The grey long-eared bat is one of the rarest bat species in the United Kingdom and up until now, very little was known about it. Lack of understanding on its ecology and behaviour has meant that there has been very little development in terms of conservation plans and now, after a four-year study it’s been learned that this rare bat species is at danger of being extinct. The study, carried out by a team of scientists at the University of Bristol, has estimated that there are just 1,000 grey long-haired bats left in the UK – all of which are confined to southern England. The findings, which have been published by the Bat Conservation Trust, have left researchers calling for the species foraging habitats to be protected. Up until now, very little was known about the rare grey long-eared bat and its habits. It was thought that there may be more colonies but in fact, it is much more rare than expected.

The grey long-eared bat population has declined dramatically in the last century…

In the UK, the long-eared bat is restricted mainly to the southern coast of England, with a handful of records in Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Sussex. There is also recent evidence to suggest that there are some grey long-eared bats in south-west Wales too. The report has confirmed that there are currently eight confirmed active maternity colonies in England as well as a number of temporary roosts.

With an estimated English population of 1000 adults and a recorded loss of several maternity colonies in the last couple of decades, the grey long-eared bat has become one of the rarest UK mammals. The bat species are so rare in fact that when the BBC News team visited one of the colonies in Dorset, they were asked to keep the location secret in order to avoid the bats being disturbed unnecessarily. Dr Orly Razgour who led the study explained that the decline in numbers is linked to the “dramatic decline of lowland meadows and marshlands, the bat’s main foraging habitats”.

In northern Europe and throughout the UK, grey long-eared bats tend to live in close proximity to human settlements and often roost in man-made roosts like roofs in buildings and barns. Maternity roosts on the other hand are generally located in stone or brick buildings with slate roofs. Building roosts are currently threatened by efforts to exclude bats by roost owners, insulation improvements, re-roofing and the renovation of old buildings.

Whilst bat surveys are required by law before any planning permission is granted, it is often the case that the presence of grey long-eared bats may not be confirmed until the building is already being developed or demolished. According to Dr Orly Razgour, the long term survival of this species is closely linked to the conservation of these lowland meadows and marshland habitats. There is also a stress on managing the land between roosts. The Bat Conservation Trust has called on influential groups, including land owners and conservation organisations, as well as Natural England, to manage the landscape around roosts.

Natural England, the government adviser on the natural environment, released a statement which claimed that the grey long-eared bat’s habitat has been greatly altered over the last century through changes in farming practises and land management techniques. Bats are currently one of the most protected mammals in Britain, suggesting the level of threat posed to the species. Bat roosts are protected by law but bat foraging and commuting habitats are not which is a major threat to the long-term survival of this bat species in the UK. The Bat Conservation Trust has stated that it thinks the grey long-eared bat should be afforded UK Priority Species status to ensure that more funds are directed at protecting the species and its habitat.