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Last Updated: Monday August 14 2006 14:23 GMT

Rare bats roost in Roman villa

A lesser horseshoe bat hibernating

A rare type of bat has made a special home - in an historic Roman site in Gloucestershire!

The National Trust put in a special bat flap to attract the lesser horseshoe bats, whose numbers are dying out.

The tiny bats have now made a colony in the visitor's centre at Chedworth Roman Villa, alongside the more common pipistrelle and whiskered bats.

The project is part of a wider range of National Trust initiatives to help UK bats flourish.

The success of the new summer roost, in the roof of the visitor centre, is thought to be partly due to the specially created bat flap that the trust installed.

Lesser horseshoe bats
They have a horseshoe-shaped fleshy structure around the nose, which helps them when searching for food
They feed on mosquitoes, gnats, craneflies, moths, beetles and spiders
They are about 3.5cm long, with a wingspan up to 25cm
The maximum recorded age was 21 years

This is a covered hole in the side of the building, designed specifically to cater for lesser horseshoe bats, which prefer to fly straight into its roost, unlike other bats which land on the outer wall and crawl in through a narrow gap.

Lesser horseshoes bats used to be found throughout southern England and Wales, but now there's only about 14,000 left, mainly in the south west.

Survival struggle

The species' decline is thought to be down to a shortage of food and disturbances of their colonies.

David Bullock, head of nature conservation at the National Trust and a trained bat-handler said: "Without this sort of initiative, the numbers of lesser horseshoe bats will continue to decline as they struggle to find suitable roosts and habitats."