Species Biodiversity Action Plans (Summaries)

Species Biodiversity Action Plan -Barbastelle Bat

Common name: Barbastelle bat
Scientific name: Barbastella barbastellus

Description

The barbastelle is a distinctive medium sized bat (forearm: 36-42 mm; head and body: 40-52 mm; wingspan: 260 mm; weight 6-13 g) with very dark fur (almost black), and ears that join across the forehead.

 It's mainly a woodland species that is either solitary or found in small numbers, although nursery clusters are formed in the summer. It usually roosts in trees (behind loose bark or in hollows), but will use the entrances to caves/mines (particularly for winter hibernation) and is occasionally found in buildings. Little is known about the diet of barbastelles, although they have been seen feeding low over water, suggesting that they eat insects such as caddis and may-flies, they also have the quiet echo-location calls that are typical of species that hunt close to foliage.

Legal Protection

  • Barbastelle bats appear in Appendix II of the Berne Convention (Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats). This requires that they be strictly protected against deliberate killing, capture, damage/destruction of breeding and nesting sites, disturbance, trading (including parts and derivatives), etc.
  • They also appear in Appendix II of the Bonn Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, under which signatories are encouraged to draw up agreements to restore/maintain species' conservation status through management and other appropriate measures.
  • Barbastelle bats are also protected under Annexes II and IV of the European Communities Council Directive on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and Wild Fauna and Flora. These cover species of community interest the conservation of which requires the designation of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs); and species that are in need of strict protection respectively. Damage or destruction of breeding sites or resting places is prohibited, and all life stages are protected against deliberate capture, killing or disturbance in the wild; and keeping, transport, sale/exchange and offering for sale/exchange of specimens.
  • Under domestic legislation, barbastelles are covered by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). Under Schedule 5 the deliberate killing, injuring, taking, possessing, disturbing and selling (including parts and derivatives) as well as damaging, destroying or obstructing any structure or place of refuge etc are prohibited. Under Schedule 6, certain methods of killing or taking animals are specifically prohibited, and even humane trapping for research requires a licence.

Current Status

This species probably occurs throughout England and Wales (absent from Scotland and Ireland), but is an extremely rare species, with only a few specimens being found each year, and only one maternity roost and less than 30 hibernation sites known to exist in the UK. Although the overall UK population has been estimated to be only 5,000 individuals, centres of population are thought to exist in south-west and mid-west England and Norfolk. The population is also believed to be in decline, although accurate figures are difficult to obtain. Internationally barbastelle bats are widespread throughout continental Europe, but seem to be rare almost everywhere.

Barbastelle bats are subject to English Nature's Species Recovery Programme, and a National Bat Monitoring Programme is underway with the purpose of establishing the baseline status of this and other species.

Threats And Issues

This is a poorly understood species, but it is likely that its low population density and slow population growth make it particularly vulnerable to:

  • further loss and fragmentation of ancient deciduous woodland habitat;
  • loss, destruction and disturbance of roosts in buildings, trees and underground sites;
  • a reduction in numbers of insect prey due to habitat simplification acting through factors such as fertiliser use and intensive grazing.

Objectives (As Pertinent To Agriculture)

The national species action plan specifies the following objectives:

  • Maintaining the known range and populations.
  • Increasing the total population size of this species by improving woodland age structure, particularly in wooded river valleys, to increase roosting and foraging opportunities.

Conservation Advice

Despite limited knowledge about the species, the following are likely to be beneficial in light of current knowledge; however, expert advice should be sought since work may require the permission of English Nature.

  • Where possible forestry management practices should preserve some hollow, veteran, dying and dead trees, in order to provide roosting sites.
  • In other cases bat boxes may serve as substitute roosting sites in areas of woodland.
  • Hibernation sites should be protected once identified. In the case of caves, tunnels etc, it may be advisable to fit a grill to the entrance to prevent human access whilst still allowing free movement for bats, and without altering the air flow patterns of the site.
  • Although little is known of the ecological requirements of barbastelles, riparian habitats (particularly those in wooded areas) should be maintained in order to encourage insect communities (food).
  • Non-toxic roof timber treatments should be adopted in order to avoid poisoning of bats.

References And Further Information

Betts, C.J. (1998). Checklist of Protected British Species. Christopher Betts Environmental Biology, Worcester, UK.

Mitchell-Jones, A.J. (1994). The Bats of Britain and Ireland . The Vincent Wildlife Trust, London.

Stebbings, R.E. (1988). Conservation of European Bats. Christopher Helm, London.

Stebbings, R.E. and Griffith, F. (1986). Distribution and Status of Bats in Europe. Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, Huntingdon, UK.

UK Steering Group. (1998). UK Biodiversity Group: Tranche 2 Action Plans, Volume 1 - Vertebrates and Vascular Plants. English Nature, Peterborough, UK.

Wardhaugh, A.A. (1995). Bats of the British Isles. Shire Natural History, Princes Risborough, UK.

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