Rare bats in the path of HS2 are nationally significant
A significant population of rare Bechstein’s bats has been discovered in Buckinghamshire - in ancient woodland either side of the proposed HS2 route and adjacent to the proposed site of a waste incinerator. Until 2010, only a single Bechstein’s bat had been found in Bucks - in the far south of the county, at Cliveden.
In one woodland alone, (Grendon & Doddershall Woods) an amazing count of 65 Bechstein’s bats were observed emerging at dusk from their roost inside a tree. Several tree roosts have been found and Bechstein’s bats are now known to occur in 10 woods within the Bernwood Forest area of Buckinghamshire.
Bechstein’s bats are one of the rarest mammals in the UK and they, their roosts and their breeding sites are strictly protected under UK and European law.
The discoveries have been made by volunteers undertaking the Bernwood Forest Bechstein’s Project. The Project was set up in 2011 to expand on work undertaken by the North Bucks Bat Group and the Bat Conservation Trust in 2010. Bechstein's bats were discovered in three North Bucks woodlands in 2010, with a further incidental discovery in 2011 at Finemere Wood, a Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust nature reserve.
Chris Damant, who has been co-ordinating the Bernwood study says “The discoveries in 2010 were very exciting, but we realised we knew very little about how the bats were using the woodlands and which other woods they might also be in. Three of us who had been involved in the 2010 surveys, decided to find out more and we designed and sought funding for an independent research project. Local landowners have been very supportive and allowed us access for the study.”
Toby Thorne, another bat expert on the Project continues “We never expected to find Bechstein’s bats in North Bucks last year; let alone the significant breeding population we’ve identified this year. It just goes to show you don’t need to go abroad to discover rare wildlife – we’ve done it at home!”
The team has also undertaken radio-tracking studies of individual bats. Tiny radio transmitters were attached to 4 female Bechstein’s bats, which were then followed for up to 11 days and nights. Two bats stayed close to their tree roost in one woodland, whilst the other two were found to move up to 3km between woodlands in the area, including crossing the proposed route of HS2.
Jo Hodgkins, ecologist on the Project team says “The bats appear to be using a network of woodlands in the area and some are moving between woods. It’s really important that we understand how they are using the landscape, before major infrastructure projects change it. If we don’t, how can the impact of such developments be assessed? The radio-tracking work is in its early days and we plan to follow more bats in the coming months. We’ve still got more woods to survey as well – we’re only a quarter of the way through our initial research - who knows what else we’ll discover!”
And it’s not just Bechstein’s bats being found; the Project team have so far recorded a total of 10 species of bat in these woodlands, with some species such as the protected Brown Long-eared bat being recorded in large numbers. The Bernwood Forest area appears to be an important ‘hotspot’ for bats!
Hopefully a few more news sources will pick it up over the next week.