The remarkable discovery that a bat the size of a human thumb managed to fly from a village in the West Country all the way to the north of Holland could scupper future plans for vast off-shore wind farms, it was revealed yesterday.
The tiny pipistrelle bat was ringed in Blagdon, North Somerset, by a bat conservation worker, and stunned environmentalists in the Netherlands when they found it dead in a barn in Friesland two days before Christmas.
Bat experts had long wondered if bats ever migrated, but thought a treacherous crossing of the sea would be virtually impossible for such a small creature. Now they have proved it happens, and the fact that the bat in question came from the West Country and not from the east coast of England has been hailed as doubly remarkable.
The bat is so tiny it cannot be made to carry electronic tags to be tracked remotely, but when Daniel Hargreaves found the bat in Blagdon in 2012, he attached a miniature identity ring to its leg as he was working as part of a research project into the ecology of bats led by Dr Fiona Mathews from Exeter University.
The researchers now say the discovery raises concerns about the threat of off-shore windfarms to migrating bats. Previously proponents of wind farms have been able to question the theory that it is even possible for bats to migrate across the sea, because of a lack of evidence.
“Nathusius’s pipistrelle is one of the species most at risk from land-based wind turbines throughout Europe,” said Dr Mathews.
“We now urgently need to identify the migration routes they use to cross the sea between the UK and continental Europe – offshore wind farms in the wrong place could be very bad news.”
“In the autumn, we installed bat detectors on board Brittany Ferries crossing to and from South-West England.
“We are analysing the data to find out when and where bats are recorded at sea, and clearly now need to extend these surveys to include The North Sea.
“With so much water to cover, finding bats offshore is a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack.
“There are some very old historical records made by ships’ captains of flocks of bats at sea: what we now need to find out is whether bat migration is a regular event and what routes they take,” she added.
Mr Hargreaves was astounded to learn a bat he ringed in the hills above Bristol had been found, albeit dead, in Holland.
“We have hypothesised for a long time about the migration of bats to and from the UK but it’s very difficult to prove,” he said.
“This finding was a great surprise and is helping us to understand the huge journeys these bats can make. It’s incredible to think that this little bat has flown a distance of at least 600km, avoiding hazards like roads and wind turbines.”
Lisa Worledge of the Bat Conservation Trust added: “The timings of peaks in Nathusius’ pipistrelle recordings in spring and autumn, as well as records from North Sea oil platforms, have long suggested that some of these bats migrate. This discovery provides the first direct evidence that a British bat migrates over the sea between the UK and continental Europe.”
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