Devon Wildlife Trust is crowdfunding for the Devon Greater Horseshoe Bat project. The charity is trying to raise at least £8,000 towards the cost of creating a new roost structure for the rare bats, in East Devon – and to create more insect-rich habitat around existing roosts elsewhere in the county.
A remarkable mammal
Following nationwide declines of up to 90% of these bats in the last hundred years, Devon is now home to Northern Europe's most important greater horseshoe bat population.
Named for the horseshoe-shaped 'nose leaf' that helps the bat navigate through the dark at speed, this is an animal that has shared the Devon landscape with people for thousands of years. They are as much a part of Devon's natural heritage as the hedges they use to find their way around the landscape, or the rolling pastures where they feast on insects. And all of their Devon maternity roosts are in man-made structures: old barns, mines, quarry caves.
Need for a new roost
The old building near Southleigh, East Devon, that greater horseshoe bats have used as a maternity roost for decades is becoming unstable and unsuitable for the bats to use. But the bats are so loyal to roost sites, that they keep returning to this building each year. And as there is good insect-rich habitat around this roost, another location the bats might find could be less suitable for raising their young. The solution? Build a structure specifically for bats to use as a roost close to the existing building on a known flight route.
Devon Greater Horseshoe Bat Project Manager Ruth Testa has designed the unique structure. It is based on her observations of how pregnant female bats and their young use existing roosts in old buildings.
The breezeblock structure is designed to be eight metres long, four metres wide and four metres high. It will be finished with a timber outer layer to provide additional roosting spaces for bat species that like crevices. A slate roof will be added to conserve heat for the baby bats in the upper part of the structure: greater horseshoe pups need a roost space to be at least 24 degrees centigrade. The lowest section of the building will feature a ‘cool space’, where mother bats will be more comfortable.
Ruth said: “We hope that the greater horseshoes in this area will find the roost in the next couple of years, and that by providing a range of suitable conditions for them that over time they will start to use the building to give birth and raise their pups. This may take a number of years, but without providing these opportunities the bats may end up with nowhere to go if their current roost fails."
Ruth added: "There is also another maternity roost close by, so it is possible that this will also provide opportunities for those bats to expand their range.”
Making your donation go further
Thanks to support from the Heritage Lottery Fund for this project, every £3.50 pledged to this Crowdfunder is worth £10 for conserving Devon’s greater horseshoe bats. In addition to the new roost structure in East Devon, funds raised will help the DWT-led project create more insect-rich habitat close to existing roosts. This includes wildflower meadow restoration in the South Hams and Tamar Valley and new hedge laying in North Devon.
DWT’s Dan Smith said “We’ve seen a very generous response to our bat crowdfunder so far. Most of the rewards for pledges are unique to the project, including a wall planner with bat artwork from Exeter illustrator Neil Gange. There are also opportunities for a close encounter with Devon’s rare bats, such as helping to conduct a population count inside a roost near Braunton or experiencing the emergence of thousands of bats from Europe’s largest greater horseshoe maternity roost, in South Devon. We’re very grateful to all our supporters and now need just a little over £1000 to reach our target.”
Supporters can pledge to help Devon’s rare bats at www.crowdfunder.co.uk/devon-greater-horseshoe-bats until 5 October.