I love bats. Nothing is better than lying out in a wood on a clear summer night and watching them flit delicately between the branches overhead. When I found out that we have almost a dozen different species of bat in Scotland, I was amazed. Most people have heard the word “pipistrelle” and know that it applies to an extremely small variety of bat, but there is an astonishing variety of size, shape and coloration among fascinating little creatures with names like daubenton, noctule and natterer.
With the first steps towards turning the Chayne into a more interesting natural environment now in full swing, I couldn’t resist finding out more about the bats who are living on the land. I have made arrangements to have members of the local bat group come out to visit the farm and teach me how to identify the different local species, and it occurred to me that no self respecting shoot should be without at least one bat box. As fashions in shooting change and the sport becomes more and more popular, there has been a definite shift towards conservation and caring for the peripheral elements of shoot wildlife. There is no doubt that this is a good thing, and while bat boxes will have no effect on the amount of grouse shot in a season, they help to develop a relationship between man and nature that is at the very root of all country sports.
I looked on the internet for information on bat boxes and got a basic idea of what they were. It turns out that a bat box is basically the same as a bird box, only without the front hole. Filled with narrow vertical shelves and accessible via a slit running across the bottom, the boxes provide bats with somewhere to roost during the day and hibernate during the winter. Sketching a basic design on the back of an envelope, I passed it on to Richard Waller, a local carpenter, and asked him to have a shot at making one. Within a few days, we had a prototype.
I decided to hang the experimental Bat Palace Mk.1 in the lean-to of a ruined cottage on the western boundary of the farm. It is well sheltered there, and I suspect that bats are already nestling in beneath the tiles to roost during the day anyway. If it turns out that the Palace is used over the next year, we will know that our design is along the right lines and go into mass production.