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Wild About Gardens

This year the Wild About Gardens Week, supported by The Wildlife Trusts, The Royal Horticultural Society and the Bat Conservation Trust, runs from 24th to 30th October 2016. During this week, those organisations are seeking to promote a better understanding of bats and what we can do to support and sustain them especially with our planting and gardening maintenance.

What do we do to help?

Our Gilbert White Field Studies Centre has done an excellent job over the past year to promote a better understanding of bats; during sleepover and Summer holiday events and with bat walks in the garden, ably supported by the Hampshire Bat Group. But such events depend upon the garden and habitat, of course. Thanks to the diligent and careful approach taken by the gardeners, our garden and park is already well placed to maintain some of the habitat that Gilbert White found so fruitful and interesting.

There are several references to bats throughout the Natural History of Selborne and the other journals of Gilbert White. Perhaps the best known, and first published, reference to bats in the Natural History was in his letter of September 9, 1767 when he wrote of his entertainment by a “tame bat” seemingly fed flies by hand. What appears clear is how well his knowledge seemed to improve over the twenty years or so of his studies. It is a tribute to his incredible observation skills and field craft that he was able eventually to observe so accurate a record on several bat species.

For example, within four years of his first published record he was able to differentiate species, and is credited as describing the Noctule bat (“the large bat”) for the first time. For him this bat distinguished itself from other bats as it “flies strongly and vigorously and very high”, a distinguishing flight pattern and habit recognised today. By his letter in September 1771, he had clearly captured one for closer examination! Fortunately, field craft and technology allowed us this year to observe the Noctule bats unobtrusively in and above the garden and hanger with bat detectors.

We are just about past the time when bats would have been feeding and preparing for Winter and as temperatures drop they are likely to spend more time torpid, ahead of full hibernation. Gilbert White seemed well aware of the impact of temperature on their activity and of their hibernation. In April 29, 1784, “Bats out for the first time, I think, this Spring: they hunt, & take phalaenae (moths) along the sides of the hedges.” and “The little bat (probably pipistrelle) appears almost every month in the year; but I have never seen the large ones till the end of April, nor after July”. Building on this in December 6, 1787 and then again November 3, 1789, he observed that bats appear “at all seasons through the autumn and spring months, when the Thermomr is at 50, because then phalaenae & moths are stirring.”

I have found that the area around the Six Quarters and in the hedges around Cutting Beds field are especially good locations to listen and watch for Common Pipistrelle bats at dusk and consequently have some interesting recordings of “feeding buzzes” taken from the sonograms of echolocations of bats in this location .

wild about gardens

This is presumably what Gilbert White might have been watching. I also have some interesting pictures of Common Pipistrelles echolocating as they return to their roost in the Field Studies Centre at dawn .

wild about gardens

I suspect that Gilbert White would have wholeheartedly supported Gardening for Wildlife and the Wild About Gardens Week. Why not come along, or encourage your children and grand-children to come along, to the garden and park or next Bat Walk or Event and see first hand how the garden supports such diversity and conservation?

Today’s blog is from Guest Blogger Chris Piper, who volunteers at the Museum.

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