Published: 06:00, 14 January 2021
It's not been seen in Kent for more than 100 years but now the rare and elusive Horseshoe Bat has been discovered roosting by two bat ecologists in one of the county's castles.
The Greater Horseshoe bat was found roosting in the currently closed Dover Castle by Claire and Toby Munn of the Kent Bat Group.
And the first sighting of the species was made, by pure coincidence, in the castle’s Horseshoe Passage.
It follows an intensive search which began in 2019 after a small number of the bats' flights were recorded in locations around the castle during surveys commissioned by English Heritage.
Following these and others made by ecologists in East Kent, the Kent Bat Group searched farms across the valleys near Dover to identify ideal foraging habitats for Greater Horseshoe bats, and placed detectors on those farms.
As a result, a pass by a flying Greater Horseshoe bat was recorded in Elms Vale in mid June this year.
But it was a visit to Dover Castle by Claire and Toby Munn of the Kent Bat Group which led to the discovery of the roosting bat.
Claire 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 10 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 a historic find and is just one example of how brilliant Dover Castle is for supporting an array of wildlife."
Neil McCollum, head of historic properties at 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.”
Locating the roost is vital to the Kent Bat Group’s research on the species, with the hope that they might now 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 it came over from France or moved east from the UK. The group also hope to find out if there are more bats of its kindin the area.
The Horseshoe bat is a protected species and its roost is within an area not regularly open to the public at the English Heritage-run castle, which is currently closed due to Coronavirus restrictions.
The Kent Bat Group and its volunteers were able to buy bat detectors thanks to help from Corylus Ecology Ltd, Kent Mammal Group, Nicky & Eileen Barber Charitable Trust, Chapman Charitable Trust and Natural England.