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Learning to love bats

By the BBC's Nigel Doran

If ever there was an animal that needed a good dose of PR, it was the bat. Forever associated with vampires and graveyards, this remarkable mammal is unlikely to win any popularity awards.

With that in mind, this weekend an army of bat-freaks will take to the streets across Europe, encouraging members of the public to learn about them, and perhaps even learn to love them.


Listen via a 'bat-box'

Nigel Doran goes in search of bats

In the UK local volunteers are hoping that thousands of people will attend the special bat walks, where they will be able to learn, see and even listen to up to 16 different species, courtesy of a special 'bat-box' that converts the creatures' ultra high frequency squeaks into something humans can hear.

Sadly, one species' particular call will not be heard: the mouse eared bat was declared extinct in the United Kingdom in 1991. Two more are endangered, with 9 species threatened.

Kate Jones, one of the volunteers who will be leading a bat walk in London, is evangelical about her favourite animal, believing education is the way forward.


Keep your hair on

She is at pains to point out that they are not dirty animals, that they eat thousands of insects each every night, and they certainly do not get tangled in people's hair.

''They have a very sophisticated navigation system called echo location, so they would hate to get caught in your hair, '' she says.

Last year, 13 countries took part in European Bat Night, with 15,000 people attending a huge bat festival in Spandau Citadel in Berlin.

Julia Hanmer, the chief executive of the Bat Conservation Trust - fittingly located in Battersea - is hoping this year will be even more successful. Although many people are ignorant, sceptical, even prejudiced when it comes to bats, she recognises that attitudes are changing.

Going batty

''There are still a lot of people who ring to say they've got bats and are worried, but generally when they learn more they're very keen to have them, she said.

Bats and their roosts are protected in Britain by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Even so the Bat Conservation Trust says that every year some unscrupulous householders and builders will illegally get rid of bats, risking a fine or even imprisonment.

But the Bat Conservation Trust acknowledges that legislation is not enough to secure their future safety, and is relying on events like this weekend's to fight the bat's decline.


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