VWT’s Natur am Byth! Barbastelle Conservation Project — September 2023 to September 2027
We’re delighted to be a partner in Natur am Byth! – Wales’s new flagship Green Recovery project. Thanks to the players of The National Lottery, the partnership has been awarded more than £4.1m from The National Lottery Heritage Fund to deliver the country’s largest-ever natural heritage and outreach programme to save species from extinction and reconnect people to nature.
VWT is championing the secretive barbastelle — Ystlum du — Barbastella barbastellus, which has only been recorded in a few isolated colonies in Pembrokeshire.
The barbastelle’s favoured habitat is old-growth forests with lots of oak and beech trees. They roost under flaking bark and in cracks and splits often found in older trees that have been damaged or left to decay. Modern forestry practices tend to remove these trees due to health and safety concerns and lack of commercial value, which means there are fewer suitable roost sites for this woodland specialist.
Cluster of barbastelles roosting in yew tree ©Daniel Hargreaves
Barbastelles can travel up to 20 km each night to forage across parkland, meadows and woodlands, and they rely heavily on connected landscapes, such as continuous woodland and hedgerows, for navigation and for safety.
The barbastelle in Wales
Thanks to Sam Dyer’s recent article in British Island Bats, we have a great summary that shows a spread of acoustic records across Wales but no ‘in-the-hand’ records or signs of breeding other than in small isolated colonies in Pembrokeshire and some evidence in southeast Wales from Stephen Davison.
Currently, there is only one Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for barbastelles in Wales, which is Pengelli Forest and Pant-teg Wood SSSI in north Pembrokeshire.
Minwear Woods is one of Pembrokeshire’s few known barbastelle roost sites, situated in a large network of mature woodlands connected by the Cleddau river ©Cathy Jewson
VWT’s Barbastelle Conservation Project — raising the profile of barbastelle amongst the wider community and increasing opportunities for the public to engage
The project aims to achieve a number of outcomes for both the barbastelle and for local communities in Pembrokeshire, but the overall aim is to increase the distribution of barbastelles throughout Pembrokeshire and ultimately spreading across Wales through community action and partnerships with local landowners and with wildlife organisations.
Through these connections, we will conduct passive acoustic monitoring surveys to identify important maternity colonies. We will follow the survey methodology pioneered during Kieran O’Malley’s recent PhD. The data will locate hotspots of activity but also demonstrate where barbastelles are absent, highlighting key areas where we can focus practical conservation work to improve the habitat and landscape connectivity. We will work with volunteers and community groups to create and install bat boxes designed to resemble splits and crevices in trees, which are the favoured roosting features for barbastelles.
Barbastelle Conservation Officer
Cathy Jewson joined VWT in December 2023 as the project’s Barbastelle Conservation Officer. Cathy will collaborate with partners and landowners and recruit volunteers to carry out practical work and set up training for widescale acoustic monitoring to identify more barbastelle colonies.
Although this is just a four-year project, VWT sees this as a trial in preparation for a wider-scale and long-term Barbastelle Monitoring Programme, as well as a way of developing effective management plans for the species that can be shared.
If you would like to be involved, please contact Cathy Jewson at firstname.lastname@example.org
Barbastelle photos: Barbastelle in flight and roosting ©Daniel Hargreaves