When we heard there was going to be a bat workshop in Knockree Youth Hostel last Wednesday 5th of July we knew it would be an interesting evening for our Conservation Group. Bats as a species are up there with snakes and teenagers when it comes to bad press. We knew from previous visits to Knockree that these fascinating creatures could be found close by so we were keen to learn more about them and also discover how to find them using special detectors. The workshop was held by the good peoples of Bat Conservation Ireland who promote the conservation of bats and their habitats in Ireland.
When most people think of bats they think of crazy flying rats that carry rabies, get tangled in your hair and suck your blood turning you into the undead. This is nonsense of the highest degree. Bats are actually mammals. In fact, humans are more related to rats than bats. We tend not to talk about that. Only a very small percentage of bats carry rabies, and the last case of rabies in Ireland was in 1902. Nor do bats tend to get caught in young girls hair despite what your Granny says. Bats can swoop and snatch a midge from in front of your face but their flapping wings in front of the face tends to freak out the most fearless of us. Instead we like to talk about vampires because a few bats in South America feed on the blood of cows. Thanks to Dubliner, Bram Stoker and his scary horror stories, the second largest group of mammals in the world are effectively shunned by the largest group of mammals – humans. Nice job Bram!
The Bats and the Bees
Bats bring plenty of benefits to the natural world. They snack all night long on tonnes of bugs and pests that attack plants. Without them we would have to use more chemicals in agriculture. They pollinate flowers and spread seeds which gives those under pressure bees a break. They also help us human mammals. They inspired Leonardo da Vinci to have a go at flying machines and of course, they were the original sonar machines as they use their hearing for navigation more than their sight (although they are far from blind!).
During the bat workshop in Knockree Hostel, we had Dr. Tina Aughney of Bat Conservation Ireland speaking about the different bat species present in Ireland. Her focus was on the Daubenton’s bat, which is a waterways bat and which had already been recorded in our Conservation Plan. The workshop was not all theory however. Outdoor exploration is a big part of the hostel experience in Ireland so we were delighted that there would also be a practical demonstration of bat detecting in the woods down by the river.
As we discovered, bats use echolocation to fly and hunt in the dark. They make high-pitched squeaks and listen for the echoes that bounce off obstacles in their way, or off prey insects, gauging distances by the amount of time taken for the echoes to return. The bat detectors we had converted the high frequency sounds they emit into a frequency we can hear. Each bat species has a trademark sound pattern that helps to identify them.
Using the bat detectors allowed us to locate a Daubenton’s Bat along the river and see it with the aid of a torch. Success! This was a first attempt at bat detecting for the group so they were delighted. The next step is to help with national surveys which will be carried out around Ireland in August. It was great to start connecting with other organisations like Bat Conservation Ireland who are educating more people about the fantastic experiences that are available to young people in the Irish outdoors.
What we learned from the workshop is that bats are not the monsters many people think they are. They have many benefits to the wild places of Ireland which rely on them to keep the delicate balance of the environment. They offer a glimpse into a previously unseen natural world as they swoop and flicker through the green woods and silver river beds on Summer evenings near the hostel. You just have to know where to look. Or listen.
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