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Greater protection needed for one of Britain's rarest mammals: just 1,000 grey long-eared bats remain in the UK

A grey long-eared bat (Plecotus austriacus) in flight

A grey long-eared bat (Plecotus austriacus) in flight Hugh Clark

Press release issued: 5 August 2013

The grey long-eared bat should be afforded ‘UK Priority Species’ status, according to Dr Orly Razgour of the University of Bristol and colleagues in their newly published conservation management plan for the species.

The plan, entitled Conserving grey long-eared bats in our landscape, is based on new research conducted by Dr Razgour at the University of Bristol, in collaboration with the Bat Conservation Trust.  This research has shown that the estimated population of grey long-eared bats (Plecotus austriacus) in the UK is around 1,000 animals and the population is declining.  Prior to Dr Razgour's study it had been hoped the bats were more numerous; sadly her findings confirm how very rare they are.

The bats are confined to small pockets along the south coast of England, including the Isle of Wight, with a small number found in the Channel Islands and a single record from South Wales.

The UK grey long-eared bat population comprises two distinct genetic groups and Dr Razgour is concerned that the low numbers mean the future survival of the species in the UK is questionable, unless more is done to protect the remaining few.  She calls for more work to identify, monitor and protect maternity roost sites, where female bats raise their young, and hibernation sites.

Dr Razgour said: "Despite being one the rarest UK mammals, up until recently there was very little known about the grey long-eared bat and what it needs to survive.  Studying the grey long-eared bat, I realised that the plight of this bat demonstrates many of the threats and conservation challenges facing wildlife, from the effects of habitat loss and climate change to the problem of small isolated populations.

"The UK grey long-eared bat population has been declining and has become fragmented in the past century.  This decline and fragmentation is likely to be in response to the dramatic decline of lowland meadows and marshlands, the bat's main foraging habitats.  The long-term survival of the grey long-eared bat UK population is closely linked to the conservation of these lowland meadows and marshland habitats.  The conservation management plan is calling to prioritise the conservation status of the grey long-eared bat and use this bat as a flagship species to promote the conservation and restoration of lowland grasslands."

Habitat Destroyed

Lowland meadows and marshland habitats have all but disappeared in the UK following changes to land management and farming practices in the latter half of the last century.  As these bats prey on agricultural pests, encouraging these bats in the farmed landscape may benefit the wider farming community if bat numbers increase dramatically.

Traditionally a cave-dwelling species grey long-eared bats have become dependent on our buildings for roost sites.  Their roost requirements are specific; they need large open spaces in lofts and barns close to foraging habitat.  These roosts are under threat from building development and Dr Razgour is calling for identification, monitoring and protection of roost sites and their surrounding grassland area.

Roost Owners: Living with grey-long eared bats on the Isle of Wight 

Roost owners, Colin and Jenny Currie have bats in their home on the Isle of Wight.  The bats that visit their loft include pipistrelles, Brandt’s bats and excitingly, they have seven of the rare grey long-eared bat roosting in their roof.

Colin says: "We moved here in 1983 and were told when we bought the place we had bats!  We respect the fact they’re protected and like seeing what’s happening with the bats.  When the scientists come to tag them we get to see them up close.  They’re brilliant furry creatures.  Beautiful!"

Jenny says: "We feel it’s a privilege – particularly since they’re so rare. It’s great.  The first time I saw them I’d gone into the attic.  I had a feeling someone was watching, I looked round there was a cluster of bats looking at us like a crumpled leather football.

"We have a little tiny cover to get into the loft; it doesn’t come off very often so we hardly know they are there.  It’s great.

"We’re hosts for them really, they’ll be here when we go.  It’s lovely that they’re still there!  They stayed despite us having our roof re-slated after the storm in 1988.  We had special wood put in that is kind to bats and the roofers knew how important the bats were left various crevices so the bats can get in and out – the wood was treated with the correct stuff so the bats didn’t disappear."

The Channel Islands – BCT calls for stronger protection

Bats in the UK are protected by law – it is illegal to harm a bat, or to destroy or interfere with a bat roost.  The Channel Islands, one of the remaining strongholds for grey long-eared bats, are independent of UK law and only in Jersey is there legislation to protect bats and their roosts.  Dr Razgour and the BCT want local protection for all Channel Island’s bats.

Nicky Brown of the Jersey Bat Group said: "The Channel Islands are independent jurisdictions.  Jersey is the only island with legislation to protect its bats.  Even with legislation, the cumulative impact through development and habitat loss may be critical to the local survival of the species unless strategies for effective protection and enhancement can be implemented."

The types of building favoured by the bats such as old barns with wide attic spaces are facing intense pressure in the Channel Islands, as property values increase and the pressure for housing grows.  Older agricultural complexes of barns and farmhouses are increasingly developed into high value units and without specific provision, modern buildings leave little or no capacity for use by bats.  As originally cave dwelling animals these bats need interior space to fly prior to leaving the roost.  Few developments consider providing this accommodation for bats and, unless legal protection is put in place, the loss of roosting space will impact on the species’ ability to survive.

Key findings of Dr Razgour’s research

  • The grey long-eared bat should be afforded UK Priority Species status by the statutory bodies: Natural England, DEFRA and JNCC
  •  Maternity roosts and hibernation sites need to be identified, monitored and protected
  •  The landscape around and between roosts needs to be protected to increase grassland foraging habitat


Razgour O., Whitby D., Dahlberg E., Barlow K., Hanmer J., Haysom K., McFarlane H., Wicks L., Williams C., Jones G. (2013) Conserving grey long-eared bats (Plecotus austriacus) in our landscape: a conservation management plan. Available to download from the Bat Conservation Trust

Dr Orly Razgour is the lead author of the report and undertook the research during her PhD at the University of Bristol, which was funded by the Hon. Vincent Weir and was carried out in collaboration with the Bat Conservation Trust.  The management plan was written as a collaborative project between the Bat Conservation Trust, the University of Bristol and ecological consultants who have worked with the species (Daniel Whtiby and Erika Dahlberg).

The Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) is the only national organisation solely devoted to the conservation of bats and their habitats in the UK.  Its network of 100 local bat groups and more than 1,000 bat workers survey roosts and hibernation sites, and work with householders, builders, farmers and foresters to protect bats.

The National Bat Helpline 0845 1300 228 is for anyone who finds a grounded or injured bat, believes bats to be at risk and for anyone who thinks they may have bats in their building or wants to let the BCT know about a bat roost site.

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