Greater mouse-eared bat in Sussex: Survey finds UK’s last living specimen in the county

The UK is home to 18 species of bat, all of which have been recorded in Sussex.

Some of the bats live in the county while others come during certain times of the year.

Tony Hutson, from Sussex Bat Group, said: “All the UK bat species have been recorded in Sussex, one of perhaps only two counties that can claim that.

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“And the site where the mouse-eared bat and some of the horseshoe bats occurs is part of a complex of tunnels that are arguably the most important hibernation site in the UK and are widely used at other times of year for a range of other functions.”

Greater horseshoe bat. Picture: Andrew McCarthy

In December 2021 a male greater mouse-eared bat was recorded for the first time since 2019, when it supposedly went missing.

It is thought to be the last of its kind in the UK, the greater mouse-eared bat had been officially declared extinct in the UK in 1990 until the male was discovered in 2002.

Tony Hutson, from Sussex Bat Group, said: “Apart from one found in Bognor in 2001 this is the only representative of its species recorded in UK since 1990.

“It is widespread through Europe, but suffered a major decline, particularly in North West Europe, in the middle part of last century; there is some weak evidence of a recent recovery.”

Greater mouse-eared bat

The young male was first found and ringed in 2002 (the year it was born) and recorded wintering in the same site every year since bar 2019/2020.

Tony said: “We were unable to check the sites in the winter of 2020/21 for reasons of Covid-19, otherwise the site has been checked every winter since 1970.”

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Bats generally seem to concentrate into particular sites for hibernation, where they may hang individually, but are frequently in groups.

At other times of year females collect into maternity colonies and males may remain isolated or in small male groups, but it is unusual for bats to be on their own in this way.

Tony said: “We monitor a lot of sites for hibernating bats and thought we were monitoring all the sites where this species is likely to occur - but this bat knows better.

“We still consider it unlikely that there is a significant population out there somewhere in the region.”

The team were very surprised and elated to find the greater mouse-eared bat again in 2021.

People’s Trust for Endangered Species says on its website: ‘The greater mouse-eared bat is the largest British bat species and the largest of the 11 Myotis species in Europe. ‘

It has broad wings and a body length of up to 8cm. Its fur is a sandy colour and it has a bare pink face with large ears that have a prominent tragus.

The paler fur on its underside can be seen when they fly, which often follows a straight path along woodland edges or hedgerows.

The area also has a number of greater horseshoe bats.

Tony said: “The survey which found the greater mouse-eared bat also found ten greater horseshoe bats, which is double our previous record and included animals from our small pioneer breeding colony and for which we have a major conservation effort going.”

The greater horseshoe bat is one of the rarest of Britain’s bat species.

Originally a cave-dwelling bat, it has adapted to using buildings for its summer breeding (maternity) roosts, where it favours older stone-built, slate-roofed buildings. It is particularly at home in old mansion houses and their associated outbuildings, such as stable blocks.

The bats emerge in the evening to forage in woodland and pasture. Feeding primarily on larger beetles, moths and other flying insects.

In winter, when food is scarce, the bats seek out old tunnels, ice houses and other cave-like places in which to hibernate.

The population of the greater horseshoe bat was in decline during the early twentieth century .

The population is thought to have increased have since 1999 but the trend is uncertain. Their distribution is restricted to southwest England and south Wales. They are absent from Scotland and Ireland.

One of the largest bats, the greater horseshoe bat is the size of a small pear.

It has a characteristically fleshy nose that is shaped like a horseshoe. Its fur is reddish-brown on its back and cream underneath.

It sleeps hanging upside down with its wings wrapped around itself.

The Sussex Bat Group was formed in 1984 and is affiliated to the Bat Conservation Trust. Its members are dedicated to the conservation of the bats of Sussex and to increasing general awareness of bat conservation.

For many years, the group has been monitoring the presence of small numbers of greater horseshoe bats in the county, primarily in hibernation sites.

For those that want to encourage bats into the garden and surrounding areas, here is what Sussex Wildlife Trust suggests: Flowers are vital for attracting bats’ insect prey. Grow a wide range, as different plants attract different types of insect:

Plants with petals that form narrow tubes, such as honeysuckle, provide food for long-tongued insects like moths and butterflies.

Open, daisy-like flowers with many florets provide nectar to short tongued insects including flies.

Pale blue and white coloured flowers are easier to see in low light so will attract night flying insects.

Don’t forget the landing platform. Wide blooms, like those in the carrot family, allow many insects to gather together at once.

Native plants tend to support far more species of insect than hybrids or exotics.

Planting night-scented flowers will help attract night-flying insects, which offer food to hungry bats.

Some of the plants you might like to include are:

Cherry pie (Heliotropium arborescens)

Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis)

Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum)

Night-scented catchfly (Silene noctiflora)

Night-scented stock (Matthiola bicornis)

Nottingham catchfly (Silene nutans)

Soapwort (Sapnoria officinalis)

Sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis)

Tobacco plant (Nicotiana alata)

White jasmine (Jasminum officinale)

Of the 18 species of bat left in Britain, six are endangered or rare and six others are regarded as vulnerable.

For more information visit:

Sussex Bat Group: sussexbatgroup.org.uk

Bat Conservation Trust: bats.org.ukSussex Wildlife Trust: sussexwildlifetrust.org.ukPeople’s Trust for Endangered Species: ptes.org