East Devon bat rescuer reveals how you can help these vulnerable creatures as they awaken from their hibernation slumber
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Up in the roosts, bodies are stirring after a long slumber.
More than a dozen species of bats are unfurling their wings across East Devon – and the UK – after a lengthy rest, but not all of them will survive until their next hibernation in September this year.
Tasked with the important job of caring for and rehabilitating these delicate mammals is Sue Davidson, who grew up in Exmouth.
Mrs Davidson, a registered bat carer, now lives close to Silverton near Exeter, but is on call to pick up grounded or lost bats across East Devon and help them in their recovery.
Only last weekend, an exhausted bat was found grounded in Exmouth, dehydrated and hungry after an unsuccessful search for food in the cold.
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Mrs Davidson estimates the bat, which had no sign of injury, was helpless on the ground for up to 48 hours before a member of the public alerted a rescuer to come and save it.
Its reserves depleted and its body to the mercy of the elements, the bat didn’t survive.
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When it comes to injured bats, there is usually a common denominator, Mrs Davidson said.
“Domestic cats,” she said. “Most bats have been injured by cats allowed out at night. If bat roosts are accessible, they [cats] will swipe them out of the roosts.
“Please keep your cats in at night, for the sake of other British wildlife too.”
Depending on the bat’s luck, injuries sustained in a cat attack could vary from light damage to the wing membrane to a nasty infection caused by a bite on the body.
“Broken bones in the wing do not mend very easily,” Mrs Davidson said.
“If there is a nasty injury, there’s nothing we could do.”
Should a bat be lucky enough to escape a cat, but still be grounded due to exhaustion or other factors, Mrs Davidson said there are steps to take to ensure its safety and health. However, there are dos and don’ts.
“Firstly, do not handle a bat with your bare hands,” she said. “Bats could carry diseases, so use a cloth or handkerchief to handle them. They are wild animals, and could bite.”
Once the bat has been successfully scooped up, it should be placed in a shoebox or similar sized box, from which it cannot escape from.
“Make some air holes,” Mrs Davidson said. “Place a soft cloth in the box, so it has somewhere to hide, and put in a very small container of water, the size of a milk carton lid..”
Mrs Davidson said people will commonly – and mistakenly – assume that the bats need feeding and watering, but they do not.
“Do not feed them cow’s milk,” she said.
“That is really bad for a bat, as there is nothing in it which would sustain the bat in the right way.
“It would make them ill. Also, they do not eat fruit – we do not have fruit bats in this country.”
Mrs Davidson has shared some of her experiences in rescuing bats, and the steps she and others took to ensure their safety.
Last weekend, a bat was found grounded. It is estimated that the defenceless mammal was left on the ground for up to 48 hours, during which it became starved and dehydrated.
Mrs Davidson said: “Unfortunately, it did not make it.
“It did not have injuries, so I imagine it had just come out of hibernation.
“At this time of year, it is still quite cold at night and there are not many insects around.
“This bat would have been really hungry and used up all of its reserves.
“It wouldn’t have eaten and would have come out hoping to find food. It didn’t find it, and ended up grounded.
“I think this bat was grounded for between 24 and 48 hours. If it was found early, it could have survived - maybe people had seen it and not known what to do.”
In 2018, a long-eared brown bat was found clinging to an interior wall of a property by a bemused householder.
The owners of the house did not have a cat, so Mrs Davidson assumes it could have flown into the property via a window.
“It was a bit tired and hungry,” she said. “I took it home and fed and watered it.
“I kept it for a few days so it could put some weight on. Then I found the nearest green space to the house it was found at and released it there.
“It was a very lucky bat.”
A walker in Ashclyst Forest came across a bat on the ground after almost stepping on it.
He picked it up with a handkerchief and popped the bat in his pocket, before it was eventually brought to Mrs Davidson.
She said: “It had flight injuries, but they were not from a cat.
“I do not know how it got injured. It had a break to one of its finger bones, but because it was a small break it was easy to mend.”
After a short course of rehabilitation, the bat was released back into the woods.
For more advice and information of the UK’s 17 species of bats, visit the Bat Conservation Trust website. Mrs Davidson is one of the organisation’s registered carers.
The Bat Conservation Trust website is www.bats.org.uk and the helpline phone number is 0345 1300 228.
You can also check out Devon Bat Group via www.devonbatgroup.org - the helpline phone number is 01803 214665.