Bat Watching At Orton Copse

anneka jones

As part of my planning for the community landscaping at our Bovis Homes Orton Copse development in Peterborough, I got in touch with ecologist and environmental consultant Dr Stefan Bodnar. 

By chance, Dr Bodnar was due to undertake a bat survey the next week. So, call me brazen, I asked if I might join.
So, 8.30pm I was ready to meet Dr Bodnar, with an extra layer, some comfy trainers, and a notepad. I was told we didn’t need a chair and obviously no form of additional light. It’s been a warm day (17°) and dry, which I was told were perfect conditions (too warm and they will be sleepy and won’t emerge).

While it was still light, we strolled past the three bat poles, to where the SUDs pond will be (currently where our site cabins, storage, and car park are located), and arrived back at the existing made-to-measure, Homes England commissioned, bat barn as dusk drew in.  

Stefan Bodnar

Dr Bodnar had his notepad in hand to log the timings, and two echolocation detectors switched on. They’re set to two different frequencies to pick up different kinds of bat.

I was surprised to learn that us talking and moving around the bat barn wouldn’t affect the behaviour of the bats, who would just continue to forage and commute around us. And there was me thinking I’d have to sit as quiet as a mouse and keep my million questions until the end. 

As the sun started to set, the bats started to swoop. Each time a bat was near, a ticking sound could be heard from the devices, and we’d switch our heads to the sky. Dr Bodnar saw nearly every one, whereas throughout the night I think I caught eight or nine. He could tell by the pitch of their call whether it was a Common Pipistrelle or a Noctule. A little later we switched the frequency on one of the detectors so that different bats could be picked up, and we heard a Natterer. 

bat roost orton copse in darkness

In the original survey, Brown Long-Eared bats and the Soprano Pipistrelle were also found roosting in the old hospital site. The Soprano needs yet another setting on the detector to be heard and may have gone foraging elsewhere on the night of our walk, and the Long-Eared may still be foraging here but will have left the area for now to look for a new structure in which to roost.

The barn was purpose built for the bats recorded in the area. It has many different access points in the lifted timber walls, roof tiles, and bricks, with soffit boxes and internal features, including a hot box (a box fitted to the loft rafters to provide roosting for bats wishing to seek further warmth during key stages in the breeding season).

Dr Bodnar was impressed with the design of the barn and reassured me that they will come back to roost here, although no evidence of this has been recorded yet. He suggested a handful of changes to help: Replace the damaged slats that make up the door, ask site carpenter to create an overhang for the three Swift nest boxes so they are functioning, paint over the unsightly graffiti (perhaps invite local graffiti artist to create something that denotes the intention of the barn), this won’t affect the bats but it will give a better impression to the public, and detract from any more anti-social behaviour once the area is opened.

As we left the barn, well over an hour later, we discussed the idea of organising a community bat walk with the Cambridgeshire bat group and a more enriched planting scheme to encourage pollinators (bat food!) along the public open spaces.  

Dr Bodnar has been working with Vistry Group since 2009. He covers a wide region from the Midlands down into the South West of England.

He said awareness of the role wildlife play in our human environments has risen in recent years. Companies such as Vistry are putting ecology and arboriculture at the heart of their building strategies. 

He said: “It is no longer a ‘them and us’ situation. We work in partnership with companies from the planning stage – to ensure they are meeting the needs of the natural inhabitants. Ultimately, we want to create places for people to live while accommodating wildlife. And in most cases, my work with companies is a positive experience – they want to do the right thing.”

Notes: Dr Bodnar provides support to companies such as Vistry Group (which Bovis Homes is part of) – usually either at the planning stage of a development to ensure ecological or arboriculture considerations are being prioritised or as the work on the site progresses, again to check in that we are discharging our conditions.