Thursday, 13 September 2012

Worcester South Quay - Lights, Lesser Horseshoes and and Urban Bat Landscape.

Last night I had the pleasure of joining a goodly number of our members (16 and a dog) for a walk and talk along South Quay in Worcester. The reason for this event was twofold. One, we wanted to look at and discuss the issue of the new (ish) lighting that has been installed along the riverside, and to update members on the Cathedral Bat Project.

The issue of lighting and bats is complex, and while some research is being undertaken, its still quite early days. What is known though is certain bat species, most in fact, will avoid lit areas like the plague. Given that the site has, as far as we are aware, the only urban population of Lesser Horseshoe Bats in Britain ( I expect if we inquired further we would find others further south, but like our Bechsteins bats, I think we have the most northerly urban LHBs!), this lighting thing is not good news.

Ed Leszczynski of the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust Consultancy, who lead the evening, has worked closely on the lighting scheme, but alas, despite the surveys and recommendations, the lighting was installed without consideration of the environmental impacts (specifically to the bats). In fact it was all installed BEFORE they received the ecological assessment report.Ed has studied the bat activity along this stretch if the Severn for over 10 years and the area had a high level of bat activity. Since the installation of the lighting this has all but disappeared.  How much this is due to the lights, and how much is due to the god awful summer weather is open to debate, but it is clear the lights will have had a major impact.

The lights are there of course for a reason. The revamped south quay and riverside walk was a big scheme to improve the route for pedestrians and cyclists, linking the city with Diglis and the new pedestrian bridge to the south. It is a great scheme, and popular too, and it must be remembered that there are many users and needs for this site. It is not a bat sanctuary, but an urban environment. This path is oddly a 'highway' and so legislation dictates the amount of lighting needed, but there are environmental considerations that should have been taken into account and clearly have not. No one is suggesting the lights have to go, but something needs to happen. In fact its not just the bats that don't like it, many residents hate the intensity of the lights, as do pedestrians and cyclists who are simply dazzled by the bright lighting.

So what's to be done? Well it's not all doom and gloom, because through the concerted efforts of Ed and others, the councils are listening, and with some simple inexpensive modifications the impact of the lighting can be greatly reduced. Discussions are ongoing as I type and I look forward to reporting back the outcome in due course.

The evening also introduced members to the Cathedral Lesser Horseshoe Bats. Last year, in a serendipitous chain of events, a roosting and hibernation site of LHBs was discovered in one of the outlying Cathedral structures. Alas this site was extremely vulnerable, with anti social behavior, vandalism etc occurring within it. The latter was of great concern to the Cathedral authorities who proposed more robust fencing off of the site. Through a successful partnership with them we have been monitoring the bats monthly and worked to ensure the fencing and grills are of a recognized bat friendly design. The Bat Conservation Trust has also provided a grant for us to install environmental monitoring loggers and bat boxes to aid recording and management of the site once it is secure. Until the grills are installed the details of this site are being kept relatively quite as it remains vulnerable to vandalism and disturbance.  Special thanks goes to Graham Davidson who has worked on the Natural England Licences to enable this project to proceed, as well as leading much of the monitoring work to date.

So from the end of this month we hope the site will be secure and that it will become a successful hibernation site for the Lesser Horseshoe and other species of bats. In addition there may be serious research potential next year, including radio tracking to determine their foraging areas and to locate maternity roosts. All very exiting stuff!

The evening was finished of by the revelation that Ed is into Musical Theater and he gave us a jolly but oh to short a rendition of 'There 'aint nothing but a dame' with wavy jazz hands, and a hop over to the Plough for a well deserved pint, where witty banter continued.

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