Species Biodiversity Action Plans (Summaries)

Species Biodiversity Action Plan -Bechstein's Bat

Common name: Bechstein's bat
Scientific name: Myotis bechsteinii

Description

Bechstein's bat is a medium sized species (forearm: 38-46 mm; head and body: 50 mm; wingspan: 275 mm; weight 7-13 g), with light brown fur above, pale grey fur below, and long thin ears that can be folded down (not joined over the forehead).

It lives in extensive areas of open woodland, where it roosts in tree cavities during the summer, and in general probably hibernates there as well, although some individuals have been found in caves and mines.

Very little is known of the feeding habits of Bechstein's bat, although its long ears and quiet echo-location calls suggest that it may hunt by catching insects near to foliage and by picking them off leaves or the ground. As far as breeding is concerned, it has been observed to form small maternity colonies in tree holes during the summer, although only on such site has been confirmed in the UK.

Legal Protection

  • Bechstein's bat appears 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 are 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.
  • Bechstein's 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, Bechstein's bats 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

Bechstein's bat seems to have evolved to live in ancient mature forests, and was present in much larger numbers 2000+ years ago when such habitat was itself more common. However, clearance for agriculture has greatly reduced the habitat available to them, so that today the species is very rare, with only 140 recorded in the UK since 1800; and the most recent population estimate suggests that the total number of individuals is about 1500, and possibly declining. The UK population is concentrated in the counties of Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Isle of Wight, Somerset and Wiltshire; although additional roosts were discovered in Surrey in 1997, and there have been two recent recordings in Wales. Internationally, Bechstein's bat is widely distributed across Europe, although it is rare and may be endangered throughout its range.

Threats and Issues

The rarity of this species means that it is poorly understood, but according to the national species action plan, its low population density, exacting habitat requirements and low rates of reproduction make it particularly vulnerable to factors such as:

  • Further loss and fragmentation of open ancient deciduous woodland habitat.
  • Loss, destruction and disturbance of roosts or potential roosts (particularly in old trees).

Objectives (as pertinent to agriculture)

The national species action plan specifies the following two objectives:

  • Maintaining the known range and populations.
  • Increasing the national population size by improving woodland age structure to enhance roosting and foraging opportunities.

Conservation Advice

Although our knowledge the species requirements for Bechstein's bat is incomplete, it would appear that the following are likely to be important in its conservation:

  • The retention of old trees and woodland around roost sites.
  • The protection of maternity roosts, hibernation roosts and the habitat surrounding these sites. This may include putting grills over the entrance to known roosting caves, or possibly notifying such sites as sites of special scientific interest (SSSI).
  • The installation of bat boxes, particularly in Dorset and Wiltshire, but extending into other important areas, in order to increase the number of roosting sites available.

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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