UK’s largest hibernation of pipistrelle bats discovered at Seaton Delaval Hall
Seaton Delaval Hall, the former flamboyant ‘party’ house of the theatrical Delaval family has a new resident colony – the UK’s largest winter roost of common pipistrelle bats.
While the bats are a frequent sight in and around the hall and in the grounds, the size of the roost remained a mystery until the results of a recent survey revealed previously unknown information about the bats’ hibernation habits.
Sixty-one pipistrelle bats were recorded in stone crevices and in the arches of a balcony at the hall earlier this year.
Significantly, the discovery also turns on its head ecologist’s long held belief that the pipistrelle prefers to hibernate in very dark, damp conditions, with these bats found hanging out in a dry, arid, relatively well-lit area of this grand baroque building.
The discovery follows a £3.7million award from the National Lottery to repair, conserve and bring new life to Seaton Delaval Hall for visitors and the community.
We commissioned bat ecologist Tina Wiffen to carry out a survey ahead of planned work to introduce new art and visitor information installations into the Central Hall of the building.
" At least 61 bats were counted in early March but it’s likely that even more bats are here, hidden in deeper crevices, making Seaton Delaval Hall one of the few known hibernation sites of what could be hundreds of bats. We would never have thought to look in these conditions. That says to me that we’ve been looking in the wrong places. "
Bats have made their home at Seaton Delaval for hundreds of years. It is widely thought that bats first came to roost at the Hall after it was ravaged by fire in 1822 and left exposed to the elements for around 40 years before being reroofed in the latter half the century, making the space warmer and drier, but with the bats still able to gain access through the crevices in the stonework.
The discovery of the bats will now play a major part in plans for the Hall. Little is planned for the Central Hall and now we’ve discovered the bats winter hibernation roost, any necessary work will be carried out in the warmer months when the bats are active.
Seaton Delaval Hall’s General Manager Emma Thomas said: “We’ve been caring for the bats at Seaton Delaval Hall for a long time and they’re as much a part of the Hall’s history and character as the Delaval family.
“They’re a big hit with visitors who are really interested in their story and it is wonderful to see the excitement when people are lucky enough to catch a rare glimpse of a pipistrelle darting about the Hall and grounds.
" We’ll continue to work with experts to understand where they roost and feed. The more we know about the bat’s behaviour the more we can do to protect them and make sure they remain undisturbed. As a conservation charity we welcome nature moving in where it chooses, and we regularly adapt our work to give wildlife the space it needs. "