Rare species of bat have been uncovered in a cavern at Dudley Zoo as part of a conservation and monitoring project led by University of Wolverhampton research students.
Within the grounds of the zoo lies a disused limestone mine, known as Big Ben Cavern because it is as deep as the famous clock is tall.
Ten species of bat have been recorded roosting there, making it one of the most populated areas in the region for the creatures.
With a special licence from National England, skilled volunteers have been humanely catching and releasing the bats to record the different species and sex using special ‘harp traps’ and ‘mist nets’.
The project is being led by University of Wolverhampton PhD student Morgan Hughes and Chris Leeson, a Conservation Officer at Dudley Zoo, studying MSc in Animal Behaviour and Wildlife Conservation at the University.
Monitoring has to be undertaken at night, when bats are active, so Morgan and the army of volunteers can often be out from sunset for at least five hours wearing special red light head torches.
“Sites like this are really important for ecology and conservation. Monitoring the bats enables us to learn important information about the different types of species, their numbers and their habitats We currently have 10 species there – there are only 12 in the county so this is amazing species diversity,” said Morgan.
“We’ve also found out that the site is an important swarming site for Natterer’s bats and one of only a handful of sites where there is an active population of horseshoe bats.”
Morgan, who is Chair of the Birmingham and Black Country Bat Group (affectionately known as Brumbats), is studying the movements of Bats in Green Belt for her PhD in Animal Behaviour and Wildlife Conservation.
She added: “We collect wind speed, temperature and relative humidity at hourly intervals, and plot this against bat call activity on bat detectors. We measure lux levels hourly at each trap and net. All of this is valuable data and helps conservation.”
The group, who will be particularly busy in August and September, swarming months for bats, also includes University of Wolverhampton BSc student Scott Brown, whose field work is investigating the use of tents made from leaves by roosting bats in Costa Rica and Rebecca Perry, who is also at the University of Wolverhampton studying an MSc in Animal Behaviour and Wildlife Conservation.
All are keen to increase public knowledge of bats and to support their conservation within the UK and their work is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Bat Conservation Trust Swarming Fund.
For more information see www.urbanbatproject.co.uk