A wild night in the Great Fen

Photo: Dale Sutton/2020VISION. Daubenton's Bat flying over a weir

Last Saturday was International Bat Night and so, once again, volunteers and staff from the Wildlife Trust guided the public on a bat survey of Woodwalton Fen National Nature Reserve.

Beating last year’s record attendance, 26 people ventured out on a calm, moonlit evening, to gather information about what species were on the wing, and to learn more about these very special nocturnal mammals.

The first sighting of the evening was a barn owl, which flew in over the heads of the visitors, and down Bungalow Drove, towards the Rothschild’s Bungalow. The calls of dark bush-crickets provided a useful opportunity to test out the electronic bat detector devices, used by each family attending, as well as the volunteers and staff.

The good weather, and opportunity to visit the Great Fen and its bats, had drawn visitors to the guided walk from carious places including Peterborough, Wisbech, and even London, and they were not disappointed!

The echolocations of soprano pipistrelle bats were picked up first, followed by common pipistrelle, which were detected around most of the route. At the meres, the shallow fenland lakes, bat activity was concentrated, with a range of species drinking and feeding. The bats were calling so quickly, in order to locate and catch the small insects, that the very fast echolocation sounded like they were blowing raspberries.

The rare barbastelle was also detected, in the more wooded parts of the reserve, and while walking along the Great Raveley Drain, where Daubenton’s bats were encountered, and a noctule, one of our biggest bats, briefly emitting its noisy, ‘chip-shop’ call. The calls of pipistrelles persisted all the way back to the start of the walk, at the entrance to the reserve.

The resulting species list included seven species of bat, a good result, both for the visitors on the walk, and also the condition of the habitats at Woodwalton Fen National Nature Reserve.

On the same night, bat walks were running around the world, raising the profile of bat conservation. In connection with our own walk in the Great Fen, was another, on the island of Madeira.

The walk on Madeira, run by Madeira Fauna & Flora, was attended by an amazing 62 participants. The species observed was mostly the Madeira leisler’s bat. Also seen was Kuhl’s pipistrelle, which could be seen chasing moths, sometimes two or three bats chasing the same moth. The moths were dropping or doing evasive flights.

In our area (Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire) we have 13 species of bat, of which 12 have been recorded in the Great Fen. Madeira only has four species only one of which occurs in this country, the grey Llong-eared bat. The others we do not get as we are too far north, such as Kuhl’s pipistrelle, or are unique to Madeira, such as the Madeira leisler’s bat.

If you would like to go on a bat walk in Madeira, Wildlife Travel are running a trip there in May 2019 with Madeira Fauna and Flora and led by Wildlife Trust BCN Chief Exec Brian Eversham. More details on www.wildlife-travel.co.uk or email wildlifetravel@wildlifebcn.org

Henry Stanier (Great Fen Monitoring and Research Officer)