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Greater horseshoe bats

There are 17 bats known to breed in the UK including two types of horseshoe bat, the greater horseshoe and the lesser horseshoe. The greater horseshoe is one of the UK’s rarest bats with only about 35 known breeding sites.

South Devon has what is believed to be the largest breeding colony of greater horseshoes in the UK and possibly Europe, with approximately 1000 bats!

The greater horseshoe is the bigger of the two horseshoe bats and one of the larger British bats. It is usually 5.5-7 cm long and has a wingspan of about 35-39cm.

They are called horseshoe bats because their nose is shaped a bit like a horseshoe. They use this strange shaped nose to help them echo-locate when they are hunting for prey and to avoid objects. They typically hunt for large moths and beetles, and occasionally will even take dung beetles from the ground. Despite the saying “blind as a bat”, this one has good eyesight.

It is believed that 90% of greater horseshoes have been lost in the UK over the last 100 years. This represents a loss of over half of its range and now it is rarely found outside of Southwest England and South Wales.Greatehorseshoe_Mike_Symes
Photo: Mike Symes

Greater horseshoes are the longest lived bat species in the UK with some being recorded to be 30 years old. These bats however give birth to only one pup a year which leaves them more vulnerable to population decline. The main reasons for the decline of this species are habitat loss, with sites that are suitable for roosting or hibernating being destroyed and feeding areas being lost. Furthermore increased use of pesticides and other chemicals in modern farming has led to a reduction in the insects that they feed on.

Horseshoe bats, their roosts and habitats are highly protected in national and international law. There are also conservation efforts to help increase their numbers. Conservation efforts primarily focus on changing farming practices so that their insect diet is available, and also to try to protect and extend the bats natural habitats. Although in Devon there are strategic zones which protect flyways as well as roosts, Greater Horseshoe Bats need to remain high on the agenda as development pressure increases in the county.

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