Love them or leave them, bats are amongst the most fascinating and highly protected species in Britain. Kent's skies have been notably empty of the greater and lesser horseshoe bat. That was until this summer when the unmistakable "alien" warbles of the greater horseshoe bat were recorded on two separate occasions in Kent - for the first time in 115 years!
Both of these species are elusive and typically inhabit south-west England and Wales, roosting and hibernating in the underground caves and tunnels of the regions.
The Bat Conservation Trust suggest this bat is a lost migrant from the continent or from natural dispersal from the west. The increase in spring temperatures and rainfall associated with climate change affects not only insect populations but also encourages earlier hibernation emergence and birthing times. These factors are currently driving the horseshoe bats to expand across their former range.
Last week's release of the latest edition of the State of Nature Report paints a bleak picture for Britain's priority species and habitats, with an average reduction of 41% in the abundance of protected species since 1970 due to agricultural intensification, climate change and habitat fragmentation due to urban expansion.
However the report has also revealed over the same period 26% of species have increased in number - the single most important contributing factor being climate change providing new niches for species to exploit.
The fact that climate change is one of the single most significant factors affecting species loss and gains highlights the struggle in wildlife conservation between climate "winners" and "losers". Conservation must balance the urgent need to reduce the impacts of climate change (among other drivers of extinction) and the need to facilitate the safe passage and establishment of climate driven opportunistic migrants to new regions. In which case let's hope that Kent's latest new bat resident is here to stay!
Froideaux, J.S.P., Boughey, K.L., Barlow, K.E. et al (2017) Factors driving population recovery of the greater horsehoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum) in the UK: implications for conservation.
Biodiversity and Conservation, 26: 1601 https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-017-1320-1
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