Going Wild – How can we encourage more bats in our gardens?
When we first came to Tideswell (25 years ago), I can remember sitting at the top of our back garden on late summer evenings (possibly with a drink in hand) and watching bats flying around our houses. Lovely to see. Sadly, we just don’t see as many as we used to.
However, we know that many local people still see bats in their gardens and in the surrounding area – so we know we can encourage them to multiply and to spread again.
TDEG recently ran a `bat walk` down Tideswell Dale, with the help of the Derbyshire Bat Group. We were thrilled to see and hear (with the help of their bat detectors) four different species of bat – Common Pipistrelles, Soprano Pipistrelles, Noctules, and Daubenton’s bats. The last species is also known as the `water bat`, and we had great views of several sweeping over the River Wye near Litton Mill, as they tried to catch aquatic insects at the water’s surface.
There are apparently 18 species of bats in Britain. The more common species that use gardens for feeding or daytime shelter are the four we saw in Tideswell Dale, plus the Brown Long-eared bat. You can find out more about the different bat species we can see in Derbyshire on the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust web site .
Sadly, bat numbers are declining and have been for the last century. The destruction of old buildings to build new houses is one of the main reasons, while increased street lighting, the construction of new roads, and the loss of hedgerows, woods, and ponds all contribute to a degradation of their habitat and loss of food sources.
So I thought for this “Going Wild” post, we might consider what we can all do to help bats in our local area. As with all creatures, it generally comes down to providing homes and food.
We need to welcome bats into our gardens and buildings. As well as being a delight to watch, they are also great pest control allies. A single Common Pipistrelle bat will eat up to 3,000 midges in a single evening! There is no downside either: they don’t chew wood or wiring; their droppings are dry and odour-free; and they don’t build nests. Nor are you going to be overrun by them. Bats generally only have one baby, called a ‘pup’, per year and they are unlikely to roost in the same place for the whole year anyway.
So how can you attract bats to your garden? Well, there are two main ways: the first is to put up bat boxes, and the second is to think about bats in all your gardening plans.
The simplest way to support bats is to buy or make bat boxes, so they have places to roost and shelter during the daytime. The Bat Conservation Trust has downloadable bat box plans on its website for you to print off and use to make your own using scraps of wood and simple hand tools.
They also provide advice about where to fix boxes. In summary, fix boxes:
- Where bats are known to feed and navigate (close to hedges and tree lines);
- Ideally at least 4m above the ground (where safe installation is possible) – on buildings or in trees;
- Away from artificial light sources (to protect them from predation); and
- Sheltered from strong winds and exposed to the sun for part of the day (usually south, south-east or south-west).
Bat Friendly Gardening
The key to attracting bats to your garden is to attract their foodstuff. That means planting night-scented flowers such as evening primrose, honeysuckle, and jasmine, all of which will make a huge difference by drawing in night-flying insects for bats to hoover up.
The Wild About Gardens web site has lots more information about gardening to attract bats – including this wonderful poster about some of the species you can plant.
You could also consider letting small sections of your garden grow a little bit wild, cultivating a compost heap, dotting piles of rotting logs here and there, and having linear runs of hedges and trees for feeding and navigation.
Mature trees help too, as their boughs and leaves provide shelter from predation, allowing bats to fly unnoticed.
If you’ve got the space, a small pond will really help to draw them in by attracting water-loving insects too. In fact, a pond is one of the best investments you’ll ever make in helping make your garden more wildlife friendly in general.
If you are really interested in helping our local bats and learning more about them – then join the local Derbyshire Bat Group .
But most importantly – just enjoy watching these fascinating creatures who share our homes and gardens.
Licensing and the law
All bats and their roosts are protected by law and it is an offence to deliberately disturb, handle or kill bats. You need training and a special licence to handle them. The relevant legislation in England & Wales is the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and Conservation of Habitats & Species Regulations 2017. You can find out more about licensing and bats on the Bat Conservation Trust website .