The Nathusius Pipistrelle has been known to migrate across mainland Europe for many years, however their movements into and out of the British Isles has been little known. As with all wildlife, the Nathusius pipistrelle faces a variety of threats, however owing to the migratory habits of this species, they are particularly vulnerable to the effects of wind turbines. In turn, information regarding their migration routes is vital in order to understand and limit the impacts.
The National Nathusius Pipistrelle Project (NNPP) began in 2014 in order to determine the resident and breeding status of the Nathusius’ Pipistrelle bat as well as the migratory origins of the species in Great Britain. The project involves bat groups and individuals identifying hotspots for Nathusius Pipistrelle activity through acoustic data (and known habitat preferences) to undertake trapping under a specific project licence (issued by Natural England as bats are a protected species) in order to capture Nathusius Pipistrelle. Information regarding the sex, breeding status and a variety of biometric features are collected and a small metal ring is placed around the bats forearm in order to identify the individual.
Nathusius Pipistrelle showing numbered ring (photograph by Sally-Ann Hurry)
We began trapping at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve in 2015 as the reserve supports a variety of large water bodies and being in a coastal location, these habitat features were known to be of importance to Nathusius Pipistrelle. Acoustic data over many years in the local area had also confirmed the presence of the species within the locality. Water bodies are particularly important for this species during the migration period as they provide a reliable source of insect prey for them to feed upon and provide the necessary energy.
Equipment used under licence to carry out the project at the reserve
We have continued to trap each year at the reserve, focusing upon the autumn period when the Nathusius Pipistrelle migrates into the British Isles (however acoustic data from the reserve has shown presence of the species throughout much of the year). Since 2015, we have captured 136 (with 5 recaptures of individuals previously captured at the reserve).
In autumn 2015 we recaptured the first European ringed bat in the UK, a young male Nathusius Pipistrelle had flown (at least) 1,453km from Latvia to the UK where we captured it at the reserve, 50 days after it left Latvia. In autumn 2016, we recaptured an adult female Nathusius Pipistrelle 1.5hrs after having been released (following capture) by a team in Kent at Dungeness, confirming a coastal flight path. Following this, a female Nathusius Pipistrelle ringed at the reserve in 2015 was discovered in 2018 in Belgium, this was the first UK ringed female bat to be confirmed as having crossed The English Channel.
Nathusius Pipistrelle movements revealed by ringing.
Nine long distant migratory records for the species have now occurred across the UK, with the species migration patterns being confirmed to be northeast to southwest during the autumn. In 2019, a Nathusius Pipistrelle ringed in Northumberland was found in Poland, further confirming the migration of the species both into and out of the British Isles and all by a small bat which weighs between 6 and 15g!
Every couple of years, bat workers from across the UK head to Kent and East Sussex for a weekend of trapping during the likely peak migration period. The reserve has been included in these events each autumn and we are very grateful to those who have joined us over the years and supported us with the use of the necessary specialist equipment.
The reserve is an important location for the Nathusius Pipistrelle (and other bat species), providing a vital and reliable food source to support this species on their migration. In addition to catching Nathusius Pipistrelle, we have also confirmed the presence of a further 8 bat species, including the brown long-eared which had not been previously recorded at the reserve.
The project is ongoing and upon the hopeful issue of the renewed licence for 2020, the reserve will continue to be a focus, particularly in the spring and autumn periods as we hope to discover more about the species spring migration patterns.
Further information regarding the National project can be found on the Bat Conservation Trust website: https://www.bats.org.uk/our-work/national-bat-monitoring-programme/surveys/national-nathusius-pipistrelle-survey or alternatively, a podcast was produced at the reserve during 2019 and can be found under a search for Batchat (episode 4) https://www.bats.org.uk/resources/batchat-the-bat-conservation-trust-podcast
Blog written by Sally-Ann Hurry, Bat Ecologist