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2 Dec 2022

Bats at Haddo House

Written by Murray Hope
A pipistrelle bat rests on a brick surface, its wings tucked into its furry body.
Pipistrelle bat
Maybe it’s due to their appearance, movement, nocturnal nature or even their starring role at Halloween, but the mere mention of bats causes some people to recoil in fear. This can make the protection of these wonderful creatures far harder for our rangers and property teams.

National Trust for Scotland places are often desirable bat real estate. Bats are attracted to the rural locations, security and accessibility of older buildings during their breeding seasons. This summer, our Haddo team identified a maternity roost in the roof space above the modern annex of Haddo House Hall. They called in the expertise of our North East Ranger Service, Buildings Conservation colleagues and local bat expert Cllr Isobel Davidson to assess the location and help devise a plan.

It is illegal to disrupt bat habitats or cause them distress. Bats only gather in maternity roosts for limited periods in the summer, to have their babies. As autumn arrives, the bats leave in small groups to find cooler spaces more suited to hibernation, such as underground or in tree crevices.

It is incumbent on property owners to ensure that identified roosting spaces remain available, as some bats return to the same area each year to raise their young. An alternative to reusing existing roosts is to create an appropriate, nearby space to naturally attract the bats in subsequent years.

Bats are protected, key indicator species in the UK, meaning that whole ecosystems are dependent on their success. At the Trust, we (and our visitors!) are delighted that our properties are home to bats – this is a great sign that we are successfully caring for and protecting for the local habitats. Bats also help us humans out by keeping midges at bay – one colony can consume up to 3 million midges in a single night!

A view of the exterior of the wooden hall in the grounds of Haddo House. It has a mossy roof.
Haddo House Hall

There was minimal risk to either bats or humans at their chosen Haddo House Hall location this year. The isolated roof space is above a rarely used production area, with no public access. Haddo House enjoyed a fantastic summer with many successful events held in the Hall, including the internationally renowned annual Haddo Arts Festival performances.

The property team put extra measures in place to protect the bats, such as removing bunting to protect their flight paths, reducing excess lighting, and offering advice and equipment to anyone entering the small room below the roost.

The bats themselves proved a big hit with visitors. Our rangers hosted Bat Breakfasts to allow safe viewing of these creatures as they returned at dawn from their nocturnal feeding.

“As Scotland’s largest conservation charity, we pride ourselves on carefully balancing the protection of our shared natural and built heritage, with safe access and enjoyment for all.”
Annie Robertson
Regional Chartered Building Surveyor, National Trust for Scotland

Some key bat facts

  • Bats make up around 20% of the global mammal population – with 10 species found in Scotland.
  • The pipistrelle and brown long-eared bats are the most common species found in Scottish houses.
  • Bat droppings or urine pose no risk to humans apart from minor allergic dust reactions in extreme cases.
  • The only risk to humans from bats in the UK comes from contracting EBLV (‘bat rabies’). This has been detected in a very small number of over 15,000 bats tested in the UK since 1986. It is only transferred through a bite or directly ingesting bat saliva. Since bats avoid all contact with humans, there’s no risk of a bite unless you approach or handle a bat (which should only be done by trained handlers wearing appropriate PPE).
Two bats are fast asleep, tucked right into a small gap in some brickwork.
Sleeping brown long-eared bats | Image: Shutterstock

Future plans

As much as we enjoyed the bats’ company at Haddo House Hall this summer, we want to ensure activities in the hall do not disrupt their roosting. Bat droppings can also eventually damage the fabric of our historic buildings over a prolonged period.

In September, as the bats were making their way to their winter hibernation roosts, our Buildings Conservation colleagues submitted proposals for new heated bat boxes to be installed nearby. These boxes will provide the perfect conditions for pipistrelles to raise their young in. We look forward to our bat friends returning to enjoy many more summers at glorious Haddo House.

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