Bats aren’t the most common of visitors in our home but they can roost in lofts. Read our factsheet to learn everything you need to know about bats.
Don’t let common misconceptions about bats put you off. Bats are a fascinating species, so before you decide they have to go, read through this article.
What are bats?
Bats are mammals. Like all other mammals, including ourselves and many of our pets, they have hair or fur on their bodies and are warm-blooded. A baby bat feeds on its mother’s milk for at least a few weeks after it is born. Bats are the only mammals that can fly. A bat’s wing has very similar bones to the hand and arm of a human, with skin stretched between the very long finger bones and the body to form the wing membrane.
How many species are found in the UK?
We have 18 species of bat in the UK – 17 of which are known to be breeding here. Though you can find larger species around the World, all UK species are small and can fit within the palm of your hand. When their wings are tucked in pipistrelle bats can be 3.3 – 5.5cm in size with the largest noctule bats still only ranging from 6 – 8.2cm.
They tend to be brown to black in colour with a number of species also having a paler underbelly. Bats can be a difficult group to identify without experienced knowledge as most of our species are closely related. For example, we have three Pipistrelle species and seven Myotis species. Saying this however, there are some features that may give an indication; long ears, nearly the same length as the body may suggest a long-eared species whilst a horseshoe shaped nose-leaf would be either a Lesser or Greater Horseshoe bat.
All UK species of bat are nocturnal, and feed on insects. One pipistrelle bat can feed on 3000 in a single night making them a fantastic natural pest controller, helping to reduce the midges that cause us distress during the summer months. To cope with the loss of insects over the winter months, bats go into hibernation
Contrary to common belief bats are not blind. They have good eyesight, but for flying at night they rely on a sophisticated echolocation system which works like sonar to navigate and find food.
What attracts bats?
Bats, like most animals, like areas abundant with food, warmth, shelter and free from predators. They prefer to roost in dark, quiet, enclosed spaces where they’re least likely to be disturbed by predators or bad weather.
The natural habitats of bats are trees, caves and other secluded areas – this is why your barn, shed or attic can be so attractive to them.
Where do bats live?
Outdoors, bats will feed over water, along woodland edges and in gardens. They can be found in:
• River valleys
• Indoors, you can find them in lofts and roof spaces. They can also be found under tiles, in beams and hanging from roofing timbers.
Female bats usually have one baby a year. A baby bat, or pup is born without fur and their eyes closed. After 6 days fur usually starts to grow, but it takes 3 – 4 weeks before they are ready to fly, and are heavily dependent on their mothers until 10 weeks.
Bats and Rabies Risk
Some bats in Europe can carry a rabies type virus called European Bat Lyssavirus (EBLV). This is very rare in the UK – only 12 bats have tested positive for the live virus since 1987 (as of March 2016, all of one species – the Daubenton’s bat which is not commonly found in built up areas).
Rabies is passed on via a bite or scratch from an infected animal, or from its saliva coming in contact with your mucous membranes (for example your eyes, mouth or nose). It has never been found in bat droppings or urine in the UK.
If you need to handle a grounded or injured bat, wear gloves to be safe for both you and the bat and contact the Bat Conservation Trust on 0345 1300 228 for further assistance.
Bat droppings don’t present a health hazard to humans as they consist of the hard parts of insects that bats can’t digest.
What to do if you get bitten
While overall chances are very low in the UK, the odds of catching rabies from any wild animal are increased if no action is taken when you’re bitten or scratched by them:
• Wash the wound immediately with soap and water for at least five minutes. Additional cleansing of the wound site with an alcohol base or other disinfectant is also recommended.
• Seek immediate medical advice from your GP, even if your rabies vaccinations are up to date; you can also call the NHS Direct Helpline on 111.
• Contain the bat so that it may be collected and assessed by a bat worker. Bats can squeeze through very small spaces, so keep it in a well-sealed container with adequate ventilation holes, a piece of cloth to hide in, and a shallow container of water for the bat to drink from. Make sure you avoid getting bitten again by wearing gloves or using a cloth to handle the bat.
• Contact the Bat Helpline on 0345 1300 228 so that they can arrange for the nearest bat worker to collect and identify the bat. If there is no bat worker in your area the bat may need to be taken to a local vet for assistance.
Bats and the law
Throughout the UK all wild bats and their roosts are protected. The same degree of protection is provided wherever you live although the legislation differs dependent upon whether you live in England or Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. A roost can be defined as anyplace used by a bat for breeding, resting or for shelter or for protection. The roost is protected whether bats are present in it or not.
The law states that it is a criminal offence for anyone to deliberately kill, injure, take, possess or disturb a bat. However anyone who finds a bat that is ill or injured may take care of it in whatever way is most humane and practical. It is also an offence to destroy or damage a bat roost in any circumstances. A licence can however be issued allowing any of these actions. Licences can be obtained from Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Scottish National Heritage or the Department of Environment Northern Ireland.
These offences carry penalties of six months imprisonment and/or a fine of £5000.
More information can be obtained from the Bat Conservation Trust at www.bats.org.uk or by contacting them on 0345 1300 228