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Bats' south Devon flight paths tracked
By Jemima Laing
BBC Devon

Bat flyway map: Natural England
Map showing the bats' flyways in south Devon

A year-long project in Devon has shed light on just what the Greater Horseshoe bat gets up to in the county.

Numbers of the bat have declined significantly throughout northern Europe in the past 100 years.

And a large proportion of the remaining population is found in south Devon and south east Dartmoor.

So Natural England wanted to know the key flight paths or "flyways" the creatures took across south Devon to better protect them.

Bat facts
The Greater Horseshoe Bat is the largest of the European Horseshoe Bats
It has the oldest recorded age for any European bat, with a bat living for over 30 years
The bats hibernate from October to May

A species recovery programme led by Natural England has stabilised Greater horseshoe bat numbers in the county.

This has been achieved mainly through its Environmental Stewardship scheme where advice and grants are offered to land managers to maintain and enhance Greater horseshoe bat habitat.

Over the course of a year this new study used local roost and radio tracking data to map the main routes taken by the bats which linked various locations where the bats roost and forage for food.

The research identified foraging areas around key bat roosts.

It also highlighted the impact on bats of things like the removal of linear features used for navigation, illumination, physical injury by wind turbine, and change in habitat structure and composition.

Greater Horseshoe Bat. Picture Natural England
The bats emerge from their roost just after sunset

This meant guidance could be produced for local planning authorities in the area.

Horseshoe bats have a horseshoe-shaped fleshy structure called a nose-leaf surrounding the nose, which amplifies the ultrasonic calls that the bat emits when searching for food.

They emerge from their roost just after sunset to hunt for food and using echolocation, they hunt insects such as beetles, moths and flies.

That is why is it key to know the paths they take to find their food.

Julien Sclater from Natural England in south Devon said: "The foraging and feeding habitat of the bat is closely associated with the traditional landscape of south Devon.

"Retaining the patchwork of permanent and unimproved cattle grazed pasture, woodlands, scrub, tall hedgerows, ancient lanes, and vegetated watercourses will ensure that this flagship species continues to be identified with the farmland of south Devon."

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