gardening for bats

honeysuckle flower dog rose flowerAlthough there is no guaranteed way of attracting bats to a garden, careful planning will increase its value to wildlife. A variety of animal visitors will be attracted, from insects to birds, and hopefully bats will be among them.

All British bats feed on insects. They need a continuous supply of food during the summer and a wide choice of places to roost, or shelter, throughout the year. By choosing to garden organically you will increase the number of insects and wildlife.

Before planning any changes look beyond your garden at what bats already have access to nearby. Try to enhance what is available, for bats live and feed over a relatively wide area. If you are lucky enough to have a bat roost on your property then their droppings are an excellent fertilizer! In many parts of the world where larger bats are found in greater numbers it is harvested and sold commercially.

Nicky's Nursery sells a "Bats In The Garden" seed mixture.

In 2001 The Mammal Society asked members of the public to join in with their Garden Mammal Survey. As you can see from the bar graph, bats were the 5th most common species in gardens. They found that the availability of food and shelter for wildlife were critical. The most popular gardens for mammals were large and had fruit, nut-bearing bushes, trees, overgrown areas, and were surrounded by woodland or farmland.

Mammal survey bar graph

bedding plants
nottingham catchfly
(silene nutans)

nottingham catchfly
night-scented catchfly
(silene noctiflora)

night-scented catchfly
bladder campion
(silene cucubalus)

bladder campion
night-scented stock
(matthiola bicornis)

night-scented stock
sweet rocket
(hesperis candidissima)

sweet rocket
evening primrose
(cenothera biennis)

evening primrose
tobacco plant
(nicotania alata)

tobacco plant
cherry pie
(heliotropium arborescens)

cherry pie
soapwort
(saponaria officinalis)

soapwort
scented herbs
chives
(allium schoenoprasum)

chives
Borage
(borago officinalis)

borage
lemon balm
(melissa officinalis)

lemon balm
marjoram
(marjoram hortensis)

marjoram
mint e.g. spearmint
(mentha spicatat)

spearmint
 
climbers
european honeysuckle
(Lonicera xylosteum)

european honeysuckle
italian honeysuckle
(lonicera caprifolium)

italian honeysuckle

 

japanese honeysuckle
(lonicera japonica)

japanese honeysuckle
native honeysuckle
(lonicera periclymenum)

native honeysuckle
white jasmine
(jasminum officinale)

white jasmine<
dog rose
(rosa carina)

dog rose
sweet briar
(rosa rubiginosa)

sweet briar
field rose
(rosa arvensis)

field rose
ivy
(hedera helix)

ivy
bramble e.g. blackberry
rubus fruticosus

blackberry
   

 

field scabiousLarvae and adults of many insects will be catered for by introducing a wide range of food, in the form of nectar, seeds, and fruit as well as vegetation. Grow night-scented flowers. These attract moths and other night-flying insects of particular importance to bats. Plant herbs and old-fashioned cottage garden annuals attractive to insects. Leave part of your lawn unmown from about mid-May to encourage insect larvae which feed on grass. Allow it to seed before cutting and rake up the hay afterwards. Sow wildflower seed collections in your borders.



trees & shrubs
oak
(quercus robur)

oak
ash e.g. rowan
(sorbus aucuparia)

rowan

silver birch
(betula pendula)

silver birch
field maple
(acer campestre)

field maple
hawthorn
(crataegus monogyna)

hawthorn
alder
(alnus glutinos)

alder
goat willow
(salix caprea)

goat willow
guelder rose
(viburnum opulus)

guelder rose
hazel
(corylus avellana)

hazel
blackthorn
(prunus spinosa)

blackthorn
elder
(sambucus nigra)

elder
buddleia
(e.g. buddleia davidii)

buddleia

At woodland edges space and sunshine combine with trees to give shelter and warmth, and insects will concentrate there. So, even in the smallest garden try to have at least one tree or shrub. native trees are more attractive to insect than foreign species.

If space is limited, silver birch and goat willow are quick-growing and are host to many insects. With a little more space try to make a bank of vegetation to give your garden a woodland edge structure.

shelter belts

hebeRows of bushes or trees can be created or improved, encouraging concentrations of insects and providing a feeding area for bats. Plant up gaps in natural hedges. A row of fast-growing cypruses can be valuable.

Train climbers using battens against a wall or fence to provide possible roosting sites. Create a sheltered corner by using any combination of walls, fences, hedges or woodland edge at two angles.



a pond

Many insects start life in freshwater, emerging only as adults. As one Pipistrelle may eat up to 3,000 such insects in a night, a pond is an important part of any garden designed to attract bats.

pond plants

If you are concerned for the safety of small children, make a pond in the normal manner and then fill it in to form a marsh. An old leaking concrete pond can also be converted into a marsh. Construction details are available in many wildlife gardening books.

garden lights

Insects are attracted to bright white lights. Fix a light in your garden and regularly leave it on at dusk to encourage bats to visit it when foraging. Mercury vapour lights are particularly attractive to insects. There are many lights on the market now that are solar-powered and hence 'greener'. It may be necessary to add shielding to the light so that you avoid unnecessary light pollution which annoys astronomers and your neighbours alike!

habitat piles

A pile of logs left undisturbed in the shrubbery or a corner of the garden to rot will become home to a host of insects and other creatures.

rockeries
ivy-leaved toadflax
(cymbalaria muralis)

ivy-leaved toadflax
wall pennywort
(umbilicus rupestris)

wall pennywort
stonecrop
(sedum ternatum)

stonecrop

Build a rockery on the principle of drystone walling. A double-sided wall, filled with stones and incorporating very little soil can become an attractive feature as mosses and lichens colonise it. The spaces will be available as roost sites for bats, as well as home for some of the invertebrates on which they feed. Alternatively, an earth bank faced with drystone walling may be more suited to your garden. Leave cavities in the centre as well as plenty of small holes in the facing.

Bat boxes

As artificial tree holes, bat boxes offer an additional option for bats searching for a roost site. Entrance is usually by way of a narrow slot underneath.