Wildlife project seeks batty volunteers

The pipistrelle is one of the more common types of bats found locally.
The pipistrelle is one of the more common types of bats found locally.

They’re the creatures of the night that have become associated with Hallowe’en and horror films but a locally based project is hoping people in the north west will help debunk the myths that surround the world’s only flying mammals.

Bats get a bad press, says Karen Healy of the North West Bat Group, a conservation project based at Creggan Country Park that strives to identify and protect bat species found in Derry and its environs.

The North West Bat Project is looking for local people to house a bat box, like these ones, in their garden

The North West Bat Project is looking for local people to house a bat box, like these ones, in their garden

“You look at how they are portrayed and it’s really not true,” she told the ‘Journal’ this week.

“People think fangs and blood, disease, say they are like rats with wings. Absolutely none of this is true. They pose absolutely no threat and no danger. For a wild animal, they are really very gentle by nature,” she says.

The North West Bat Group has been running for around five years and having now secured funding from the north’s Environment Agency is ready to intensify its work - and it needs volunteers to make it a success.

Karen, the environmental officer at Creggan Country Park, says the project hopes to provide an accurate record of the bat population in and around the north west.

In recent years the project has developed strong links with biodiversity officers in Derry, Strabane, Limavady, Ballymoney and Coleraine councils.

But the local wildlife loving population is key to the project’s success, says Karen.

“In Belfast they have around 20 volunteers working on a similar project and their records are much more complete than here. We really hope to get as many volunteers interested as possible.

“Volunteers will be trained from scratch. Basically if you have the interest and enthusiasm, we can provide the equipment and training.

“We want people of all ages to come along and get involved, and we are very keen to get young people to volunteer, especially teenagers who can tie in volunteering with their Pope John Paul awards or Millennium Volunteers award,” she says.

Karen says all volunteers are most welcome.

“We hope to get as many people as possible involved. You might be able to give up half an hour a week to document in a local park, or maybe you could put a bat recorder in your garden.

“Even if you know nothing at all about bats, we would be happy to hear from you,” she says.

Protected under law, bats are designated a priority species by Derry City Council’s biodiversity plan.

“There’s nine species of bat in Ireland, eight of which are found in the north,” Karen says.

“In Derry we know there are five species - the Common Pipistrelle, the Soprano Pipistrelle, Leisler’s Bat, Ireland’s largest bat, and Daubenton’s Bat, also known as the ‘Water bat’ - but it’s possible there are more.

“We do know their numbers are under threat due to habitat destruction, pesticides killing off insects and a number of other factors. We need all the help we can get to protect them.

“Volunteering would give people a great chance to see up close how bats live, and help protect their numbers and environment.”

Currently hibernating, bats will begin to take to the night skies around the end of March or early April.

A number of activities are planned for when the bats reappear including a batty wildlife day at the Country Park and a range of projects with local schools.

As bats reappear in the coming weeks Karen urged anyone who comes across an injured animal to get in touch.

“Should anyone find a hurt or injured bat then get in touch with me, or go online and have a look at the guide on the website.

“If a bat comes into your home, don’t panic, try to be practical. Open doors and windows and let it find its own way out. There’s absolutely no reason to panic,” she says.

If you are interested in volunteering with the North West Bat Group you can contact Karen on 7136 3133 or via email Karen.healy@creggancountrypark.com.

More information on bats, the work of the project, and what to do if you find an injured animal is available online at www.creggancountrypark.com and www.bats-ni.org.uk