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Citizen surveying suggests positive news for bat populations

Common pipistrelle bat, the smallest and commonest bat in the UK (Alamy/PA)
Common pipistrelle bat, the smallest and commonest bat in the UK (Alamy/PA)

Some of Britain’s bat species are on the increase, according to citizen science surveys, which suggests action to protect the animals is working.

The National Bat Monitoring Programme, led by the Bat Conservation Trust, has found three species – greater and lesser horseshoe bats and common pipistrelles – have seen significant population rises this century.

And Daubenton’s bats, serotine, noctules, soprano pipistrelles and brown long-eared bats were found to have stable populations in the update for 2021.

Conservationists said the findings suggest current rules and conservation action to protect and conserve bats are having success and it is “vitally important” this continues.

Data from four long-term monitoring surveys are used to see how the nocturnal mammals are faring, although one tracking hibernating species had to be suspended in winter 2020/2021 because of the pandemic.

Volunteers surveyed more than 1,200 sites in 2021, to give a new update on how populations were doing for nine out of the 17 bat species found in Great Britain, all of which were stable or increasing.

Data in recent years also suggests an increase in the Natterer’s bat, and a stable trend for whiskered or Brandt’s bat, though these could not be updated this year due to the lack of the hibernation survey.

The report also warns that although serotine bat numbers appear stable, they are not found very often during surveys so it is not clear how their population is faring.

The trends reflect relatively recent changes in populations, compared with 1999 for most species, and conservationists warn that they come after significant historical declines in bat numbers stretching back at least a century before that.

Kit Stoner, chief executive of the Bat Conservation Trust, said: “These positive results indicate that strong legal protection works, and conservation action to protect and conserve bats is achieving success.

“It is vitally important that this continues. Strong wildlife laws and conservation action are underpinning the recovery of charismatic species such as our wonderful common pipistrelle, after decades of historical decline.

“This means many of us can now enjoy seeing some of these fascinating flying mammals in our parks and green spaces close to where we live.

“This recovery is not by coincidence but thanks to sustained efforts and it brings us a step closer to achieving our vision of a world richer in wildlife where bats and people thrive together.”

Government conservation agency Natural England’s chairman, Tony Juniper, said: “It’s very encouraging to see that bat populations are stabilising and in some cases increasing following years of decline.

“It shows what a positive impact legal protections can have in reversing species decline.

“Through our ambitious plans for nature recovery backed up by legal targets, hopefully we will begin to see many more green shoots like this as we turn the tide on nature’s decline.”