Batty about bats

Pipistrelle bat in flight
Pipistrelle bat in flight
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A WARNING: don’t call these chaps batman or ask where Robin is.

“I get it every week at some point,” says Nick Bonsall. “It’s like ‘f*** off, mate - I’m trying to do you a favour here’.” Blimey. There goes this writer’s break-the-ice gag, then.

South Yorkshire Bat Group, l - r, Martin Derbyshire, Nick Bonsall and Martin Nowacki

South Yorkshire Bat Group, l - r, Martin Derbyshire, Nick Bonsall and Martin Nowacki

Meet South Yorkshire Bat Group. If you’re the woman in Walkley who woke up with two of the flying mammals starring at you from your bed-head you’ll know about them already (“when she stopped screaming she managed to call us,” says Nick). Likewise, if you’re the pensioner in Dore who discovered a single bat dropping in her bedroom followed by several hundred thousand in her loft.

But for the rest of us, this dedicated band of volunteers is the region’s only organisation licensed to help you if you get an infestation of these nocturnal creatures.

“Bats are a protected European species,” explains Martin Derbyshire, secretary with the group. “And that means it’s punishable by prison to handle them unless you’re specially trained.

“That’s where we come in. If you have a roost in your roof or walls, we come and help.”

By help he doesn’t necessarily mean remove the roost. “We very rarely do that because it’s also illegal to disturb a roost without exceptional reasons,” says Martin, an ecologist by trade. “More likely we’ll explain that bats are harmless, that they rarely come into the house itself and even if they do opening a window normally gets rid of them. They also hibernate in winter so it’s only summer months they’re active.”

Nevertheless, without that reassurance, people do remain suspicious of these creatures.

“There’s a lot of myths surrounding them which aren’t true,” says Nick, vice-chairman of the group and also an ecologist. “But that’s why they’re interesting - they’re mysterious. Even scientists know little about them compared with most species.”

Indeed, the 45-strong group was set up in 2004 because of that lack of knowledge.

Its original mandate, as a partner group of the Bat Conservation Trust, was to collect data on numbers, roosts and types of species (the brown long-eared bat and common pipistrelle are most common here) but it soon expanded to raising awareness and helping those in a bat crisis. This winter they will research areas of hibernation.

Oh, and they’re dedicated - one member of a group in Manchester delayed her wedding while she carried out a rescue.

“The thought of a bat not surviving because it’s in the wrong environment is awful,” says Martin Nowacki, group chairman and a third ecologist. “So I will drop things to go on call.

“It’s important because their numbers are falling dramatically and if we don’t offer them some protection that will continue. Without bats, they’d be an awful lot more midges around because they eat about 200 of them a night.

“Some people say it’s a weird interest to have but it’s amazing when you release one into the wild and this little fury thing on your thumb suddenly unfurls these big wings and gracefully flies off. It looks so elegant.”

The group are looking for more volunteers. Find out more at www.sites.google.com/site/sybatgroup

Vampires target birds...not humans

THREE BAT MYTHS

Bats suck human blood - they don’t. In South America, vampire bats feed on the blood of large birds and cattle but they don’t bother humans.

They’re blind - they actually have very reasonable eyesight,.

The Dark Knight was a good film - a straight-up lie.

...AND THREE BAT TIPS

If you get bats...

Don’t panic. It might be ugly but it’s won’t hurt you

Call the Bat Conservation Trust on 0845 1300 228. They’ll advise you and call the SYBG if needed.

Don’t swat it with a rolled up paper. Kill the little fella and you’re looking at porridge, pal.