Nestled within the serene beauty of Hestercombe lies a remarkable ecological treasure: a thriving colony of lesser horseshoe bats. These small yet fascinating creatures, scientifically known as Rhinolophus hipposideros, are the highlight of Hestercombe’s fauna. Recognised as a European Protected Species, their presence has earned Hestercombe House and Stable Block the prestigious designations of Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC).

The lesser horseshoe bat is a diminutive marvel, with a size comparable to that of a plum, as aptly described by the Bat Conservation Trust. Their name is derived from the unique horseshoe shape of their nose, a feature shared with their larger relatives. In the summer, female lesser horseshoe bats gather in maternity colonies to raise their young, typically birthing one pup each in June. The male bats, on the other hand, lead solitary lives, roosting in a variety of secluded spots such as large trees, rock cliffs, barns, and buildings.

June heralds the beginning of the National Bat Monitoring Program roost surveys. During this period, ecologists, bat experts, and volunteers dedicate their evenings to counting bats as they emerge from their roosts. At Hestercombe, this crucial task is undertaken by the Somerset Bat Group, a part of the Somerset Wildlife Trust and a partner of the Bat Conservation Trust. The Annual Bat Count involves an hour-long observation at sunset, meticulously recording the number of bats that take flight.

The data gathered from these surveys is invaluable. It provides insights into bat population trends and helps track the impacts on and recovery of different species. Bats play a crucial role in maintaining ecological balance by preying on night-flying insects. This natural pest control offers significant economic benefits by reducing agricultural, forest, and urban pest populations.

Somerset boasts 16 of the 17 resident British bat species, a testament to the region’s rich biodiversity. At Hestercombe, visitors are fortunate to witness a variety of these fascinating creatures, including lesser and greater horseshoe bats, soprano and common pipistrelles, brown long-eared bats, and occasionally, the barbastelle.

For those eager to delve deeper into the world of bats, Hestercombe offers a unique opportunity. Visitors can observe the roosting bats via a live video link available in the visitor centre. This immersive experience provides a rare glimpse into the lives of these nocturnal animals, highlighting their significance and the ongoing conservation efforts to protect them.

Now is the perfect time to visit Hestercombe and witness the enchanting spectacle of roosting bats, while contributing to the important cause of bat conservation.


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