Bat monitoring plays an important role in encouraging citizen science and saving money

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21 October 2013: Bats are an important element of Ireland’s natural environment and help us control many problematic insect species such as midges and mosquitoes. All bats are protected species in Ireland and the EU, and monitoring their populations allows us to manage and conserve them and the services they provide.

‘Bats are among the most overlooked, yet economically important, non-domesticated animal group in Europe and the world, and their conservation is important for the integrity of ecosystems and a healthy bat population in indicative of a healthy natural environment,’ said Dr Tina Aughney, spokesperson for Bat Conservation Ireland.

All nine resident species of bats in Ireland eat insects, which is not only helpful for keeping mosquitoes and other annoying insects at bay but also has economic importance. The tiny common pipistrelle bat can eat over 3000 insects in a night while a typical single colony of pipistrelle bats can consume over 300,000 insects in one night. A scientific paper just published in the USA on the economic value of bats to its agriculture estimated that bats provide nontoxic pest-control services totalling from $3.7 billion to $53 billion per year. This study did not even consider the indirect costs of pesticides on human health and pollution from greater levels of toxins in the environment if chemical pesticides were used instead of relying on natural pest controllers such as bats.

Bats also have scientific value as they have contributed to the development of navigational aids for the blind, as well as the development of vaccinations and medical drugs to treat blood disorders and heart conditions.

Bats are protected under the EU Habitats Directive as they are vulnerable to decline, due to loss of roosts in buildings, caves and other suitable habitats. Ireland is obliged to monitor our bat populations on an ongoing basis in order to assess their conservation status.

Irish bat monitoring schemes are not only fulfilling obligations under EU Law, they also provide a wonderful opportunity for members of the public to participate in monitoring programmes as ‘Citizen Scientists’. Free evening training courses are offered and people can become volunteers to learn how to survey bats and contribute positively to their conservation. Annually, over 500 people volunteer and participate in the All Ireland Daubenton’s Bat Waterways Survey, Car-based Bat Monitoring Scheme and the Brown Long-eared Roost Monitoring Scheme.  These citizen science initiatives are a popular way for adults and children to learn more about their natural environment.

Because bats have low reproductive rates, populations are very susceptible to changes in their roosting sites, foraging areas and commuting routes. Scientists are concerned about the conservation status of bats around the world as many species of bats are increasingly affected by suspicion, lack of awareness, pesticide poisoning, roost destruction and closure, habitat loss, over-exploitation, and extermination as pests.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service has taken the progressive step of implementing tried and tested monitoring schemes in order to monitor the health of bat populations in Ireland. Bat Conservation Ireland was awarded the contract for this work through an open tendering process.

‘Bat Conservation Ireland is a not-for-profit organisation that acts as the national umbrella group for all county bat groups,’ said Dr Aughney.  ‘Any money assigned to us for bat conservation by the national government, general public and members are spent on conservation and education. The involvement and good will of our numerous volunteers is essential to our work.’

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