Bats

Written by Shirley Thompson,  Bat Conservation Trust     Reviewed by Steve Head

There are many myths and misunderstandings about these highly intelligent flying mammals, yet they are very like us in many ways. Like other mammals they give birth to live young whom they suckle on milk for several weeks until they can fly and feed themselves. A bat mother normally has only a single baby in a year, and not always every year.

All our 18 species of British bat eat insects, and as flight uses far more energy that any human exercise, bats need huge numbers of insect prey through from spring to autumn. As they fly they use a system of echolocation, emitting high pitched sounds to gain a sound picture of their surroundings from the returning echoes. These ultrasonic calls can be heard by using an electronic device known as a bat detector.


Pipistrelle bat on the wing - our commonest species in gardens

Species of bats

17 of Britain's 18 bat species breed in this country, but relatively few are likely to be seen in gardens.  Those that might be seen from urban gardens include:

  • Whiskered bat  Myotis mystacinus (and very similar Brandt's and Alcathoe bats)
  • Serotine bat  Eptesicus serotinus
  • Common Pipistrelle bat Pipistrellus pipistrellus
  • Soprano pipistrelle bat  Pipistrellus pygmaeus (can only be distinguished from the common pipistrelle by its higher frequency ecolocation call)
  • Brown long-eared bat  Plecotus auritus

Bats can be hard to identify on the wing, but being able to check their echolocation frequency is a help.  The Bat Conservation Trust has a full set of fact-sheets on the British species here.  They also have a simple field guide to common species called  What bat is that?


Other potential garden bats.

Top left:   Whiskered bat
Top right: Serotine bat
Left:        Brown long-eared bat
Bat roosts and bat protection

As nocturnal animals, bats need somewhere to hide safely during the day.  In the wild bats generally used trees and caves, but many have now adopted buildings, and may use several daytime roosts in spring and summer. Female bats also need communal maternity roosts to bring up their young, while in winter, all bats use solitary or communal quiet safe roosts in which they can hibernate between December and March. 

All bats and their roost sites are strictly protected in UK law and this includes intentionally disturbing them.  It is necessary to obtain a license if you wish to handle, study or survey for bats.
Bats in the garden

The bats you are most likely to see are pipistrelles. Not only are they our most abundant bats, but they have adapted to living in urban areas as well as their original woodland habitats.  They emerge at dusk in time for us to see them flying and feeding in our parks, gardens and along waterways. Bat watching can be a magical experience. The amazing aerobatics of pipistrelles at dusk as they dive and twist chasing their insect prey is something never forgotten. So how can you attract them to your garden?  The answer is encouraging their insect prey

We must aim at making the garden a place that insects regularly visit by planting a range of flowers, varying not only in colour and fragrance but also in shape, encouraging a diversity of insects to drop in and refuel, with flowers in bloom through the year, including both herbaceous perennials and annuals.


  • Aim to have some flowers in bloom throughout the year.
  • Although summer is the most energy-expensive time for bats, most notably for pregnant and lactating females, spring and autumn are also crucial.
  • Aim to fill the hungry gap by extending the flowering period from March to late autumn and beyond. Even during winter hibernation, bats will sometimes wake and move to another roosting site, snacking if insects are available.


Different food for different bat species

Flowers with nectar hidden deep in long narrow petal tubes are only attractive to insects with long tongues like moths and butterflies. Brown long-eared bats, with a fondness for moths, may be seen hovering close to flowers such as honeysuckle and valerian as they are large enough to take larger prey.

Pipistrelle bats are so tiny that they are only able to cope with tiny insects such as small moths, midges and mosquitoes. As pipistrelles are the species most likely to visit your garden, especially in urban areas, we need to provide open flowers accessible to short-tongued insects, such as daisy-like flowers.

It isn't just a question of flowers to attract flying insects.  Insect life cycles are complicated, and newly hatched larvae rarely feed on the same plants that attract the flying adult.  Unless the larval food is nearby, adult numbers of insects will also be low.

Trees and shrubs are important as food for leaf-eating insect larvae. In a small garden choose tress that can be coppiced - cut down to the every few years- such as hazel.

Many insect larvae feed on grasses and low meadow plants. Leave uncleared patches of old plant stems and long grass at the back of borders or round the garden, where insects can feed and overwinter.

Ponds are invaluable to bats.  Many of the insects they prefer start life in water, and bats regularly hunt over open water. One of the single most useful things gardeners can do for wildlife is to make a pond. The Freshwater Habitats Trust has an excellent bat species dossier which shows the best way of creating ponds for bats.

Selecting flowers (for insects) for bats
  • Try to include flowers that vary not only in colour and fragrance but also in shape.
  • When nectar is completely exposed in flowers in massed bunches, as in rowan, it is freely visited by insects
  • Daisies and daisy-like flowers are open with a mass of tubular florets. These are shallow and short-tongued insects can reach nectar.
  • Pale flowers are also more easily seen when light is poor at dusk
  • Single flowers are more attractive to insects than double. Double have a more confusing shape, and some are sterile.
  • Those that are native wild flowers or closely related but not double are most useful.
  • Those with tall flat heads such as fennel and wild carrot make good landing platforms and feeding place for tiny insects
  • Aromatic plants often have tiny, insignificant flowers, but are attractive to insects

With diverse planting, a range of flower designs and night-scented plants throughout the bat season will not only create a haven for bats, insects and other wildlife, you will also enhance a garden which you can enjoy both day and night. If your garden is very small, and your options are limited, look over the garden wall to see what is available nearby and concentrate on what appears to be lacking.

Watch your flowers closely, especially on a sunny day, to see which are the most popular with insect visitors. When visiting public gardens, note what is in bloom out of season, and assess the popularity to wildlife of the plants growing there so gathering ideas for extending your own planting.




Flowers for bats              You can find more suggestions here.






Left   Achillea
Right Ice-plant Sedum













Left   Yarrow
Right  Feverfew













Left     Gaillardia
Right   Echinacea













Left     Ivy
Centre Evening primrose
Right   Honeysuckle
Prevent a CATastrophe

If you own a cat, save lives of bats and other wildlife by bringing it in for the night half-an-hour after sunset, especially from mid June to the end of August, when bats are rearing their young.

Bat Conservation Trust www.bats.org.uk

Look at our site for further info on species, bat detectors, bat boxes, details of your nearest bat group.

If you find a grounded bat or have concerns try here or phone BCT Helpline 01845 1300 228


Bats

Written by Shirley Thompson,  Bat Conservation Trust     Reviewed by Steve Head

There are many myths and misunderstandings about these highly intelligent flying mammals, yet they are very like us in many ways. Like other mammals they give birth to live young whom they suckle on milk for several weeks until they can fly and feed themselves. A bat mother normally has only a single baby in a year, and not always every year.

All our 18 species of British bat eat insects, and as flight uses far more energy that any human exercise, bats need huge numbers of insect prey through from spring to autumn. As they fly they use a system of echolocation, emitting high pitched sounds to gain a sound picture of their surroundings from the returning echoes. These ultrasonic calls can be heard by using an electronic device known as a bat detector.


Pipistrelle bat on the wing - our commonest species in gardens

Species of bats

17 of Britain's 18 bat species breed in this country, but relatively few are likely to be seen in gardens.  Those that might be seen from urban gardens include:

  • Whiskered bat  Myotis mystacinus (and very similar Brandt's and Alcathoe bats)
  • Serotine bat  Eptesicus serotinus
  • Common Pipistrelle bat Pipistrellus pipistrellus
  • Soprano pipistrelle bat  Pipistrellus pygmaeus (can only be distinguished from the common pipistrelle by its higher frequency ecolocation call)
  • Brown long-eared bat  Plecotus auritus

Bats can be hard to identify on the wing, but being able to check their echolocation frequency is a help.  The Bat Conservation Trust has a full set of fact-sheets on the British species here.  They also have a simple field guide to common species called  What bat is that?


Other potential garden bats.

Top left:   Whiskered bat
Top right: Serotine bat
Left:        Brown long-eared bat
Bat roosts and bat protection

As nocturnal animals, bats need somewhere to hide safely during the day.  In the wild bats generally used trees and caves, but many have now adopted buildings, and may use several daytime roosts in spring and summer. Female bats also need communal maternity roosts to bring up their young, while in winter, all bats use solitary or communal quiet safe roosts in which they can hibernate between December and March. 

All bats and their roost sites are strictly protected in UK law and this includes intentionally disturbing them.  It is necessary to obtain a license if you wish to handle, study or survey for bats.
Bats in the garden

The bats you are most likely to see are pipistrelles. Not only are they our most abundant bats, but they have adapted to living in urban areas as well as their original woodland habitats.  They emerge at dusk in time for us to see them flying and feeding in our parks, gardens and along waterways. Bat watching can be a magical experience. The amazing aerobatics of pipistrelles at dusk as they dive and twist chasing their insect prey is something never forgotten. So how can you attract them to your garden?  The answer is encouraging their insect prey

We must aim at making the garden a place that insects regularly visit by planting a range of flowers, varying not only in colour and fragrance but also in shape, encouraging a diversity of insects to drop in and refuel, with flowers in bloom through the year, including both herbaceous perennials and annuals.


  • Aim to have some flowers in bloom throughout the year.
  • Although summer is the most energy-expensive time for bats, most notably for pregnant and lactating females, spring and autumn are also crucial.
  • Aim to fill the hungry gap by extending the flowering period from March to late autumn and beyond. Even during winter hibernation, bats will sometimes wake and move to another roosting site, snacking if insects are available.

Different food for different bat species

Flowers with nectar hidden deep in long narrow petal tubes are only attractive to insects with long tongues like moths and butterflies. Brown long-eared bats, with a fondness for moths, may be seen hovering close to flowers such as honeysuckle and valerian as they are large enough to take larger prey.

Pipistrelle bats are so tiny that they are only able to cope with tiny insects such as small moths, midges and mosquitoes. As pipistrelles are the species most likely to visit your garden, especially in urban areas, we need to provide open flowers accessible to short-tongued insects, such as daisy-like flowers.

It isn't just a question of flowers to attract flying insects.  Insect life cycles are complicated, and newly hatched larvae rarely feed on the same plants that attract the flying adult.  Unless the larval food is nearby, adult numbers of insects will also be low.

Trees and shrubs are important as food for leaf-eating insect larvae. In a small garden choose tress that can be coppiced - cut down to the every few years- such as hazel.

Many insect larvae feed on grasses and low meadow plants. Leave uncleared patches of old plant stems and long grass at the back of borders or round the garden, where insects can feed and overwinter.

Ponds are invaluable to bats.  Many of the insects they prefer start life in water, and bats regularly hunt over open water. One of the single most useful things gardeners can do for wildlife is to make a pond. The Freshwater Habitats Trust has an excellent bat species dossier which shows the best way of creating ponds for bats.

Selecting flowers (for insects) for bats
  • Try to include flowers that vary not only in colour and fragrance but also in shape.
  • When nectar is completely exposed in flowers in massed bunches, as in rowan, it is freely visited by insects
  • Daisies and daisy-like flowers are open with a mass of tubular florets. These are shallow and short-tongued insects can reach nectar.
  • Pale flowers are also more easily seen when light is poor at dusk
  • Single flowers are more attractive to insects than double. Double have a more confusing shape, and some are sterile.
  • Those that are native wild flowers or closely related but not double are most useful.
  • Those with tall flat heads such as fennel and wild carrot make good landing platforms and feeding place for tiny insects
  • Aromatic plants often have tiny, insignificant flowers, but are attractive to insects

With diverse planting, a range of flower designs and night-scented plants throughout the bat season will not only create a haven for bats, insects and other wildlife, you will also enhance a garden which you can enjoy both day and night. If your garden is very small, and your options are limited, look over the garden wall to see what is available nearby and concentrate on what appears to be lacking.

Watch your flowers closely, especially on a sunny day, to see which are the most popular with insect visitors. When visiting public gardens, note what is in bloom out of season, and assess the popularity to wildlife of the plants growing there so gathering ideas for extending your own planting.

Flowers for bats     You can find more suggestions here.
           Left   Achillea                               Right Ice-plant Sedum
                Left   Yarrow                                           Right  Feverfew

               Left  Gaillardia                                 Right   Echinacea
Top left     Ivy
Top right   Evening primrose
Left          Honeysuckle
Search
Prevent a CATastrophe

If you own a cat, save lives of bats and other wildlife by bringing it in for the night half-an-hour after sunset, especially from mid June to the end of August, when bats are rearing their young.

Bat Conservation Trust www.bats.org.uk

Look at our site for further info on species, bat detectors, bat boxes, details of your nearest bat group.

If you find a grounded bat or have concerns try here or phone BCT Helpline 01845 1300 228


Prevent a CATastrophe

If you own a cat, save lives of bats and other wildlife by bringing it in for the night half-an-hour after sunset, especially from mid June to the end of August, when bats are rearing their young.

Bat Conservation Trust www.bats.org.uk

Look at our site for further info on species, bat detectors, bat boxes, details of your nearest bat group.

If you find a grounded bat or have concerns try here or phone BCT Helpline 01845 1300 228


Prevent a CATastrophe

If you own a cat, save lives of bats and other wildlife by bringing it in for the night half-an-hour after sunset, especially from mid June to the end of August, when bats are rearing their young.

Bat Conservation Trust www.bats.org.uk

Look at our site for further info on species, bat detectors, bat boxes, details of your nearest bat group.

If you find a grounded bat or have concerns try here or phone BCT Helpline 01845 1300 228