Species Biodiversity Action Plans (Summaries)

Species Biodiversity Action Plan - Greater horseshoe bat

Picture from Wardhaugh (1995).

Common name: Greater horseshoe bat
Scientific name: Rhinolophus ferrumequinum


The greater horseshoe bat is a relatively large species by British standards (forearm: 51-59 mm; head and body: 56-68 mm; wingspan: 360 mm; weight: 13-34 g), with medium to light brown fur (often greyer and paler on the animals underside), a horseshoe nose-leaf and long legs (with which it hangs from its roost, often with its wing wrapped around its body).

It occurs in woodland, scrubland and grassland, particularly near to water. Its food consists of a wide variety of insects (usually large), caught either in woodland or by flying low over old pasture. During the summer it generally roosts in old buildings with large roof spaces (and large entrances), but can be found in caves and mines; in the winter however, most move into caves, mines, cellars and other humid underground sites to hibernate.

Mating occurs in the autumn, when males occupy mating roosts (often occupying the same roosts for may years) where they are visited by females for mating. maternity colonies are then formed in the summer, within which the bats may remain active throughout the day, but only going out to feed at night.

Legal Protection

  • Greater horseshoe 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 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.
  • Greater horseshoe 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, greater horseshoe 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

The greater horseshoe bat population of northern Europe has declined significantly over the last 100 years (an estimated decline of 90%), such that the UK population is now restricted to south west England and Wales (although occasional specimens are recorded elsewhere). There are currently 35 recognised maternity (and all year) roosts and 369 hibernation roosts in the country, with the population estimated to be between 4,000 and 6,600 individuals. Internationally, the greater horseshoe bat occurs throughout the area between the Atlantic coast of Europe and Japan, but the population appears to be declining almost everywhere.

Threats and Issues

  • Reduced prey abundance - particularly the loss of old pasture due to the intensification of agricultural systems.
  • Loss, damage and disturbance of roosting and hibernation sites.
  • Loss of feeding habitats - insect-rich feeding habitats and flyways have been lost due to the reduction in wetland and hedgerow habitats, and the conversion of permanent pasture to other arable uses.

Objectives (as pertinent to agriculture)

The national species action plan specifies the following two objectives:

  • To maintain all existing maternity roosts and hibernation sites.
  • To increase the current population by 25% by 2010.

Conservation Advice

  • Protection of roosts - greater horseshoe bats are sensitive to disturbance, especially of their nursery and winter roosts; consequently these sites need to be protected and entrances left unobstructed (in some cases, grids that allow access for bats, but prevent human access may be used).
  • Renovation of buildings - all renovation/development work involving old farm buildings should take into account the need to check for existing roosts, and to allow suitable access for bats in the post development period. Cavity wall insulation should be avoided, but if required, it should only be performed in the summer (having checked for the presence of bats).
  • Protection of underground sites - where possible access to old mines etc, should be preserved (for bats), when human access is being prevented for safety reasons.
  • Timber treatment - if timber treatment is necessary, mechanical replacement techniques are the preferred option. If chemical methods are to be used non-persistent sprays with low toxicity to mammals should be selected.
  • Foraging habitat management - suitable habitat for foraging should be maintained and where possible expanded within 2 km of roost sites. In the case of the greater horseshoe bat, good habitat includes broadleaved woodland and unimproved grassland, rather than coniferous woodland or improved grazing.
  • Travel corridors - bats don't like travelling in the open; therefore, unbroken hedgerows and tree lines should be encouraged.
  • Encouragement of recolonisation - natural recolonisation should be encouraged by the sympathetic management of habitat and roosts within suitable areas.

References and Further Information

Bat Conservation Trust. (2000). Greater horseshoe bat: Rhinolophus ferrumequinum. [Internet], London, Bat Conservation Trust. Available from: http://www.bats.org.uk/batinfo/gr_horse.htm. [Accessed 20 January 2001].

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. (1995). Biodiversity: The UK Steering Group Report, Volume 2: Action Plans. HMSO, London.

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

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