Detectors at Dunwich Heath to track rare bats migrating across the sea

PUBLISHED: 08:00 16 June 2019 | UPDATED: 12:39 16 June 2019

A Nathusius' pipistrelle in flight Picture: RORY TALLACK

A Nathusius' pipistrelle in flight Picture: RORY TALLACK


An important Suffolk wildlife site is to play a key role in tracking the migration of a tiny rare bat which flies hundreds of miles every year.

Richard Gilbert, senior ranger at Dunwich Heath, who has applieds for the bat detector receiver station Picture: LUCY TAYLORRichard Gilbert, senior ranger at Dunwich Heath, who has applieds for the bat detector receiver station Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Scientists only discovered firm evidence six years ago that Nathusius' pipistrelle bats were migrating across the North Sea after one that had been ringed in south-west England was found in Holland.

The bat had made a journey of 370 miles.

Following further monitoring, a European research project has now been established to find out more about the bats' migration, survival and lives.

Now the National Trust's Dunwich Heath site - a Site of Speical Scientific Interest - is to play a leading role in the work - by hosting a receiver station to track the Nathusius' pipistrelle bats.

A Nathusius' Pipistrelle, from the Bat Conservation Trust Picture: DANIEL HARGREAVESA Nathusius' Pipistrelle, from the Bat Conservation Trust Picture: DANIEL HARGREAVES

Senior ranger Richard Gilbert has applied to East Suffolk Council for planning permission for the receiver station, which would comprise four aluminium Yagi antenna.

Two masts would be used with two antenna to minimise the mast height with the masts positioned on an existing National Trust single-storey building known as the SeaWatch, about 50 metres north of the Coastguard Cottages, Minsmere Road, Dunwich.

They would extend 2.2m above the roof with each antenna about a metre wide.

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A report submitted with the application said: "The Seawatch building is an ideal site for installation of a receiver station to track Nathusius' pipistrelle bats migrating across the North Sea as part of a European research project.

"The location is high with no surrounding obstructions and is close to the sea."

Scientists have been working on a project to fix tiny radio transmitters weighing just 0.3g to the bats so their movements can be recorded.

While Nathusius' pipistrelle bats have been found on the nearby EDF Energy Sizewell power station estate, most of those logged by ringers in recent years have flown from the south-west, crossing Suffolk and leaving the UK around the Minsmere area - flying to and from Holland, Belgium and even as far as Latvia and Lithuania.

Prior to the tiny bat from the UK being found in Holland in 2013, it was well known that the creatures could migrate long distances over land in Europe.

There had been instances of them being found on oil platforms but no clear indication or evidence that they could fly across the North Sea and that this might be a common pattern among the species.

Quoted at the time of the bat find, Daniel Hargreaves, who ringed the bat in 2010, said: "We have hypothesised for a long time about the migration of bats to and from the UK but it's very difficult to prove.

"This finding was a great surprise and is helping us to understand the huge journeys these bats can make. It's incredible to think that this little bat has flown a distance of at least 600km, avoiding hazards like roads and wind turbines, and for it to safely cross the sea is remarkable."

Work has been ongoing to try to identify the bats' North Sea migration routes including using bat detectors on board ferries.

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