Alongside my role as an ecologist, I volunteer as a bat carer for the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT). I was introduced to bat care during an internship where I worked with experienced volunteers and had the opportunity to observe closeup and handle bats (the image below was my first encounter; a brown long-eared bat landed on my leg while assessing his flight capability). Three years later, it is something I have become passionate about.
The aim of bat care is to rehabilitate injured bats; some cases are simple and short-term such as grounded bats that have become dehydrated and hungry, or have accidentally entered a living space. While other cases can be more complex involving flight or cat injuries.
Knowing you have successfully rehabilitated a bat and working with these underrated animals is truly a unique and rewarding experience.
What to do if you find a bat?
All bat species found in the UK have European Protected status, however it is perfectly legal to assist an injured bat. For most finders, this will be their first close encounter but safety is always your priority.
Handling bats should be avoided at all cost as there is a low risk of contracting rabies from bites or scratches. The situation should first be assessed making sure you can reach the bat, wait for the bat to become motionless (land) and while wearing gloves contain in a box.
Avoid contact wherever possible, placing the box over the bat and sliding cardboard underneath. If handling is required then use gloves and towel to scoop the bat into your box. Once contained, contact the National Bat Helpline, who will be able to advise further or put you in contact with your local bat carer. If you're working on a construction site, your ECoW may also be a carer.
A shoe box makes an ideal care facility with breathable holes punched in the lid. Inside should contain a small towel (or cloth) and shallow bottle cap with a few drops of water (milk or jar lids are ideal, but nothing deep as bats can easily drown). The water should be checked and topped up as appropriate.
Children and pets should be kept away from the box. If you (or others) are bitten or scratched then seek medical advice immediately. A carer will typically ask for these details when collecting bats from finders. While carers must be vaccinated to fulfill their role, they would also need to seek medical advice after exposure.
UK bats and COVID-19
Currently, there is no evidence suggesting UK bats carry any coronaviruses that can be transmitted to humans. However, it remains unclear whether humans can transmit COVID-19 to wild animals. For the bat’s protection, covering your nose and mouth when containing bats is recommended. Medical mask is not necessary, a scarf, tea towel or t-shirt will suffice.
Further information can be found on the BCT website: https://www.bats.org.uk/advice/help-ive-found-a-bat
How to help protect bats?
Unfortunately, many casualties come from cat attacks as cats often locate and wait outside roosts, catching emerging bats. Some injuries are obvious such as wing tears, or bone fractures and breaks, but saliva exposure can cause not so obvious internal damage.
Keeping your cat indoors 30 minutes before sunset until dawn during summer (when bats are active) will help reduce risk. Only 14% of cat injured bats successfully return to the wild, the remaining do not survive or must be kept in captivity. This season, I unfortunately had to euthanize two victims of cat attacks.
Habitat loss is another threat to bats which is why we often find roosts in the attics of our homes.
You can help bats by creating suitable features. Turn your garden into a bat hotspot by planting night scented flowers, creating a pond or linear features, reduce artificial lighting, erect a bat box, or allow your garden to become a little overgrown to attract insects.
Concerned bats might affect your project? Contact us today for advice.