Rare bats relocate to West Sussex – attracted by fine food and a property with potential

An urgent appeal has been launched to help save the home of a pioneering breeding colony of greater horseshoe bats recently discovered in West Sussex.

Friday, 3rd September 2021, 8:04 am
Updated Friday, 3rd September 2021, 8:19 am
Greater horseshoe bat (Credit: Frank Greenaway) SUS-210209-171923001

The site, currently up for sale, is some 100km east of the bats’ current stronghold in Devon and Dorset — an enormously encouraging sign for a bat that suffered an estimated 90 per cent decline in Britain in the 20th century.

The exact location is being kept under wraps but is ‘not far from Midhurst’, the Vincent Wildlife Trust has said.

“With help, this small but hugely significant colony of greater horseshoe bats could become a real biodiversity success story — a species on the road to recovery and now returning to one of its former haunts after an absence of more than a century,” said Dr Lucy Rogers, CEO with wildlife charity Vincent Wildlife Trust.

Derelict Sussex stable being used by GH bats (Credit: Martyn Phillis) SUS-210209-171913001

The Sussex Bat Appeal has been launched by Vincent Wildlife Trust and Sussex Bat Group to buy the derelict stable block being used by the bats before it is placed on the open market. The two organisations have been given nine months by the owners to raise the purchase price. £200,000 will secure ownership of the stable block and a further £150,000 will fund the renovation work and the building enhancements needed to allow the bat colony to expand.

“Once the site is enhanced for the bats, we would expect over time to see good levels of survival and reproductive success, resulting in a growing, thriving maternity colony. It is also hoped that this site will act as a honeypot, attracting further pioneers to this area,” said Dr Henry Schofield, head of conservation for the Trust.

Vincent Wildlife Trust currently looks after the roost sites of some 50% of Britain’s greater horseshoe bat population and has been instrumental in driving the recovery of this bat species, helped too by legal protection given to all bat species in 1981.

The greater horseshoe bat is one of the largest bats found in Britain and one of the easier bats to identify, with its horseshoe-shaped ‘nose’ and a preference to dangle upside down from a beam or ceiling, held on by its spindly legs and cloaked with its wings when asleep. Other than its tiny cousin, the lesser horseshoe bat, no other British bat hangs in this way. By the latter half of the 20th century, the species was heading for possible extinction, following a loss of insect-rich pasture and semi-natural woodlands over which to feed, a lack of suitable, undisturbed sites for breeding and hibernation, and the use of now-banned timber treatment chemicals.

Greater horseshoe bat (Credit: Frank Greenaway) SUS-210209-171933001

Until now, the greater horseshoe bat has been largely confined to south-west England and parts of Wales. From a 20th century low of some 4,000, the current estimated population is around 13,000 (to put this in context, there is an estimated three million pipistrelles — our most common bat). This rise in its population may have helped fuel this eastward quest to plant new roots in an old home.

The West Sussex site will be owned by Vincent Wildlife Trust as a bat roost in perpetuity. It will be managed by the Trust in conjunction with the Sussex Bat Group.

“Right now, this is probably the most important greater horseshoe bat roost site in Britain and the most significant find since the group was formed in 1984. It was discovered by a member of Sussex Bat Group in 2019 and we are determined to raise the funds needed to secure the building for this vitally important bat colony. As well as wardening and managing the site, there will also be opportunities for volunteers to help with the monitoring of the bats,” said Sheila Wright, Secretary to the Sussex Bat Group.

More information about greater horseshoe bats, the Sussex Bat Appeal and ways to donate can be found at: www.vwt.org.uk/sussex-bat-appeal/

Greater horseshoe bat (Credit: Andrew McCarthy) SUS-210209-171945001