Saturday, 3 February 2018

Bats in the Garden

Whether you live in an urban area or in the countryside there will be bats about, roosting in trees, attic spaces, barn roofs or even the tiny spaces in between house walls. 

The best time to see bats is at dusk as the light fails, when Pipistrelles and Noctules come out to feed on insects. Other species, such as Brown Long-eared Bats come out later. Some bat species cover large distances in the night to reach their feeding sites, before returning to their roosts. 

Bats use a diversity of habitats, particularly areas with mature trees and water, so wooded parks, canals and riverbanks near to your home are good places to start looking for them.

A brown long-eared bat

There is no guarantee bats will feed in your garden: attracting bats to the garden is more about providing the right plants and habitats to encourage insects, which are the bats food source. Look on your garden as an enhancement to their feeding area or a bat service station while they are en-route to their usual feeding sites. If you are lucky they will swoop in for a snack. 

Wild flowers and grasses provide a great habitat for insects

Because bats feed at night, night-scented plants are key as they attract moths and other night flying insects. Use plants that have seeds, nectar, vegetation and fruit which can provide food or habitat for the larvae and adults of these insects. All these plants can be incorporated into your garden or as a specific wildlife garden, which in turn will benefit many more creatures, bugs and beasties as well as the bats.

Sweet Rocket (Hesperis matronalis),
 a night-scented plant

Trees and shrubs
If your garden is large enough, create the type of woodland edge habitat many bats like. This gives them shelter for flying safely from predators and creates a warm sheltered atmosphere where insects like to congregate. Plant a row of trees, even smaller trees such as Birch and Willow which will grow quickly giving you a shelter belt in a few years. An important thing to remember when creating a wildlife garden is to plant native species, as these are more attractive to insects. You can under-plant these trees with shrubs and perennials to increase cover and insect habitat. Plant up gaps in hedges, which will also create the same conditions as a row of trees on a smaller scale.

A group of Birch trees providing
a corridor through a garden

Perennials, Biennials and Annuals
If you are planning a wildlife garden to encourage a range of wildlife these plants can be used amongst other plants. They are specifically night-scented or encourage the insects bats eat. Most of them can be easily grown from seed and we stock a few in the nursery. 

Bladder campion (Silene vulgaris), Nottingham catchfly (Silene nutans), Night scented catch fly (Silene noctiflora), Night scented stock (Matthiola bicornis), Sweet rocket, (Hesperis matronalis), Evening prinrose (Oenothera bennis), Tobacco plant (Nicotiana affinis), Cherry pie (Heliotrope), Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis).

Herbs
Chives, Borage, Lemon balm, Marjoram and Mints all have characteristics that attract insects, from their nectar, to their seeds, vegetation and aromatic foliage.  

Climbers
Honeysuckles including Lonicera periclymenum, L. 'Halliana', L caprifolium and L. Etrusca Superba, Jasmin officinalis, Rosa canina, Rosa rubiginosa, Rosa arvensis, Hedera helix and brambles all provide insects' requirements in the garden, thus providing the bats with food.


Other things to encourage bats include a pond (many insects start life here) . This doesn't have to be big, and you'll probably get other animals such as frogs and toads coming to visit too. Log piles, left to rot will attract many insects and an easy way of using up logs from felled trees.

Our log pile in the wild life garden in the nursery
You can of course put up bat boxes if you have a suitable site. A good position is on a tree-trunk as high as possible, with no branches directly above or below the box. Also make sure the space into the box is just as wide as your finger, otherwise smaller birds may move in instead of bats!

Wooden bat boxes waiting to go up


David putting bat boxes
 up in our last garden

Please remember bats are a protected species and any attempts to harm them or destroy their roosts will lead to prosecution. Bats should only be handled by someone with a bat licence, see below

Written in collaboration with David Dodds, Consultant ecologist at David Dodds Associates Ltd.

For more information find their website here: David Dodds Associates Ltd




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2 comments:

  1. What a lovely article! Bats, especially small bats, are so cute and enchanting creatures in many ways. There are so many species and yet so many are endangered. I know there are bats nearby since I can hear and see them whizz past in the summer nights. But I have never been able to see one so close by! What a sweet photo of the long-eared brown variety.

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    1. Thank you, they are wonderful creatures, I'm lucky to have seen many up close as hubby is a bat specialist. They are amazing to watch swooping about on summer evenings. We were lucky to have a maternity roost in our house wall last summer, so we were able to hear them close up. Its such a shame so many people have negative views of them here.

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