could borrow one of the detectors for a few days in order to take part in the survey. Participants receive a summary of bats recorded within a few days of taking part in the survey and through their involvement are given an opportunity to take advantage of bat recording technology that would not normally be available to them.

Making use of a large volunteer base, the project was able to survey 448 x 1-km squares across the county (8% of Norfolk) during 2013, resulting in over a quarter of a million high quality bat records. This has allowed us to determine the distribution and abundance of several scarce or localised species, for which previously there were only a handful of records for the county (Figure 1 example Barbastelle). This compares with about 1,000 bat records which are normally submitted to NBIS (the local biological records centre) for the county each year, and makes this the largest county-level dataset of this type. This study has important implications for improving bat conservation and monitoring strategies more widely in the future. 

Figure 1 - Relative abundance of the red-listed Barbastelle Barbastellus barbastellus in Norfolk at surveyed sites in 2013


Dr Stuart Newson, BTO Senior Research Ecologist (and project manager for Norwich Bat Group) commented: “It is really exciting to have an opportunity to work in partnership with local bat groups, local and national organisations and local libraries, to improve our understanding of bats in the county.” He added, “This project is very exciting for me because it combines a personal interest in bats, in designing large-scale monitoring schemes, and in finding novel ways of engaging the public’s interest in the natural environment.”

Nida Al Fulaij, Development Manager at PTES, 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, are inspirational for wildlife conservation here in the UK.”

Last year we had more people wanting to take part in some parts of the county than we had detectors to support, so people in Norfolk will need to be quick in expressing interest, and reserving their 1-km square to survey for 2014 at our online survey map www.batsurvey.org/sign-up. After selecting a 1-km square (or squares if interested in covering more than one square), observers are given a web link to a web page from where they can reserve a detector from the most convenient Bat Monitoring Centre to use.

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), Norfolk Wildlife Trust, University of East Anglia, the Norfolk Barbastelle Study Group, Norfolk Woodland Myotis Study Group, the Pennoyer Centre, the Breckland Society, the Little Ouse Headwater Project, Farmland Conservation Limited, the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group and the Teacher Scientist Network. We are extremely grateful to the People’s Trust for Endangered Species 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 and the Geoffrey Watling Charity.
  2. Michael McCarthy, writing in The Independent, has called British Wildlife Magazine ‘the most important and informative publication on wildlife of our times’. It boasts in-depth coverage of such diverse subjects as bird conservation, the invasion of the Harlequin Ladybird, the protection of British woods and the appearance of sharks in British waters; regular sections including wildlife reports and conservation and habitat management news; expert, reliable book reviews; a wealth of beautiful photography; and columns from some of the very best wildlife writers currently at work in the UK. Please go to www.britishwildlife.com for more details and to subscribe, or contact Abraham Davies (Marketing & Publicity) on 01865 811 302.’
  3. The BTO is the UK's leading bird research charity with recognised expertise in bird monitoring, but the breadth of its knowledge means that the BTO can make valuable contributions to monitoring other taxa. 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 organisations. www.bto.org

Contact Details

Dr Stuart Newson
(BTO Senior Research Ecologist)

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

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Media Manager)

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

Images are available for use alongside this News Release.
Please contact images [at] bto.org quoting reference 2014-26

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