How to Attract Bats to your Garden
Bats in Britain are sadly in decline, due to loss of habitat and food. But you can help by planting the right flowers in your garden to attract insects and moths and providing roosting. Simon King talks you through the best Bat Boxes to buy, and how and where to put them up.
The more we can do for bats in Britain, the more we can stem their current decline. According to the Bat Conservation Trust, our populations of bat species in the UK have declined considerably over the last century. Their principal threat is loss of habitat, but also food. As Simon himself says, “Bats in the UK have really suffered enormously due to habitat loss both from the point of view of where they roost and also from the point of view of their food stuffs. They are all insectivorous species – they eat bugs – and therefore if bugs are on a low ebb, bats are suffering too.”
In the UK, you are most likely to spot a common pipistrelle bat, although we do actually have 18 species of bat in total living here. The pipistrelle weighs just five grams and can eat thousands of insects in just one night. For this reason, bats are known as biodiversity indicators. That means if we have a good population of bats then this indicates we have a rich healthy insect-filled environment around us. Which is what we need!
What do bats eat?
Bats are nocturnal and love to eat bugs! So their staple diet is made up of insects which we find flying around at night time.
- They eat moths
- flies, mayflies and lacewings
- and some beetles.
That’s why it’s great to choose flowering plants for your garden which are night-scented, meaning they give off an attractive smell after dark. Thereby encouraging insects and, in turn, bats into your garden. Flowers including jasmine, honeysuckle, evening primrose and sweet rocket are excellent for this. They all encourage moths which are such an important food source for many species of bat. You can also plant our wildflower seeds, or start a compost heap or a garden pond, as these are also perfect for attracting the types of insects which bats love to eat. Ponds and compost heaps are, of course, excellent water and habitat sources for lots of other wildlife in your garden. See our Native Wildflower Seeds for bats.
But aren’t bats blind?
All of our bats in the UK are insectivorous and so their success is tied to the availability of bugs. They catch these insects using echolocation. Emitting an extremely loud ultrasonic click and picking up the echo bouncing off an object. They use the speed at which the sound returns in order to know what’s in front of them and how big it is. This gives them information like whether it’s safe to keep flying or whether there’s food right in front of them. But contrary to popular thought, they don’t use echolocation because they are blind. Bats can in fact see but, as they are night flying mammals, then they use echolocation to ‘see’ the world around them in the dark.
Do bats hibernate?
Bats in the UK do hibernate. Hibernation is a state of torpor, or an extended period of deep sleep where a bat’s body temperature lowers and its metabolic rate slows. In preparation, they will spend the autumn building up fat stores and then seek out a cool but relatively humid sheltered spot in which to spend the winter. Caves are obviously the most stereotypical location. But a hollow in an old tree is also an excellent place, or in our loft space and between the tiles of a roof. They will emerge from hibernation in March and April, depending on the weather.
Where do bats live?
During the day, bats look for somewhere dark and preferably warm to hang! Bats will change this roosting site through the year. They don’t ‘build’ a roost, like a bird will build a nest, but instead use an already available structure – either in a tree, a building or underground. In fact many will roost in a bat box, and you can help by providing one in your garden. A Bat Hanging Rack also offers a comfortable hanging space for bats during the day.
Why do bats hang upside down?
Have you ever thought about the fact that bats like to hang upside down. It sounds like a very uncomfortable lifestyle choice, but in fact many species of bats hang upside down because it takes very little effort for them to grip onto a wall or tree, and it means they are in a prime position to quickly take off in flight.
How to put up a bat box?
Let’s talk about how to choose the right bat box and where to put it.
- On a wall or a tree
- At least 2 metres above the ground
- South facing or somewhere relatively warm
Our Original Bat Box is double chambered offering a higher capacity for bats. Again it’s best to fit this on a garden or woodland tree or fence or onto your house wall, nice and high – up to around 5 metres. You could spend a few evenings beforehand in your garden noting whether you can see an existing feeding or flight route as you will be more likely to get occupation if you can see a lot of bats around already.
Once your bat box is up, if you are lucky enough to have visitors, then you will need a licence to inspect or disturb the bats, but you can still monitor the box from the ground. How do you know if you’ve got bats in your bat box? Well, you can look underneath or on the slats for evidence of bat droppings, they’re about the size of mice droppings. Or, keep an eye out at dusk to see if they’re flying out. You could even invest in a bat detector to listen out for the ultrasonic sounds of a bat call which we can’t normally hear with the human ear.
For more information on looking after bats head over to the Bat Conservation Trust.