Bats are one of the most feared, intelligent – and threatened – species in Britain and they have their own hospital here on the Isle of Wight. Serena Allott talks to the couple who run it.
Bats are the only mammals with natural flight; their large wings make them look bigger than they actually are. Their wing has similar bones to a human hand and arm, with very long extended fingers. They are very clean creatures and spend hours grooming their fur and cleaning their wings. Contrary to popular scare-mongering they are not blind and do not get caught in people’s hair!
There are 17 known species of bats in Britain, of which 14 are resident in the Isle of Wight. Bats are an officially protected species as numbers are dwindling. This is because many of their roosting sites and feeding grounds have been destroyed by building works and the use of pesticides on farmland has destroyed not just their insect prey, but sometimes bats themselves. Many bats now choose to roost in modern buildings, houses and bungalows, although their hosts may not be aware of this.
Bats are nocturnal. They are usually only seen dimly at dusk, but the most common species, the Pipistrelle, below, is often seen in gardens or around street lighting. Flying uses lots of energy, so bats have huge appetites. A little Pipistrelle bat is small enough to fit into a matchbox but can eat as many as 3,000 tiny insects in a single night’s feeding. Most bats feed in and around suitable woodland where insects are plentiful, so it is worth watching out for bats over or near ponds, lakes and rivers where insects are in abundance.
The Isle of Wight bat hospital
The Isle of Wight has its own Bat Hospital, set up by Graham and Donna Street in 1997. Their interest in bats began the year before, when one of their sons found a bat in the playground at school. They were so fascinated by the tiny creature, that they resolved to do everything they could to help bats. They converted one of their bedrooms and part of the dining room into purpose-built aviaries designed to house both short and long-term patients. One of the latter, Serotine, is shown below inside an aviary.
The Streets started operating a 24-hour rescue service. In the first year they took in seven patients and numbers have increased since then; 2004 was the busiest year to date with 123 bats brought in. Each new patient is given a name. The aim is to return all bats to the wild and to date there has been a 62 percent success rate with this. Nevertheless, the Streets now share their home with 65 elderly or permanently disabled resident bats, like Millie, right.
Bats are long-lived intelligent mammals with complex social lives, (a Pipistrelle will live twelve to fourteen years in the wild). Donna Street recalls one of their patients, a grey long-eared bat, of the kind shown below which was found having already had one of its wings surgically amputated. She and Graham nursed it back to health and released it. Two years later Graham, a full-time gardener, came home carrying a covered basket. Inside was the same grey long-eared bat; it instantly flew to Donna and began nuzzling her neck, looking for meal worms.
The Streets spend 365 days a year looking after bats in their home, which can be visited, and they also give a number of talks and bat walks, details of which can be found on their website www.iowbathospital.co.uk