DNA analysis finds rare bats perched in the Somerset church

One of the rarest bats in the UK was discovered perched in a church in Somerset.

The long-eared gray bat was found in a church in the Blackdown Hills on the border with Devon.

It was identified by DNA analysis of the droppings by National Bats volunteers in the Churches Survey.

It is only the second time that the species has been discovered by the investigation. In 2020, a similar analysis found evidence of bats living in East Devon.

Claire Boothby, head of training and surveys at Bats in Churches, said, “Given that we know of so few roosting sites for gray long-eared bats, any confirmation of the species is valuable.

“Through the National Bats in Churches Survey we have achieved records from over 700 churches across the country, demonstrating the power of citizen science.”

He continued: “Thanks to our team of volunteers, our research will provide us with the knowledge we need to better conserve bats and provide information and support to churches.”

Ms. Boothby said that because long-eared gray bats look so similar to long-eared brown bats, a relatively common species, DNA testing of their droppings has been one of the most effective ways to tell them apart.

He said that for this reason it was likely that the perching sites of the long-eared gray bats were underreported.

There are thought to be only 1,000 gray long-eared bats in England and has been severely affected by the loss of habitat.

According to the Bat Conservation Trust, its favorite hunting ground of “unimproved lawns” – open spaces that have never been plowed, re-seeded or heavily fertilized – has declined by 92 percent over the past century.

“Very encouraging”

Bats in Churches did not disclose the exact location of churches in Devon and Somerset where bats were found to protect their perches.

Carol Williams, director of conservation at the Bat Conservation Trust, said: “It is very encouraging to be aware of more documents from Somerset.

“When there are so few species left in England, knowing where the remaining animals are is of great importance.”

The long-eared gray bat was one of 20 target species in the Back from the Brink project, which took place between 2017 and 2021.

It has assembled a coalition of conservation organizations to save some of England’s most endangered species.

Over the course of the program, conservationists worked to improve 80 hectares of foraging habitat in Devon and to improve habitats between perches in order to connect different colonies.

The project also conducted an educational program to raise awareness of the long-eared gray bat and improve monitoring of the species.

Edward Wells, a member of the Somerset Bat Group, said: “What is pretty clear is that we are getting more and more records of long-eared gray bats over the past five years.

“It is very likely that it has been under-recorded, not least because its close relative, the long-eared brown bat, is our third most common species, and observers tend to follow the most likely identification.”

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