The Norfolk Bat Survey (www.batsurvey.org) was originally set up with colleagues at the British Trust for Ornithology as a bit of fun, whilst improving local knowledge and interest in bats, but has since enlisted over 800 volunteers. Volunteers sign up and borrow a passive bat-detector from one of 21 centres hosting equipment. Leaving the detector outside at three different locations a night within a 1-km square, bat calls are recorded and saved to a memory card. After three days, volunteers return the detector and post the memory card containing bat recordings to the BTO. The data are analysed using algorithms that help assign bat calls to species and volunteers are sent a report with the results of their survey within a few days of taking part.
Since the start of the project in 2013, volunteers have surveyed 1,146 1-km squares (>20% of Norfolk). This has generated over 1.2 million bat recordings, making this one of the most extensive high-quality datasets for bats from anywhere in the world.
At a local scale, the Norfolk project has improved our understanding of patterns of occurrence and activity of all species from the near ubiquitous Common Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) to the locally scarce Leisler’s bat (Nyctalus leisleri). This has demonstrated the cost-effectiveness of setting up a network of centres across a survey area of interest from which anyone can borrow a passive detector for a few days. Through our choice of centres, it has given us the opportunity to work with a wide range of communities and organisations that already had their own network of volunteers or members, and in doing so opened up citizen science to a new set of people.
Plans now are underway to set up of a much larger acoustic bat project across southern Scotland, in partnership with the Bat Conservation Trust, National Trust for Scotland and funded by Scottish Natural Heritage to run from May 2016. More broadly, with bat detectors recording more than just bats (e.g. >300,000 recordings of bush-crickets from Norfolk), there is clearly an exciting opportunity for “bat recording” to contribute more widely to biological recording in the future.
Dr Stuart Newson, British Trust for Ornithology
Newson, S.E., Evans, H.E. & Gillings, S. 2015. A novel citizen approach for large-scale standardised monitoring of bat activity and distribution, evaluated in eastern England. Biological Conservation 191: 38-49. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320715002323
Newson, S.E., Ross-Smith, V., Evans, I., Harold, R., Miller, R. & Barlow, K. 2014. Bat-monitoring: a novel approach. British Wildlife 25: 264-269.