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JANUARY
85
as diverse animal populations. Fruit-eating bats in the
tropics disperse seeds that are critical to restoring cleared or
damaged rainforests. Even bat droppings (called guano) are
valuable as a rich natural fertiliser. Guano is a major natural
resource worldwide, and, when mined responsibly with bats
in mind, it can provide significant economic benefits for
landowners and local communities."
Pest control
Here, in Ireland, there are nine bat species belonging to
two families, according to Irish NGO, BCI. These bats make
up one third of our land species. Eight species are from
the Vespertilionidae family: common pipistrelle (Pipistrellus
pipistrellus); soprano pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmaeus);
Nathusius' pipistrelle (Pipistrellus nathusii); Leisler's bat
(Nyctalus leisleri); brown long-eared bat (Plecotus auritus);
Daubenton's bat (Myotis daubentonii); whiskered bat (Myotis
mystacinus); Natterer's bat (Myotis nattereri); with one
species from the Rhinolophidae family: the lesser horseshoe
bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros).
Bats, as natural pest controllers, are farmers' friends.
They are considered to be one of the most `economically
important non-domesticated animals' according to BCI,
which says that in the US, bats save the agricultural industry
at least 3.7 billion dollars, annually. The bats eat crop-
munching insects, so the farmers do not have to apply as
many pesticides.
While data on how Irish bats fit into this equation is not
currently available, BCI says that our two smallest species
both pipistrelles, whose populations are approximately
one million each consume their own body weight in
insects each night! This would be a 5kg feast per night
multiplied by two million. That comes to approximately
10,000kg of insects in just one night!
GLAS and bat conservation
The conservation of bats became an objective of the
Green Low-carbon Agri-environment Scheme (GLAS) in
2015, to improve biodiversity in the farming landscape,
replace habitats lost through changes in farming practice
and because bats play an important role in farm pest
management as they feed on midges, flies and other
potential pest species.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine makes
four recommendations for the conservation of bats on Irish
farms:
f
Install new bat roost boxes in groups of at least three
boxes per tree or three boxes per post or three boxes
per building. The boxes in each location must face in
different directions. Bat roost boxes must be in place by
March 31;
f
The maximum number of bat boxes is 15, in groups of a
minimum of three boxes per tree or per post or per farm
building;
f
The location must be clearly marked on the map and
must be maintained in the same position for the duration
of the contract;
f
Box(es) can be made from wood or woodcrete and must
be draught free.
Protection
Protection of bats in Ireland has an Irish and European layer.
Under the Wildlife Act 1976 and its amendment in 2000,
it is an offence to intentionally disturb, injure or kill a bat,
or disturb its resting place, and any work on a roost must
be carried out with the advice of the National Parks and
Wildlife Service (NPWS).
The EU Habitats Directive adds another protective strand
for all bats, but particularly for the lesser horseshoe bat
which is found only in the Republic of Ireland. According
BCI: "The level of protection offered to lesser horseshoe
bats, effectively, means that areas important for this species
are designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC).
For all bats, it is an offence to disturb, injure or kill bats or
disturb or destroy their roosts."
However, this does not mean, for example, that essential
roof repairs cannot be carried out because bats are present
in an attic, says BCI.
"In general, it would mean that roof repair works should be
carried out outside the active season for bats while they are
not present, and using materials that are suitable for use in a
bat roost.
"Roost entrances/exits also need to be retained. It is
important to discuss any plans for work on a bat roost prior
to commencement with the statutory authority responsible
for bat conservation."
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RURAL LIFE
JANUARY
84
Learn about bats: new website
Bat Conservation Ireland (BCI) has created a new website for
primary school children and their teachers called Learn About Bats
(www.learnaboutbats.com).
The website includes beautiful illustrations from award-winning
children's author and illustrator Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick and
photographs by Paul van Hoof.
It centres around a number of bat fact pages, each of which
addresses a specific topic, such as `Irish Bats', `Are Bats Blind?'
or `Are Bats Good or Bad?'
These bat fact pages also have downloadable worksheets for
follow-on work in the classroom.
The website was funded by donations, grant assistance from
the Irish Environmental Network and Bat Conservation Ireland's
own funds. Dr Niamh Roche from BCI said: "Teachers can find it
di icult to access information about Irish bats to share with their
students. We wanted to create an easy-to-navigate website that
could be used for SESE/STEM lessons at primary level, or perhaps
in association with a school's Green Flag for Biodiversity. Also, it is
great to be able to share accurate bat facts and to be able to dispel
myths about bats."
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