Bats in the Garden
Despite their sometimes "scary" image, in reality bats are a friend not only to gardeners but, people in general. A single pipistrelle bat can eat up to 3000 insects per night. Many of these insects will be nuisances like mosquitoes and gnats, and of course many will be feeding on your plants. For many years I've been fascinated on those (rare) warm summer evenings to watch them gracefully and silently swoop around the garden catching insects as they go.
I observed their behaviour and learnt a bit about their ways. Aside from
observation, my primary source of knowledge was
The Bat Conservation Trust (BCT).
For more general information about the seventeen species of British bats visit their excellent web site.
Rabies: When I talk to people from
other parts of the world they are often concerned about bats carrying
Britain has found only four cases of infection in bats, all involving the virus EBLV-2 in Daubenton's bats.
Exposure to which was implicated in the death of a Scottish batworker in 2002.
Bats fly and feed by night, so a plentiful supply of night flying insects is essential. Many herbs and flowers attract insects, and those that give off scent by night are particularly important to bats because it is these that will attract the insects. Amongst the common ones recommended (by the BCT) plants are honeysuckle, evening primrose, night scented stock, lemon balm, mint, borage, nicotiana, sweet rocket (every garden should have some anyway), white jasmine and dogrose. Ensure that the range of plants you select will provide an ongoing supply of insects throughout the summer.
Bats need plenty of places to shelter and trees are valuable to them. Our
neighbours used to have two huge conifers that were a favourite with the
bats. Unfortunately they were destroying the drainage system and had to
go. I was afraid the bats would go too, but these days they seem content
to flutter around a large old apple tree - another plentiful source of insect
life. Our neighbourhood has privet hedges around every garden and these
too provide a source of food and shelter for the bats. Large climbers (e.g.
ivy) can provide roosting sites. In our house the bats live in the eaves
(possibly they go right into the loft too), I do wish they would oust the
wasps nest that they seem content to share with (perhaps wasps don't taste
DO be careful when renovating/cleaning places such as eaves and lofts, bats may be roosting there - this is why we are reluctant to take action against the wasps nest! This picture was taken by my neighbour of a bat sleeping by their doorstep. We don't know why it chose to roost there, but perhaps it was doing the bat equivalent of sleep walking, and "slid" down the wall from the roof.
By far the favourite place for all the wildlife in our garden is the pond. Ponds attract insects. The larvae emerge at night and the bats are always on the lookout for these tender morsels, but they only get the ones the frogs have already missed! If for safety reasons you cannot have a pond, consider a bog garden, it need only be a few inches deep and will contain mud rather than water. A child's plastic paddling pool makes an excellent liner - but do ask the child first! This will attract insects and be very popular with frogs too! You can plant it up with bog and pond plants which will also be an interesting and attractive addition to your garden.
A neat trick I have found to get a closer look at the bats is to switch a light on either in the house or outside, this attracts insects, and where the insects go, the bats follow. They come right up to my kitchen window as I sit on the step, they don't ever appear to be afraid of people, and as they are neither blind or stupid, they don't ever seem to make the mistake of flying into the glass window.
They are not he easiest creatures to photograph, but they do not seem concerned by by flash photography. I imagine that even if momentarily dazzled they just continue to fly by echo-location.
Make sure there are suitable roosting places for bats around the garden or in the surrounding area. Pipistrelles and many other British bats need very little space and can squeeze into gaps in the bark of trees and gaps between stones (e.g. in rockeries and dry stone walls). If you don't see sufficient roosting places consider siting a bat box or two in your garden. Information on how to make (and where to site) one can be obtained from the BCT or they can be bought from The Henry Doubleday Research Association. or www.birdfood.co.uk who also sell Bee Hotels.
There are no guarantees that following any of the foregoing will result
in bats appearing in your garden, but if you don't try you won't succeed
and our steadily declining bat populations need all the help us gardeners
can give them. So give it a go, and good luck!
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