A Ballykelly woman who volunteers with a charity which rescues a protected species, has said it has been the worst year for grounded/injured bats the group has ever had.
Karen Healy is a committee member for the Northern Ireland Bat Group and a registered bat carer with the organisation which has taken 600 calls this year.
“Bats have had really bad publicity over the years and it’s really not fair,” said Karen, an Environmental Officer at Creggan Country Park in Derry.
“Bats are not rodents, they do not chew wires, they do not build nests and they feed their pup on milk. They are actually more related to dogs. Think of them as mini dogs.”
Karen’s love of bats started about 12 years ago at university. At one point she had 19 bats in her home.
“I only keep bats until they are ready to be released into the wild. I have a ‘bat room’ in my house where I keep them contained during the day and while they recover from injuries. Here I feed them, treat injuries and medicate them.
“When they’re getting better we start flight training, which basically involves them flying around the living room. If they can sustain flight for 10 minutes or more then we release them,” said Karen.
“Sadly, this year has been a terrible year for cat attacks and many bats had to be put to sleep as their injuries were too severe,” explained Karen, who said bats are pest controllers and are worth millions to the economy, especially in agriculture.
“A single pipistrelle bat will eat over 3,000 midges in one night. Great news for farmers and great news for anyone who likes BBQ, camping, angling, watersports and being outdoors in general,” she said.
Karen dismissed common myths about bats being blind or getting tangled in your hair, explaining: “A bat will fly close to you to feed on the midges that are feeding on you, they do not want to get into your hair, they just want to help!”
For anyone who finds a bat in their home Karen advises not to panic as most likely the bat is there by accident.
“First wear oven gloves and pick it up using a tea towel, put it inside a box with a lid with air holes. Place a jam jar lid with a few drops of water in it for the bat to drink,” said Karen. “Give your nearest bat carer a call.”
Visit www.bats-ni.org.uk and www.creggancountrypark.com or, for more about volunteering, call 71363 133 or email firstname.lastname@example.org