Reconnecting Wild Sussex – Bats in the Landscape

There's more to bats than meets the eye

The dense woods, patchwork of fields and scattered parkland trees of the West Sussex Downs are a stronghold for some of Britain’s rarest bats. For many years we’ve been monitoring bats and managing habitats around our places at Slindon, Woolbeding Countryside, Black Down, Petworth and Uppark.

Now our ambitious plans have been thrown a lifeline thanks to a generous award of £100k made to the National Trust by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

A group of brown long-eared bats hang upside-down in a loft
Group of Brown long-eared bats (Plecotus auritus) in loft space
A group of brown long-eared bats hang upside-down in a loft

National Trust South Downs Ranger, Fiona Scully, said: “There is so much we still don’t know about these elusive and fascinating creatures. The support of People’s Postcode Lottery will enable us to continue our research and improve habitats across for the South Downs to make them even more attractive to bats.”  Bats feast in woodlands and pasture but also need water. Woodland edge ponds are particularly key areas. Bats feast over rivers and ponds, at dawn and dusk, on the insects emerging from the waters. So this year new ponds are being created and existing ones restored and improved.

The Rotunda at Petworth
Rotunda at Petworth
The Rotunda at Petworth

We’re removing invasive plants from our woodlands too, like purple flowering rhododendron, as they prevent our native plants and insects from flourishing, which the bats feed on.  In the coming years we’ll be creating more grazed wood pasture - one of our rarest habitats, which is ideal for bats. Grazing with cattle is one of the best ways to preserve wood pasture and even the cattle dung is an essential part of the lifecycle for some of the insects on which bats depend. 

Belted galloways grazing
Heathland in bloom on Black Down with grazing belted galloway cows
Belted galloways grazing

Bats roost in mature trees so we’re giving the very best care to our veterans trees, plus identifying the next generation by creating glades around those veterans of the future. Removing conifers helps too, as it ensures that we have more open, leafy, native woodlands for the future, essential to enable bats to feed and roost.

Veteran trees are easily identified by their gnarled and twisted trunks
A veteran tree
Veteran trees are easily identified by their gnarled and twisted trunks

Join in one of our community events near you, or take part in walks, talks and events in the West Sussex Downs where you can make a bat box for roosting. We’d love to welcome you to get involved build on the incredible amount of volunteer hours that have already been committed to the project on activities including night-time bat monitoring. Surveys are an essential part of this work so we can monitor the success of practical habitat management work we are doing in so many ways.

Together we want to build the best future for bats and habitats they depend on.  Find out more about the project here.