Species Biodiversity Action Plans (Summaries)

Species Biodiversity Action Plan -Lesser Horseshoe bat

Picture from Mitchell-Jones (1994):
Illustration by Ovenden D.W.

Common name: Lesser horseshoe bat
Scientific name: Rhinolophus hipposideros


The lesser horseshoe is a small species of bat (forearm: 35-42 mm; head and body: 35-39 mm; wingspan: 235 mm; weight: 4-9 g), with a horseshoe nose-leaf, long legs and dark grey-brown fur (paler on the underside).

It occurs in woodland (favoured for hunting), scrubland and grassland, particularly near to water. During the summer it generally roosts in old buildings with large roof spaces (hanging by its legs with its wings wrapped around its body); but in the winter most move into caves, mines, cellars and other underground sites to hibernate, normally in small groups. Lesser horseshoes mainly feed on insects (such as crane-flies, moths and caddis flies) which they catch by flying low and circling foliage in areas of woodland. Mating occurs in the autumn, and mixed sex maternity colonies are formed in the late spring, with one young being born in June or July.

Legal Protection

  • Lesser 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.
  • Lesser 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, lesser 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

Lesser horseshoe bats were once found across southern England and Wales, but having been lost from the midlands and south east England, they are now restricted to south west England and Wales (also western Ireland). Within this area populations seem to be fairly healthy, but they are often very poor at colonising new roosts, which may leave them vulnerable. Current estimates put the UK population at around 14,000 with about 230 known summer (or all year) and 480 known hibernation roosts.

Internationally, the species is widespread throughout southern Europe and north Africa, and is found as far east as Turkestan and Kashmir. However, there has been a considerable decline towards the northern edge of its range, with it becoming extinct in many areas.

Threats and Issues

  • Loss of or damage to maternity roosts - mainly due to the deterioration and unsympathetic renovation of old buildings.
  • Loss of or damage to hibernation roosts - through entrances to underground sites such as mines and caves being blocked for safety reasons, and increased recreational use of such sites.
  • Toxic chemicals - particularly those used in the treatment of roof timbers.
  • Loss, damage and fragmentation of foraging habitat - particularly woodland, old hedgerows and tree lines.
  • Reduced insect prey abundance - due to the intensification of farming, increased grazing of woodlands and water's edge habitats, and the increased use of pesticides.
  • Toxic effect of persistent insecticides in the food chain.
  • Avermectins - these are antiparasitic drugs used to kill insects feeding on the dung from treated livestock.

Objectives (as pertinent to agriculture)

The national species action plan specifies the following two objectives:

  • To maintain the current range and populations, and;
  • in the long term, expand the current range through natural recolonisation and landscape enhancement, into areas where research shows that climatic and landscape features are suitable.

Conservation Advice

  • Protection of roosts - lesser horseshoe bats are particularly 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.
  • 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 lesser horseshoe bat, good habitat includes broadleaved woodland, outgrown hedgerows and tree lines rather than coniferous woodland or improved grazing.
  • Travel corridors - lesser horseshoe bats don't like travelling in the open, and if forced to do so will fly very low bringing them into the reach of predators; 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). Lesser horseshoe bat: Rhinolophus hipposideros. [Internet], London, Bat Conservation Trust. Available from: http://www.bats.org.uk/batinfo/lhorse.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. (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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