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Page last updated at 15:07 GMT, Tuesday, 9 February 2010
Survey finds top dining areas for bats in east Devon
By Laura Joint
BBC Devon

A greater horseshoe bat
Greater horseshoe bats love hedgerows

A study into the behaviour of rare bats in east Devon has discovered their favourite places to 'dine'.

The number of greater horseshoe bats has declined by 90% in the UK in the past century and in England can only now be found in the South West.

East Devon is one of their remaining strongholds and conservationists are keen to find out about their habits so more can be done to help them.

In the summer of 2009, 12 bats were tracked and their movements watched.

Using radio tracking, the bats were found to leave their roosts in the valleys at Branscombe and travel some distance to get their food.

In one case, a male bat flew to Sidmouth and back - some nine miles.

Branscombe valley
The valleys around Branscombe which the bats love

The survey is a project by the East Devon Area of Natural Beauty (AONB) partnership.

Already as a result of the findings, improvements have been made to the hedgerows along the bats' flight routes.

"The population of greater horseshoe bats is concentrated in the South West and they are one of the rarest bats in the country," said project officer Pete Youngman.

"So they need all the care and attention they can get. If we can do anything to improve their lot so they can increase their numbers, then that would be great."

The bats were tracked during May and June 2009, when the females were likely to be pregnant. As a result, the study found they were travelling short distances to find food.

Radio tracking  a bat
The bats were surveyed using radio tracking

The males, however, travelled much further: "That could be because they allowed the females to feed on the nearest places as their need was greater," said Pete.

"They eat insects - moths, beetles and flies. The best feeding ground is on the edges of woodland and along hedgerows beside fields where there are animals such as cattle.

"When the male travelled all the way to Sidmouth and back, this would not have been as the crow flies because his route would have been along the hedgerows. That's quite some distance.

"And some of the insects they eat take a bit of chasing, too.

"From what we have learnt, we are able to improve their corridor for travel by enhancing the habitat, with the help of the landowners."

Another unexpected discovery is that the bats appear to have social gatherings: "We know these greater horseshoe bats hibernate at Beer Quarry Caves during the winter," said Pete.

"But we found they were spending time there in May and June as well and we think this is likely to be a social activity."

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