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Gardening for bats
It’s easy to consider bees and birds when gardening – we see plenty of them if we grow the right plants – but what about bats? Emerging from their roosts at dusk and returning by dawn, they can often go unnoticed.
My partner is a huge fan of bats. On warm, summer evenings we take our bat detector and a bag of chips to the canal and sit on a bench, waiting for pipistrelles and Daubenton’s to emerge from their roosts. We’ve also been on guided bat walks and taken part in surveys, picking up the different sound frequencies emitted by noctules, Leisler’s and lesser horseshoe bats. If you’re in Cornwall this summer, I can recommend the bat walks at the Lost Gardens of Heligan. When I was there I felt quite separated from my hectic city life, standing at the edge of the water in total darkness with bats swirling around me.
Like so much of our wildlife, bats are having a hard time. This is mostly due to the widespread use of pesticides in agriculture. British bats feed exclusively on insects, so spraying crops to kill ‘pests’ dramatically reduces the amount of food available to them.
Luckily, there’s a lot gardeners can do to help. If you garden for amphibians, birds, bees and butterflies, you will have already created a fantastic bat habitat. You can boost local insect populations by not using bug sprays and being less tidy in autumn (providing insects with somewhere to shelter over winter will ensure they survive to breed in spring). Planting native trees and shrubs will also provide food and shelter for insects.
Many bat species eat moths, so grow nectar-rich plants, including honeysuckle, night-scented stock and evening primrose, to attract them. Crane flies are also an important food source. (This pleases me. I have loads of crane flies in my garden, and am looking forward to lots more after watching one laying eggs in my lawn last week.)
Bats typically roost in caves, tall trees, roofs of houses and barns, but they will choose anywhere they deem suitable. My cousin often has bats roosting in his outdoor fuse box, while one used to sleep in the folds of curtains hanging in the classroom my mum used to teach in. Erecting a bat box and growing trees may encourage them to roost in your garden. Females will choose warm ‘maternity’ roosts to birth and raise their young, while cooler sites are used for hibernation. They navigate around using echolocation, so need linear corridors along which to travel. If you have the space, why not a plant long, straight hedge for them?
If you do have bats roosting in your home or garden, remember that bats and their roosts are protected whether occupied or not, so if you want to get rid of that conifer blocking all the light to your veg patch, but you think there are bats roosting in it, make sure you call the National Bat Helpline first for advice on 0845 1300 228.
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