Holy Cow, Batman!

Knepp Wildland hosts 13 of the 17 resident species of bat found in the UK – some have roosts here and some commute in from surrounding areas to feed on the flourishing insects.

At the beginning of the project, in 2001, only five different species had been recorded here but since then the restored waterways, growing-out hedgerows and insect-rich pastures have provided perfect feeding grounds. As a result of this the bat species list has grown.

One study showed radio-tagged female Barbastelles commute from their nursery roosts in The Mens Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve (near Petworth) - 18km away - to forage over Knepp Wildland.

On a recent Knepp Bat and Moth Safari we were able to meet up with batman Martyn Cooke, and his band of volunteers, doing a bat survey around the Hammer Pond. On this occasion, three species of bat were caught: Soprano Pipistrelle, Bechstein’s Bat and Whiskered Bat.

The Whiskered Bat feeds on a variety of insects, such as moths, so they are particularly susceptible to pesticides. Pesticides are no longer used here at Knepp, since the move from intensive agriculture, so there is a plentiful supply of food for them.

Whiskered Bat at Knepp - photo by Ryan Greaves

Whiskered Bat at Knepp - photo by Ryan Greaves

Surveys at Knepp in 2009 indicated that Bechstein’s Bat were breeding here, a very exciting find as this species is one of the UK’s rarest and most endangered bat species. It has extra protection under Annex II of the European Habitats Directive.

Bechstein's Bat at Knepp - photo by Ryan Greaves

Bechstein's Bat at Knepp - photo by Ryan Greaves

Bechstein's Bats feed on small invertebrates, such as small moths. A dropping analysis in nearby counties showed a penchant for grasshoppers and dung-flies. We have plenty of dung-flies at Knepp on the Longhorn cattle dung: no ivermectins going in to the cattle means droppings full of delicious dung-flies and other insects that bats, birds and other wildlife can feed on.

Come along on one of our Bat and Moth Safaris to learn more about the bats of Knepp.

by Penny Green, Knepp Ecologist