If we look out of our patio windows at dusk, we are sometimes lucky enough to spot a bat zooming around above the houses. We call it Cricket, although – to be fair – Cricket could be multiple individuals. It flies so fast it’s hard to keep track. In Feral, George Monbiot talks about the wonder we feel when we come face to face with wildlife like this. He feels it’s a transformative experience, and one that is now sadly lacking from our daily lives.
Those of us who tend a garden are closer to nature, of course. We may grow plants specifically to attract bees, butterflies and beneficial insects, and put food out for the wild birds. (We may also face a constant battle to protect our plants from the army of pests that would devour them. Although there are some people who would disagree, it’s hard to see the wonder in slugs.)
Bats are nocturnal mammals, and they make some people feel uncomfortable. But I had the privilege to stand in the fruit bat enclosure at the Cotswold Wildlife Park and feel them whizzing past my head, and there was never any danger of them tangling in my hair or crashing in to me.
Seventeen species of bat are known to breed in the UK. These British bats range in size from the tiny pipistrelle (at 4.7g) to the noctule, which can weigh up to 40g (roughly the same as 4x £1 coins). Even the pipistrelle can eat more than 500 insects in a hour. At this time of year, the females are giving birth to live young, which start flying when they’re around three weeks old. Adults will then mate in autumn, before hibernating through the winter.
Bats are threatened species, in large part due to habitat loss. Woodlands, ponds and open spaces where they can roost and feed are disappearing at an alarming rate, as are the insects on which they feed. Gardens are becoming an increasingly important habitat to support bats, and making small changes in the garden can make a big difference to the local bat population.
To encourage insects, you need to ditch the pesticides and go organic. This benefits all kinds of wildlife, and the wider environment, not just bats. If you’ve got the space for a pond, even a small one, then that’s good as well. Make life a little easier on yourself, and let your garden go a bit wilder! You can also put up a bat box, reduce/remove artificial lighting, and keep your cat indoors at night.
Planting night-scented flowers is another way to encourage insects that will feed bats, and you don’t need a lot of space – they will happily grow alongside your other plants, or in planter boxes. Tall and pale night-scented flowers, such as Hemp agrimony, Evening primrose and Night-scented stock are great choices, and will extend your enjoyment of the garden into the evening.
As I’ve said before, herbs and aromatic flowers (such as lavender, marjoram and borage) are good for insects, and hence will be good for bats. Daisy-like flowers attract a lot of pollinating insects, as do the umbellifers with their ‘landing pad’ flowers – so don’t be too quick to remove herbs such as parsley, dill, fennel and coriander when they start to flower. A long patch of grass is an important habitat for many insect larvae, and a compost heap is the perfect home for some of the bat’s insect prey.
You can buy various kinds of bat detector, which let you eavesdrop on your flying friends and will help you to identify them, and if you’re really keen you can sign up for the National bat monitoring programme, or join a local bat group.
This post was produced in collaboration with nbg landscapes.