Bats in the New Forest

A Bechstein's bat on a tree trunk

The New Forest is a stronghold for bats, with 16 out of the 17 UK species setting up home here. Our five Forest commons are actively managed for wildlife, including bats like the common pipistrelle and rare Bechstein’s and barbastelle varieties. Early autumn is a great time to experience these rather elusive mammals, on a dusk stroll.

These fascinating animals are the only type of mammal that can truly fly, using their webbed hands as wings. The Latin family name ‘Chiroptera’ means hand-wing.

Bats appear during the evening and at night, and use echolocation to help them navigate and hunt in low light. Bats make high-frequency sounds, and the echoes bounce back, enabling them to work out the size of objects, their location, how fast they are travelling and even their texture. Some bats can locate their prey up to 30 metres away.

A winged bat flies through the dark night sky

In the New Forest we survey for bat species by monitoring the frequency of the echolocation sounds. Each bat species produces a different frequency or pattern of sound which we can then use to record the species.

Bats feed on insects, with smaller species such as pipistrelles eating over 1,000 gnats. Larger species like the noctule feed on bigger insects such as moths.

During the winter, while insect populations are low, bats hibernate in cool, moist places, like tunnels. In the summer they require warm, dry roosts to raise their young, such as tree rot holes in woodland.

This is why, where possible, we retain standing dead trees as they make perfect roosting habitat for bats, and also a home for the many insects they eat.

Set off on a bat walk in Knole Park
Set off on a bat walk in Knole Park, Kent.

In Foxbury we are creating 50 hectares of natuive broadleafed woodland for wildlife. This includes planting 22,000 trees, which in the long term will provide the standing dead wood habitats for roosts, and woodland rides that bats can use for hunting insects.

Current surveys have shown that Hale Purlieu is a great site for bats, with 8 species recorded so far, including the rare barbastelle.