The Bat Conservation Trust has been running regional conferences for the last three years. These were set up in order to give those that cannot afford the two day National Conference, run annually, a lower cost opportunity to attend continuing professional development events. The regional conferences are run on a biannually basis and are only one day. Last Saturday (29th March 2014) was the third East of England conference, held in Ipswich.
The day’s three sessions this year included: a summary current scientific research being undertaken, interspersed with bat group updates; mapping distribution of bats; and various debate about bats to wind turbines.
Following an introduction to the event from Bat Conservation Trust staff, Philip Brown started the proceeding with a presentation on the results of his research project on the Myotis species, Alcathoe (Myotis alcathoe), Brandts (M. brandti) and whiskered (M. mystacinus). He was looking at the habitat use, resource partitioning and distribution. Phil had spent most of last summer out in the field surveying bats and trying to catch them, in order to collect samples for DNA and diet composition analysis. Due to the terrible weather in the summer of 2013, catch rates were lower than hoped for and further research is likely to be required in order to draw any meaningful conclusions.
Before the first tea break, Nick Gibbons of Suffolk Bat Group fame presented his take on an artificial hibernation site that was built in Thetford Forest. This was an ambitious project, involving nearly 100m of tunnel. Built in 2004, some two years later not a single bat had been found in the site. However, the site has since started to be used with a steady increase in numbers being recorded year on year. The hibernation site had many features built into the structure, including Norfolk bat bricks, adapted logs and assorted cracks/crevices – all of which are now in use by bats. The structure has also since been modified following comparisons to more natural habitat of temperature, humidity and airflow. Overall it seems to be a very successful project.
The first talk was based on white nose syndrome (Pseudogymnoascus destructans) and was presented by Alex Barlow of the Animal Health & Veterinary Laboratories Agency. For those that don’t know P.d. is a fungal infection that causes white nose syndrome in bats. The disease has devastated North American bat populations in recent years. Current research points to the pathogen being imported from Europe into North America; it has been confirmed as present both on the continent and in southern England. It (currently) seems as though the bats of England and Europe have co-evolved with the pathogen and it has little to no effect. Not so in North America. Mass mortalities have been reported and associated with the deaths of between 5.7 million and 6.7 million bats, according to the latest figures from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. These deaths have had a massive effect on local populations rather than simply slicing a few percentage points of an overall population, because at some hibernation sites, numbers have reportedly declined by 80-100% since 2006.
Madeleine Ryan followed the WNS talk with updates on her ongoing PhD research project, in which Ryan looks at soprano pipistrelles’ (Pipistrellus pygmaeus) use of churches as roosts. Sopranos are one of the most common UK bats and can form large maternity colonies (in excess of 1500 individuals). Madeleine caught, radio-tracked and mapped the bats’ use of both habitats and roosts in three locations in Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Essex. The results thus far are showing that sopranos use several roosts in an area and the range of habitat use can vary from approx. 4km up to 15km.
Daniel Hargreaves gave the third brief of this session, highlighting a new project run in conjunction with the Bat Conservation Trust. The project concentrates on the rarest of the three pipistrelle species found in the UK, the nathusius pipistrelle (Pipistrellus nathusii). This tiny bat has recently been found to migrate over long distances including over open ocean! Although its migratory habits within the continental European mainland have been common knowledge for years, it was only recently that a bat ringed in Somerset was tracked to the Netherlands, demonstrating that it isn’t afraid to commit to long flights over ocean (where there is no opportunity for rest, food, water or shelter). The new project aims to answer questions about the bats’ breeding status in the UK and hopefully will begin to understand its migratory patterns.
This focused on the National Bats and Wind Turbine Project. Ali Moyle presented the talk, which was an update to the current research. This project is currently in its third year, with the University of Exeter currently taking point on the project. The aim of the project is to find out whether wind turbines significantly affect bat populations in the UK and if so, to quantify exactly what that impact is. As the research is ongoing, no definitive results were presented, but it is hoped this will soon be completed and some firm guidance published thereafter. The day was rounded off with the usual overview of BCT’s priorities for the coming year.
The regional conference is generally a good day and for those that cannot attend the National Conference (for whatever reason): it provides for a great development and learning opportunity.
The cost of the day is around £35 to members, which compared to the National Conference is a bargain. This includes lunch and all the coffee and tea you can drink!
It would be nice if future regional conferences were held in different towns within the region, as this is the third regional conference for the east of England and all have been held in Suffolk. Those of us coming from the most westerly areas have had a bit of bum deal here and if BCT could find a conference centre that is more central it would make the day more attractive to a wider audience, potentially.
The day is aimed at mostly bat group members; however the quality of content is equal to that of the National Conference and anyone attending, whether student or professional/practicing ecologist, won’t be disappointed.
I really hope you enjoyed reading about my experience at the Bat Conservation Trust East of England Regional Conference. Please feel free to ask questions or leave comments below; and of course, the whole purpose of this conference review is to share knowledge within our industry, so please use twitter, Facebook and any other method you like of sharing this among your colleagues and friends.
Image Credit: Bat Conservation Trust