I think there are few nicer ways to spend a balmy summer evening than watching bats flitting around the garden as dusk falls. Their acrobatic displays rival even the most agile birds and they’re a great addition to your pest control toolbox too, as all 18 native species eat insects – and their appetite will amaze you: a common pipistrelle bat just 1½ inches long will eat up to 3,000 midges in a single evening!
There is no downside to welcoming bats into your garden and house, either: they don’t chew wood or wiring; their droppings are dry and odour-free; and they don’t build nests. Nor are you going to be overrun by them. Bats generally only have one baby, called a ‘pup’, per year and they are unlikely to roost in the same place for the whole year anyway.
Read our tips for making a wildlife-friendly garden
Why attract bats?
Despite the many positive reasons to attract them, bat numbers are declining and have been for the last century. The destruction of old buildings to build new houses is one of the main reasons, while increased street lighting, the construction of new roads, and the loss of hedgerows, woods, and ponds all contribute to a degradation of their habitat.
The problems aren’t just environmental. Attacks by cats are on the increase as more and more people keep them as pets and wind turbines pose a very real threat too (as they do to birds). The widespread use of pesticides and insecticides in farming worldwide kills off their food source indiscriminately in vast numbers as just one of the consequences of the demand for cheap food from consumers.
All in all, the bat has a tough life - and that’s without mentioning Dracula…
Read our tips for keeping cats out of your garden
How to attract bats
So how can you attract bats to your garden? Well, there are two main ways: the first is to put up bat boxes, and the second is to make bats an integral part of your gardening plan.
Building your own bat box is a simple job that would make a great project to work on with your grandchildren. The Bat Conservation Trust has downloadable bat box plans on its website for you to print off and use to make your own using scraps of wood and simple hand tools.
They are very easy to make, but you will need to bear a few things in mind:
- Bats don’t like draughts and prefer a well-insulated home that keeps a relatively constant humidity and temperature. This means that the entrance slit must be kept small (20mm is plenty) and all joints should be tight and well sealed.
- You’ll need to use rough-hewn wood, so the bats have something to grip on to when they’re roosting.
- The wood mustn’t have been treated with preservatives, as bats are sensitive to chemicals.
The completed bat box will need to be mounted in a sheltered position that is at least 4-5 metres off the ground, so you’ll need to take care when fitting it. Use a stable ladder on a solid surface and make sure that someone is holding it for you to stop it slipping.
Gardening to attract bats
The key to attracting bats to your garden is to attract their foodstuff. That means planting night-scented flowers such as evening primrose, honeysuckle, and jasmine, all of which will make a huge difference by drawing in night-flying insects for bats to hoover up.
You could also consider letting small sections of your garden grow a little bit wild, cultivating a compost heap, dotting piles of rotting logs here and there, and having linear runs of hedges and trees for feeding and navigation.
Mature trees help too, as their boughs and leaves provide shelter from predation, allowing bats to fly unnoticed. This isn’t a quick fix of course, but as up to 11% of all bats are killed each year in the UK by birds of prey, they will appreciate anything you can do to minimize their exposure to death from above.
If you’ve got the space and inclination, a small pond will really help to draw them in by attracting water-loving insects too. In fact, a pond is one of the best investments you’ll ever make in helping make your garden more wildlife friendly in general.
Find out how to make a wildlife-friendly pond
Identifying British bats
The habitat where you see the bat is the first clue in identifying them, with their flight pattern being the second. The Natural History Museum provides a handy bat identification guide that you can print out for easy reference.
Once you’re hooked, you could think about buying a bat detector. This will allow you to listen to the ultrasonic noises they make, which are normally beyond our hearing range. They aren’t cheap, but are great fun to use and allow you to pinpoint species with a high degree of certainty.
All British bats are protected in law, so you mustn’t disturb them if you come across a roost.
If you find an injured bat – and cats are especially prone to catching them – please call the Bat Conservation Trust helpline on 0345 130 0228 for advice
Find out more about bats
The RHS and Wildlife Trusts' focus for Wild About Gardens Week 2016 (24 - 30 October) is focusing on bats and, working with the Bat Conservation Trust, have created this useful downloadable PDF bat guide.