Published: 06:00, 14 January 2021
A sighting of the rare greater horseshoe bat roosting at Dover Castle is recognised as the first in the county in 100 years.
The astonishing find was identified by experts Claire and Toby Munn of Kent Bat Group (KBG), and by sheer coincidence it was spotted in its namesake Horseshoe Passage which forms part of the defences added during the Napoleonic Wars.
Greater horseshoe bats have been found at Dover Castle
The discovery comes following an intensive search, beginning in 2019 after a small number of flights of one or more greater horseshoe bat were recorded in various locations around the castle during surveys commissioned by English Heritage.
Following these recordings, as well as others made by ecologists in East Kent around the same time, KBG carried out searches through farms across the valleys near Dover to identify ideal foraging habitats for greater horseshoe bats, and have had static detectors placed on these farms over the course of the past year.
During that time, a single pass by a flying greater horseshoe bat was recorded in Elms Vale in mid-June 2020.
However, it was a visit to Dover Castle by Claire and Toby Munn of KBG which proved fortuitous.
Neil McCollum, head of historic properties English Heritage Kent said “We were astonished when the Kent Bat Group let us know of this incredibly important discovery, we feel very honoured that the rare Horseshoe bat has found a home at the castle, and in the aptly named Horseshoe Passage.
"At English Heritage not only do we care for some of the most historically important places in England, but, by doing so, we also can provide a home for incredible wildlife that is intrinsically linked to English history.”
Claire Munn, Ecologist, Kent Bat Group said “When we set out to look for where this elusive Greater Horseshoe bat (or potentially multiple bats) might be roosting, the words ‘needle in a haystack’ came to mind.
"So, when I spotted the pear-shaped shadow hanging down ahead of us in the tunnel, it’s fair to say that after 15 months of searching and ten months of shielding together, Toby and I felt like we had won the lottery!
"On closer inspection, being careful not to cause any unnecessary disturbance, there was no mistaking that this was indeed the greater horseshoe bat we had been searching for.
"This is an historic find and is just one example of how brilliant Dover Castle is for supporting an array of wildlife, which we have been monitoring now for some years, both in a professional and voluntary capacity.
'There was no mistaking that this was indeed the greater horseshoe bat we had been searching for...'
"It’s really fantastic to be working with English Heritage, who are just as passionate as we are about the natural history of their sites.”
Locating the roost is vital to the group's research on the species.
They now hope to uncover where the bat is travelling in between.
If permission is granted to take a small clipping of the bat’s furry coat they may also be able to find out if this bat has come over from France or moved east from its existing range in the UK.
The group also hope to find out if there are more bats in the area or if this is a pioneer, starting a potential new population of the species at Dover.
The Horseshoe bat is a protected species and its roost is within an area not regularly open to the public.
Formerly a cave-dweller, the nocturnal mammal now favours old houses, churches and barns.
They hibernate over winter and in May females form maternity colonies to have their pups.