Garden wildlife experts are encouraging the UK public to create hibernation facilities for endangered bats in their gardens, with Halloween the perfect time of year to provide a home for the winter.
There are 18 species of bats in the UK, which makes up 25% of all mammal species in the UK. However, with bat populations under threat due to increasing habitat loss, it is important to do what we can to provide them with a safe place to visit.
Sean McMenemy, garden wildlife specialist and director of Ark Wildlife, shares his top tips on how to attract bats to your garden during the Halloween season, ensuring that bats are completely safe to be around:
“Bats are mammals like us, and they interact with humans for a long time, often living alongside us in our homes and outbuildings. Like humans, they only have one baby a year (or sometimes less), and so every life is precious. Any habitat loss can take many years or even decades to recover due to their slow reproduction rate.
“Bats are not rodents and therefore do not chew wood, wire or any other material. Bats, natural insect repellents and harmless at home, should be welcome in every garden. In fact, many species would become extinct if we didn’t have the ability to share our habitat.”
How to attract bats to your garden this Halloween
The best time to spot bats is in the evening. Bats are nocturnal insectivores and fly around eating a wide variety of nocturnal insects, including biting mosquitoes, gnats, and moths. The best way to attract bats to your garden is to invite moths with lots of night-scented flowers.
Sean McMenemy recommends planting evening and night-scented flowers that both look and smell beautiful, while also attracting moths to encourage bats to visit, including: evening primrose; honeysuckle; tobacco plant; night phlox; star jasmine; sweet rocket; and night-scented reserve.
This Halloween you’re likely to come across a pipistrelle bat as they’re the most common species in the UK – but look carefully as they’re tiny and weigh less than a pound coin.
How to build a bat box
One way to attract bats to your garden and provide them with a safe and permanent habitat is to build a bat box.
Bats are sensitive to odors and temperature, so place the bat box in a sunny spot in your garden and use only untreated hardwood for construction.
Sean McMenemy shares his five tips for building your own bat box:
–Use rough cut wood (not planed or smooth) bats need a rough surface for their claws to grip.
–The back plate should extend 10 cm below the box itself, creating a “landing pad” where bats can climb up and into the box.
–Leave a small gap under the box above the landing pad – less than 1 cm between the back plate and the box.
–Make sure all other connections are sealed to keep the inside of the box dark, dry and tarnish free.
–A good idea is to extend the top and bottom of the back plate as this allows for easy fixing on site.
–It should now look a bit like a bird’s nest box, but instead of a hole in the front, it should have a narrow slit in the bottom.
What to consider when attracting bats to your garden
Bats use different roosts throughout the year and have different hibernation sites. Unlike birds that nest and move, bats change their location throughout the year depending on the weather and breeding. Therefore, placing a number of bat boxes in different locations increases the chances of an invasion. To hibernate, bats look for quiet crevices where they stay warm and dry during the winter months, where they are safe from predators.
Instead of sight, bats use echolocation to navigate, send out high-pitched vocalizations, and listen for returning echoes. Some garden features, such as walls, fences and hedges, create useful navigation routes for bats to use when hunting. Viewing your garden with an echolocation will help you work out the best areas to plant for bats. If you have time before the Halloween party, even dig an outdoor pond where the bats can fly to drink.
Interesting facts about bats
All bat species in England use echolocation to hunt for insects and navigate in the dark.
Bats are the only true flying mammals in the world.
A small pipistrelle can eat up to 3000 insects in one night.
The things we get from bat-adapted plants include palm, vanilla, banana, breadfruit, guava, Iroko wood, balsa wood, sisal, tequila, and chewing gum.
Bats are closer to humans than mice.
Most of the world’s bats eat insects – just like British bats. In the tropics, bats eat food such as fruits, flowers, frogs, fish, blood, and even other bats.
Bats usually give birth to only one baby per year and can live up to 30 years
Nocturnal insects are most afraid of bats. Every night, bats can eat their body weight in insects, numbering in the thousands! This insect-heavy diet helps foresters and farmers protect their crops from pests.
Bats may be small, but they are fast little creatures. How fast a bat can fly depends on the species, but according to a new study, they can reach speeds of more than 100 miles per hour (link is external) .
The longest-lived bat is 41 years old. The smaller the animal, the shorter its lifespan, but bats break this rule of longevity. Although most bats live less than 20 years in the wild, scientists have documented six species that live more than 30 years. In 2006, a small bat from Siberia set a world record at the age of 41.
For more information on the Bat Conservation Trust, click here.