Discovering bats at Drovers Estate

The Drovers Estate in Summer

The National Trust Woolbeding Countryside team are proud to look after The Drover’s Estate, which, with it’s mix of woodland, pasture, hedgerows, scrub and old buildings provides a great habitat for bats.

Extraordinary mammals

Protecting the bats at Ashleworth Tithe Barn
Bats at Ashleworth Tithe Barn
Protecting the bats at Ashleworth Tithe Barn


Bats really are extraordinary mammals and they are the only mammals which have evolved to fly.  They are nocturnal and have developed an incredible navigation system called echolocation. It is a common misconception that bats are blind, this is not true however at night they rely on their ears rather than their eyes.  By emitting high frequency calls and then listening to the echo bouncing back from anything around them, they create a sound picture of their surroundings.   Echolocation gives the bats information about anything ahead of them, including the size and shape of an insect and the direction it’s travelling.  This enables them to hunt and catch prey in the darkness of night.  

Our native bats

Noctule bat
Notcule bat
Noctule bat

There are over 1300 species of bat in the world.  Within Europe there are 45 species and in the UK there are 17 breeding species of bat.  Bats native to the UK only eat insects and can devour vast numbers of midges, flies, beetles and moths in one evening.  The UK’s smallest bat is the pipistrelle bat, which weighs just 5 grams, the same as a 20 pence piece.  Our largest bat is the noctule bat, which although still small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, when flying its wingspan can be over 40cm.  

Roosting

The common pipistrelle bat
The common pipistrelle bat
The common pipistrelle bat

Bats don’t make nests but live in roosts.  Some prefer hollow trees, some caves or tunnels and many use buildings utilising tiles or roof spaces to shelter in.  Bats need different roosting conditions in summer and winter and will choose different sites.  For several weeks in summer female bats choose a warm, undisturbed place for a maternity roost.

Bats hang upside down when they are sleeping or resting.  It’s quite a skill to hang from your feet without the blood rushing to your head.  They do this as, unlike birds they can’t take off from the ground easily and being upside down gives them a better position to take off for flight.  It is also a great way to hide and keep away from predators during the day.  

What makes Drover’s Estate a great habitat for bats?

The old railway line is used over winter as a hibernaculum for bats
The old railway line
The old railway line is used over winter as a hibernaculum for bats

Bats look for places with lots of insects to hunt and use woodland edges, hedgerows and rivers as corridors.  Trees and mature, overgrown hedgerows with grassland can provide good hunting for bats.  As West Sussex is one of the most wooded areas in the country, the number of bat species here is particularly high and here at Drover’s estate, the mix of woodland, pasture, hedgerows, scrub and old buildings provides a great habitat for them.  The trees provide roosting sites with large hedgerows and rough grass ideal for them to move around and find food.   

Conservation and Protection

Natterer's bat
Natterer's bat
Natterer's bat

All bat species and their roosts are protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, now updated by the Natural Habitats Regulations 2007.  This protection is due to their significant decline over the past decades from loss of roosting sites, less abundance of insects and foraging habitat and a decrease in wildlife corridors such as hedgerows.  Bats have become more reliant on buildings and gardens but here they are more likely to be predated by cats.

But there is good news.  There has been an increase in bat numbers following legal protection and restoration and connection of their countryside habitats.

For more information on bats see the Bat Conservation Trust website