I have always found some illicit pleasure in sneaking into a museum after hours, and this was especially true last night whilst attending Dani Linton’s insightful talk about the Wytham Bat Project, which she founded when completing her PhD, continued researching through the subsequent decade and into the future. Consequently, she has built and continues to build an expansive, well-structured, analysed and reasoned set of data about the woodland bats of Wytham, which she shared during this talk.
The three species of bat which the talk focused on roosts in the trees and in free-hanging bird boxes in the woods – these decrease predation and increase ease of access for research. In addition to checking for bat roosting and breeding sites, the project also involves ringing bats and recording and checking which sites they visit and return to. As bats can be long-lived (one daubentonii was found to be 30 years old) the project is still recording the activity of some bats ringed in the project’s inaugural year, 2006. A decade’s worth of research has shown that each species - myotis daubentonii, myotis nattereri, and long-eared bats - displays different behaviours and social systems e.g. isolating males either alone or in groups from breeding females, and each follows differing hibernating, breeding and feeding cycles. In addition, bats can adopt a state of 'torpor' (although this does not involve snacking on the sofa in front of the TV).
Yet in spite of the excellent research completed by Dani and her team, much remains to be done and this would seem to be urgent as the project’s statistics appear to point to a decline in the population of all species of bats over the period studied so far. More volunteers and more resources are vital if we are to add radio tagging to the established ringing process so we can find out where the bats go moment by moment. On this topic, where do the bats go to hibernate – do they sleep under the hill? Some geophysics (ground penetrating radar) might answer this question. Further work could also be done on the connectivity between bat populations – is there any interaction between more distant colonies such as those at Bagley Woods? It would also be interesting to establish the gestation period for these bats; since the mother is able to 'hold' sperm donated in the autumn until the breeding season in the spring it has thus far proved difficult to establish the actual moment of conception, and so to work out the gestation period.
So although the talk was very insightful and well-presented by a knowledgeable, enthusiastic and personable speaker I was unfortunately left more beguiled and fascinated by bats and with more questions than answers. So perhaps it is time to don the wellies, sniff out some bat poo and help collect further data for this exemplary project.