Image: Kevin Simmonds

With the nights well and truly drawing in, the cold, crisp autumnal air is biting more and more at our cheeks and it’s the time of year to start thinking about those classic winter comforts. Home-made soup, a roaring fire, big snuggly jumpers and hot chocolate to name a few. How about filling your belly with a side dish of 3000 insects; spiders, flies, mosquitoes all making up a hearty snack to keep us full of energy over the winter? Ok, so perhaps not quite the cuisine you might go for, but for our hibernating bats this is the only thing on their menu as they go in search of energy to see them right through the winter.

Last weekend might have seen all the ghosts and gouls come out to play, but our bat populations have got a less spooky job on their minds. Finding a place to hibernate over the winter is a crucial and increasingly tough job. To our bats, luxurious living is in the form of cool, quiet places like holes in trees or disused buildings, a place where there is the least chance of them being disturbed by light.

Sadly, a lot of bats’ natural habitats are becoming more and more scarce. Ill-thought out development, changes of land use and other factors have made it a much harder job finding sanctury over the winter months. Churches continue to play a vital role in the survival of these endangered mammals. Some of our older churches, and there are plenty in Norfolk,  have been providing valuable roosting sites for generations of bats that return faithfully to the same roost year after year. 

Back in the summer,  me and a friend  went on a walk to RSPB Strumpshaw Fen. It was after work and as quickly as the time flew by, the sun set and dusk fell upon us. Making our way round the reserve we were accompanied by more and more bats as they started their night time hunt for food. Mainly pipistrelles, some noctules too and the odd long-eared bat. Whooshing about above our heads, gliding above the water catching mouthful after mouthful of insects to keep their bellies full.  The wings of bats are much thinner than those of birds, so they can move more quickly and more accurately than our feathered friends.

After the Halloween celebrations have passed, most of our bat populations will be heading into hibernation for the winter. But, they will be back out in full force around March time. If you live near The Broads or fancy visiting RSPB Strumpshaw Fen, the winter months are anything but dull. The bats may be resting safe and sound, but there is plenty more to see and do. So, get wrapped up, get a flask of tea and go explore!