What is the Lesser Horseshoe Bat Conservation Project?
The Lesser Horseshoe Bat Conservation is an EIP (European Innovation Partnership) project being administered by Mulcair Catchment Ltd. The Project is funded by the EU Recovery Instrument Funding under the Rural Development Programme 2014-2022. It is one of 24 projects from around the country that were successful under the Competitive Call 5 announced in February 2021, known as the ‘Farm and Community Biodiversity Initiative’. This initiative sought proposals for the development and implementation of actions that will enhance local on-farm biodiversity. Although all nine Irish bat species are found on farms, the lesser horseshoe bat is probably the one most dependent on the structures and habitats found on farms.
County Limerick is a critical link between the lesser horseshoe bats that occur in west Cork and Kerry and those farther north, in counties Clare, Galway and Mayo. There are only 13,000 horseshoe bats within these six counties but, due to changes in the landscape over time, colonies in these counties are becoming isolated, which places the overall population at risk of inbreeding. The conservation status of this species was recently downgraded from ‘Favourable’ to ‘Inadequate’ and further declines in its distribution and range are inevitable unless action is taken to conserve it. This action must, though, be targeted where it will be of most benefit. Recent research revealed that river systems are key potential corridors for the species and so Vincent Wildlife Trust (VWT) approached the ongoing Mulkear River Catchment Project to create this new initiative for the lesser horseshoe bat.
The Lesser Horseshoe Bat Conservation Project will provide new and permanent summer roosting sites for the species in lowland locations within the Mulkear River Catchment and raise awareness of the important role that farmers play in its conservation. The new roosts will be located on farms within a few kilometres of waterways or woodlands that will, in time, increase the chances of this species being able to connect with colonies in other areas of Limerick and possibly even in adjacent counties. This objective is tailored to have a positive impact for the lesser horseshoe bat and benefit other wildlife but no negative impact on the day-to-day work on the farm. The new roosts are small, similar in appearance to the traditional pump houses found on many Irish farms and are based on a design tested in Spain (photograph below).
Key project activities
This project will work with the farming community in the Mulkear Catchment to provide the bats with new days roosts and enhance biodiversity generally. It will:
(1) Provide permanent new bat roosts on farms
(2) Create or reconnect green-infrastructure in the vicinity of the new roosts
(3) Incorporate additional roosting and nesting places for other bat species, farmland birds and pollinators in the bat houses
(4) Raise awareness amongst the farming and wider rural community of their roles in conserving this species through training workshops and other educational material
(5) Develop a versatile on-farm model for lesser horseshoe bat conservation that could be replicated in other counties under future agri-environment schemes.
It is expected that this project will deliver the following outputs:
(1) Ten new roosts built
(2) Trees and hedgerows planted
(3) Two bat detector workshops
(4) A video documenting the various aspects of the project
(5) An ‘Actions for lesser horseshoe bat on farms’ leaflet
(6) Trained local volunteers for post project monitoring of the bat roosts.
Farmers are welcome to contact the project for more information on how they can become involved by email or telephone:
Telephone: 086 8308849
Background to the lesser horseshoe bat
The lesser horseshoe bat is one of our smallest bats, weighing the same as a €2 coin. It is instantly recognisable due to the horseshoe-shape on its face and because in roosts it always hangs upside down, often with its wings wrapped around its body.
This delicate bat suffered a widespread decline during the 20th century throughout Europe and today in Ireland is found only in six western counties, with Limerick as the critical link between these. This bat needs to fly directly into buildings because, unlike other bat species, it cannot land and crawl through a small gap. It cannot use bat boxes. Female horseshoe bats form maternity colonies in unoccupied derelict buildings from April to September where they give birth to one baby, which they suckle for about six weeks. In winter, due to a shortage of insects, horseshoe bats seek out cooler sites in which to hibernate, such as caves, mines and cellars. Although this bat has a sophisticated echolocation system that enables it to fly safely within dense canopy and confined spaces in complete darkness, it is less able to navigate in open habitats and needs woodland, treelines and hedgerows to fly and feed along. It is extremely sensitive to disturbance and artificial lighting, so avoids urban and inhabited areas.
Background to the Vincent Wildlife Trust (VWT)
The VWT is a registered charity with the Charities Regulatory Authority in Ireland since 2017 and is also registered as a charity in England and Wales, and in Scotland. It employs two full-time staff in Ireland and has been involved in the practical conservation and research of the lesser horseshoe bat in Ireland for 30 years. The Trust owns or leases 12 buildings used by this species, which in 2020 held 30% of the national population. (www.vincentwildlife.ie)