Going Bats in Sussex

23 July 2020 | Posted in Glenn Norris , mammals
Going Bats in Sussex
Pipistrelle Bat ©Hugh Clark FRPS

By Glenn Norris

Reserves Ecologist

I will never forget the first time I heard the echo-locating calls of Common Pipistrelles along the Water of Leith in Edinburgh. Ten years on I still get a buzz when I’m listening in on their private conversations as they search for love and food; two of the highest priorities in our natural world.

Since then I have tracked Leisler’s Bats through the Ayrshire countryside and investigated the roosts of Horseshoe Bats in the West Country… but what about bats in Sussex?

All 17 species of bat that breed in the UK can be found in Sussex and 15 of these have been recorded on Sussex Wildlife Trust reserves. Most notable is the annual presence of the 18th British bat, the Greater Mouse-eared Bat hibernating in a disused train tunnel. Considered extinct in Britain since the 1990s this individual was first seen again in 2002 and has been recorded in the same tunnel every winter since. Where it goes for the summer, we have no idea.

Being a small bodied animal and using an enormous amount of energy to fly, bats feed heavily during the night; a Common Pipistrelle can feed on thousands of tiny midges in one night. For this reason, bats indicate the presence of healthy invertebrate-rich habitats. To avoid conflict, different species have evolved to feed on different prey at different times and amongst different habitats. Daubenton’s Bat have large feet for picking up insects off the surface of the water whereas the large Noctule catches moths flying over 5m.

The best Sussex Wildlife Trust nature reserve for bats is Ebernoe Common. 

This ancient woodland and pasture has records for 15 UK bat species, including internationally important breeding populations of Bechstein’s Bat and Barbastelle, and provides the wide range of their habitat requirements in one location. Bats need different habitats throughout the year; they often roost in warm trees and roof voids during the summer feeding amongst woodland, hedgerows and meadows, and then crave the cool stable temperatures found in caves and mines in winter.

Our nature reserves are vital beacons of high-quality habitat where bats have the opportunity to roost and forage during the summer, but the key to bat conservation is to create high-quality, linked-up habitats within the wider landscape. For example, Ebernoe Common and The Mens are very important reserves for bats, but the four miles of countryside between them is equally important so they can exploit additional food sources and meet other colonies.

The Sussex Wildlife Trust has seen the benefits of this landscape approach to nature conservation during the Butcherlands Project. This large area of ex-arable land has been left to develop using natural processes and conservation grazing. The result is a mosaic of grassland, scrub and some young trees full of invertebrates on which Barbastelles from the nearby Ebernoe Common are foraging. The crop fields there previously would not have provided as many invertebrates and would not have supported foraging bats as they do now.

These days, bat detectors are relatively inexpensive and easy to use, so pick one up, head outside just after sunset in a local park or woodland and dial in to the usually inaudible buzzes, clicks and whistles; if you’re lucky and you live in the right area, you may even hear the extra-terrestrial vocalisations of the rare Greater Horseshoe Bat, reminiscent of the 1970s kids TV show The Clangers.


  • Simon Mathews:

    28 Jul 2020 21:16:00

    Just seen Pipistrelles in Queen’s Park and also a larger bat which we couldn’t identify. It seemed to be flying too high for a Daubenton but was on the same frequency 45hz as the Pipistrelles. We wondered if people know what they are?

    It’s tricky without a recording. In the city, the most common bats are likely to be pipistrelles and Noctules. A big bat with a fairly similar frequency to pipistrelles could be a Serotine but this is more like 35Hz. That would be my guess though because Noctule frequency is between 18-25Hz, nowhere near pipistrelles. Glenn
  • Paul Hitchcock:

    31 Jul 2020 11:43:00

    Interesting article. Thank you.
    We are on the edge of Eastbourne where the town meets the Downs. We have at least two species of bat in the garden most evenings. Is there a way of making a definitive identification simply by sight? Currently I can only split them into ‘small’ and ‘much bigger than I have ever seen elsewhere’ which I assume is a Noctule.

  • Anne grainger:

    31 Jul 2020 12:05:00

    A bat flew in thru the French doors went around the sitting room, pooped, and flew out. They are doing building at the bull pub goring by sea (opposite the house) perhaps the bat was disturbed. It was becoming dusk.

  • Jill Sutcliffe:

    31 Jul 2020 12:17:00

    What about the SDNP bat protocol – when will that cease being a draft?

  • Anne Gordon-Johnson:

    31 Jul 2020 12:32:00

    Have pipistrelle in garden most evenings, they have been
    around for last thirty years on and off

  • Candy Vaughan:

    31 Jul 2020 12:45:00

    I have bats that fly out the back of my maisonnett. They are amazing to watch as they dart here and there. They miss each other by millimetres. Had bats and a Hedgehog out in the dusk, first time I have seen a hedgehog in years. I am in Eastbourne, East Sussex.

  • Lynn Carter:

    31 Jul 2020 13:15:00

    Hi , have been seeing bats in our garden at dusk , but unable to see what they are, they are not tiny but about 3-4 inches across
    Postcode is TN342DY

  • Kate:

    31 Jul 2020 13:26:00

    I’ve had to bats in my house one big one this year & a small one last year Lots flying over my garden

  • Caoimhe:

    31 Jul 2020 14:54:00

    We see bats flitting in front of our house in Eastbourne, but they’re too fast to get a good look at, even when they do a flyby close to the window. Think they must be roosting in trees around Sevenoaks Park and West Rise marshlands. Such a treat to watch of an evening!

  • JIva Masheder:

    31 Jul 2020 15:01:00

    yes, we’ve enjoyed watching the bats at Queens Park in Brighton and at my allotment near Fiveways – thanks for letting me know the ID.

  • Lorna Fraser:

    31 Jul 2020 15:01:00

    We have had a bat box with bats for many years on our garage gable. This year it fell down with no sign of bats. Over the last couple of weeks I have seen about a dozen bats flying around the garage gable and have discovered that they are living in the roof space accessed by a slipped tile. You can hear during the day a very quiet muttering. So pleased they haven’t gone away.

  • Joanne Burton:

    31 Jul 2020 20:44:00

    We have bats in flying round our garden in Tangmere Chichester, probably because we are near the old village and church, they have been here the last twenty years, however in very worried that the doubling in size our village is going to get with many meadows and fields being built on will take away the insects that the wildlife feed on, can anyone help?

  • Mary:

    01 Aug 2020 07:01:00

    There is a small man-made cave in Mill Lane, Uckfield, into which rubbish has been thrown for many years – leaves, branches and litter. However, my oldest Son has always said that bats live in the back of said cave. Is there anyone able to check it out and confirm that bats are in there, please? My concern is, that the rubbish may cause temperature fluctuations as it decays and disturb the roost.

  • Moira Senior:

    01 Aug 2020 08:11:00

    We have a bat/bats visit every evening around dusk. It/they swoop to and fro across our front room window obvious;y feeding on all the small insects that hover over the border It is too fast to see what it is unfortuately. we only ever catch a glimpse of one at a time as it is throught the window. It is hard to tell the size

  • heather cullum:

    01 Aug 2020 10:32:00

    Have seen many bats recently, I am glad to say.
    Unfortunately, not close enough to them, to identify which type, may be pipistrelle?
    Bought a bat box about a year ago, not sure of the best position for it.

  • Anne grainger:

    02 Aug 2020 16:27:00

    A bat flew in thru the French doors went around the sitting room, pooped, and flew out. They are doing building at the bull pub goring by sea (opposite the house) perhaps the bat was disturbed. It was becoming dusk.

  • Andy P:

    05 Aug 2020 06:03:00

    I saw a bat flying around in Lewes town centre then land on the tiled side of a house and crawl into a hidey hole. Time for a nap!

  • David:

    05 Aug 2020 16:35:00

    We all love seeing bats and love knowing they are around. However, the conservation process is inadvertently favouring revenue over the preservation of their habitats and the bats themselves.

    I have just abandoned trying to get planning permission for a replacement wooden garage, because of the open ended nature of the cost of bat surveys, licences and inspections. It costs the same for a development of 50 houses as it does for a single replacement garage costing 15k, so spending another 7k to comply with the rules etc just makes people tempted to take the law into their own hands, not what anyone who cares about conservation wants.

    A balanced, realistic approach is needed. The planning process is doing more harm than good, and those fighting to help the species should recognise that a practical mechanism to help small householders make a positive contribution would do far more good in the long run..

    Answer from Sussex Wildlife Trust: There is an advisory service provided by the Bat Conservation Trust on behalf of Natural England, which is freely available to anyone needing information or advice (the National Bat Helpline: 0345 1300 228). In many cases, for work that doesn’t require planning permission - which covers the majority of scenarios a typical small householder would encounter - detailed advice and even site visits are provided by licensed volunteers, completely free of charge. If planning permission is required, the applicant will need to employ an ecological consultant to carry out a survey, write a method statement and apply for a licence if necessary. This work will carry a cost, because you are paying a professional for a service, but it should not be open-ended and in many cases the bat licence itself (if required) is free of charge. The regulations that apply to bats and their roosts exist to protect them, and regulatory bodies do not profit from them. Anyone tempted to take the law into their own hands may face an unlimited fine and up to 6 months in prison.
  • Kirstin Bosley:

    05 Aug 2020 21:52:00

    I’m lucky to have a common pippistrelle which flies around our house in Midhurst, we are close to Ebernoe Common and have visited there many times for butterflies and bat watching. I was bought a bat detector many birthdays ago and love listening to the high pitch clicks and raspberry noises when the bats eat something.

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