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29 June 2009

Challenging bat research on Dartmoor

A challenging research project to look into the distribution, numbers and feeding habits of the rare barbastelle bat on Dartmoor is coming to an end.  A partnership of Dartmoor National Park Authority, the Woodland Trust and the National Trust, with funding from the SITA Trust, through the Landfill Communities Fund, set up the £25,000 research project two years ago to shed light on the ecology of one of the rarest British mammals.

The partnership employed Matt Zeale, a PhD student from Bristol University to trap and track these elusive creatures in wooded Dartmoor river valleys.

Barbastelle, Dendles Wood. Frank Greenaway, copyright DNPA

Overall, 19 barbastelles have been tracked and two new breeding colonies were discovered in the Bovey and Dart Valleys.  The first ever recorded Bechstein’s bat for the National Park has also been discovered in the Dart Valley - one of the rarest mammal species in the UK!

Both the barbastelle and the Bechstein’s bats are rare species of woodland bats, with only a few confirmed breeding colonies nationally.  Up until recently, it has been very difficult to research the habits of these woodland bats but now new technology using acoustic lures that playback the bats’ calls and attract them into nets is enabling researchers to catch them in remote woods and follow them on their nightly forays.  These two bat species roost under peeling bark and in splits and holes in damaged and dead trees.

Two one day workshops for land management and forestry advisors, forest managers and landowners are being held at Dartmoor National Park Authority headquarters on 1 and 2 July to share the results of this research and encourage sympathetic management of key roosting and feeding areas within the bats’ home range.

Matt Zeale of Bristol University said:

‘Bats are one of the true marvels of the natural world and an exceptional example of evolutionary design. They play a vital role in maintaining the balance within our ecosystems and being voracious predators of insects they are a wonderful natural control of agricultural insect pests. It is deeply pleasurable to be involved in a project that aims to contribute significantly to the conservation of one of our rarest mammal species and help reverse an historical trend of declining bat populations in the UK.’


For further information

Miriam Glendell, Ecologist

Mike Nendick, Communications Officer, Dartmoor National Park Authority

Tel: (01626) 832093

Matt Zeale, University of Bristol

Tel: 07875 523477

James Mason, Woodland Officer, Woodland Trust

Tel: (01626) 835897

Notes for Editors

An image of the barbastelle bat may be obtained from Frank Greenaway, tel: (01403) 753745

The research found that the bats mostly foraged within 8km of their roosting area, although one individual traveled as far as 20km to its favored feeding ground.  They preferred to feed over riverside and broad-leaved woodland, species-rich grassland and hedgerows.  

The research work is helping to implement actions identified in Action for Wildlife: the Dartmoor Biodiversity Action Plan, produced by Dartmoor National Park Authority with partner organisations. The Action Plan sets out a common vision for Dartmoor’s biodiversity, with objectives and targets to achieve this vision.

There are seventeen bat species in the UK, of which 15 have been found in the Dartmoor National Park.  Because of their declining numbers in the past, all UK bats are protected by law.

The first breeding colony of barbastelles on Dartmoor was found in 2002 in Dendles Wood National Nature Reserve.  Barbastelles are a priority species for conservation under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.  There are thought to be only about 5,000 barbastelle bats in the UK but the exact status and distribution is unknown.

Bechstein’s bat is one of the rarest British mammals and a UK BAP priority species, with only 1,500 individuals estimated.  It is a southerly species, formerly known only from south-east England but it appears to be increasing its range westwards and northwards.  This may be partly due to the improved technology enabling it to be better detected but possibly also due to the warming climate.

The research has shown that Dartmoor barbastelles seem to travel up to 11km to their feeding grounds where they prey on moths over mature hedges.  However, one bat from the Bovey Valley colony has been tracked up to 20km towards Teignmouth.  Both the Bovey and the Dart Valley colonies comprise over 24 and 22 bats, respectively – a healthy size population for such rare species.  The Dartmoor bats seem to strictly divide their feeding areas between individual bats, which may explain why they are so ‘thin on the ground’.

SITA Trust

SITA Trust was set up in 1997 and runs three funding programmes:

  • Enhancing Communities – for community improvement projects around landfill sites owned by SITA UK
  • Enriching Nature – for biodiversity projects within the vicinity of landfill sites in England
  • GreenPrints – launched in June 2007 to encourage 16-25 year olds to volunteer their time and energy to improving green spaces in their local communities

Each year, SITA Trust commits over £7 million nationwide through the Landfill Communities Fund (external link, opens new window)

The Landfill Communities Fund (formerly the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme)

Landfill tax was introduced in 1996 to encourage more sustainable ways of managing waste

The landfill tax legislation also brought about the Landfill Communities Fund. This scheme allows landfill operators to voluntarily donate 6.6% of their landfill tax liability to environmental improvement projects

The Landfill Communities Fund is independently regulated on behalf of HM Government’s Revenue & Customs by ENTRUST

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There are 15 members of the National Parks family in the UK: Brecon Beacons, Dartmoor, Exmoor, Lake District, New Forest, Northumberland, North York Moors, Peak District, Pembrokeshire Coast, Snowdonia, South Downs, Yorkshire Dales, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs, the Cairngorms and the Broads.  National Parks are of special value to the whole nation because of their great beauty, their wildlife and cultural interests and the opportunities they offer for quiet enjoyment.  However, they are not nationally owned - the land is in the hands of many landowners or occupiers including farmers.  Over 34,500 people live in Dartmoor National Park and many millions of visits are made to it each year.

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