Going Batty in Platt Fields
If asked to name wild animals you’re likely to see in the streets and parks where you live, many of you will probably think of foxes, hedgehogs or—if you’re lucky enough—badgers.
But if you concentrate on looking out for these, you’ll be missing out on some of our most interesting mammals as they fly past, apparently silently (not actually true!), overhead! Bats are every bit as likely to frequent your area and will come a lot closer too, as we found out on 25th August on a trip to Platt Fields Park in south Manchester.
Steve Parker of South Lancashire Bat Group kindly led a bat walk for us around the lake in the park. Members of local Friends groups and nature enthusiasts from all over Greater Manchester responded to our invitation and gathered outside the boathouse at sunset while Steve explained the species we were likely to see and the activities of the Bat Group.
Although I mentioned bats being silent, this is very far from the truth, as they are constantly sending out echolocation calls when flying to manoeuvre successfully and locate their insect prey. The frequency of these calls is outside (usually well outside) the adult human hearing range. To let us ‘hear’ these calls and distinguish one species from another, Steve handed out handheld bat detectors, which we could tune from 55 kHz—the frequency of the soprano pipistrelle—down to 25 kHz, which is the frequency used by the noctule bat.
And so we set off around the lake. Actually, we’d already seen our first bats while Steve was showing us how the detectors work. As soon as we switched them on, they came alive with a series of clicks and ‘chop-chop’ noctule bat calls. To start with, only a few bats could be seen against the twilight over the treetops, but they steadily grew in number, hunting for midges along the lakeside. Fortunately, the evening was fine with little wind, perfect conditions for large clouds of insects. Some bats approached to within a couple of metres, and, when we came to the corner of the lake, we could see five bats at once over the tiny shrubby island close to the lake edge. Steve said there was at least one Daubenton’s bat in the area, but we didn’t manage to see its distinctive silvery underside skimming the water. The number of bats tailed off a bit as we went away from the wooded area towards the grassy mound, but it went up again as we came full circle back to the boathouse.
We were all impressed by Steve’s commitment to and enthusiasm for bat conservation and bat rescue. If the rest of us are up all night, it’s usually nothing to do with carrying out a bat survey! He found that bat activity tended to tail off after reaching a peak after nightfall, dipping in the small hours before another burst around dawn. He also mentioned that many modern houses, with their cavity walls and roof spaces, provide perfect locations for bat roosts and are often preferred to natural sites in trees.If you’d like to support bat conservation in the UK, Steve suggested you might like to make a donation to the Bat Conservation Trust, which is the main organisation active in this area. You can find out more about what you can do to help bats and what to do if you find an injured bat on their website