Bats in the Belfry: Bats in fact and fiction

Long-Eared and Daubenton's Bats, 1892The bats have left the bell tower
The victims have been bled
Red velvet lines the black box

Bela Lugosi’s dead…

Bauhaus‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ (1979)

Well, I’m afraid I’ve got some news for you, Bauhaus. The bats are unlikely to have left the bell tower, no matter which classic cult horror movie legend has just passed into the great beyond, because bats don’t often tend to roost in belfries. According to the Bat Conservation Trust (pdf), bats do roost in churches – it’s just they seem to find bell towers far too noisy, dusty and draughty for their purposes (and who can blame them). Sorry to ruin the illusion!

Honestly, it’s true, bats really aren’t as scary as all that, despite the continued attempts of Halloween tradition to try and convince us otherwise. I’m very fond of the little critters (they’re seriously cute – no, they really are!), and I find their lives fascinating. Which is why, this Halloween, I’ll be looking at bats in much more detail, and trying to separate the facts from the fiction.

The basic bat facts are these. Bats are the only true flying mammals. Rather weirdly, their wings are similar in structure to the bones in a human hand. Most bats eat insects, navigating and finding their prey in the dark using echolocation, which works in a similar way to sonar. Bats are found the world over, and make up about 20% of all mammals across the globe (over a quarter here in the UK).

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Urban Wildlife: Bat Facts

Recently, I’ve been spending a fair bit of time at the Kew Bridge Eco-Village in west London. This fascinating project aims to create a sustainable community garden on an acre or so of derelict urban land which has been the subject of a now decades-old planning wrangle between the prospective developer, local residents and the borough council.

Sitting empty, unused and unloved on the banks of the Thames for almost two decades, the site was soon taken over by Mother Nature, and the eco-village is now home to an amazing array of wildlife, including bees, butterflies, ladybirds, foxes, a rare type of biting spider (!), as well as several neighbourhood cats who have obviously viewed the site as their very own private feline fiefdom for almost as long as it has been derelict.

I first visited the eco-village back in the summer, when the whole area was covered in the familiar pink of patches of rosebay willow-herb and the vivid purples of newly-seeded buddliea bushes, as well as any number of other, more curious and less common plants and herbs – all of which attract wildlife of all kinds, even on such a resolutely urban patch of land as this.

However, despite the fact that they are becoming more and more common in urban areas, and that the eco-village provides an ideal habitat for them, there is one species I have yet to see there – bats.

Everyone has their favourite animals, and bats are definitely one of mine. Not only are they remarkably cute little creatures (they are, honestly!), but they also play a crucial part in the maintainance of a green and healthy environment, which makes them doubly cool in my eyes. They really are extraordinary – and extraordinarily important – animals.

So here are a few fascinating Bat Facts to explain precisely why that is…

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