BATS article by racopland
It is not unusual to find that there are bats in residence in a house. Bats are harmless creatures
and there is no need to take any action to remove them. In fact, bats are a protected species
under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. Disturbance of them or their habitat is an offence under
the Act. The first thing is to determine that the creatures who are present are indeed bats and
not mice. It is fairly unusual to see bats. They are nocturnal and so when they are active, we
are usually asleep. On a summer evening as dusk falls you might see them flying around your
garden catching flying insects on the wing since insects are their food source. The most likely
place they will be living is in your loft or roof space where they can creep into corners usually
up under the ridge of the roof and sleep the day away in the dry and warm. As night falls, they
go out on their insect hunt.
So, how do we confirm their presence? The evidence we see is their droppings which are small,
no more than about 8-9 millimetres long and 3 millimetres wide and dark brown or black in
colour. This is pretty much the same as mouse droppings. Mice are present in very many roof
spaces. The reason for this is that, like bats, they seek dry areas where they can live without
disturbance, coming out at night perhaps to prowl around your house looking for crumbs you
may have left lying around. Now mice, unlike bats, are a pest. They are destructive. They chew
up insulation around pipes, giving rise to freezing in the cold winter weather and sometimes
chewing the plastic outer casing of electric cables risking short circuits if bare copper wires
touch each other. Houses have burnt down as a result of this.
How do we differentiate between the excreta of bats and mice since they look so similar? It’s
really quite easy, as long as you’re not too squeamish. Take a dropping and roll it between
finger and thumb. A bat dropping will readily become dust as it is completely dry and consists
of bits of insect legs, wings, torsos etc whereas mouse droppings are very hard and cannot
easily be crushed. (Now wash your hands before tucking into your sandwich!). If they are
mouse droppings, you should take immediate steps to eradicate them by calling a pest controller
who will put down poison. If they are bat droppings there is no need to take any action as there
are not usually that many bats present. However, if you are proposing any work which would
disturb them, such as a loft conversion, bear in mind that disturbing them, or their habitat is an
offence. You should contact English Nature or an ecologist who will advise on the species,
whether this is a maternity roost or a winter roost and what precautions should be taken to avoid
disturbance. This might be as simple as advising what time of year the work should be carried
Unusually, it is sometimes known for a large bat colony to be in residence and the piles of
droppings can build up to large heaps. In this case, the droppings should be carefully swept up
and removed before the heap gets too large. The reason for this is that they are very dry and if
any moisture should get in, the pile of droppings will absorb the moisture. This can lead to
staining coming through the ceiling and in extreme circumstances the heap become very heavy
and if the ceiling is weak, such as might be the case with an old lath and plaster ceiling, it could
possibly collapse. In these extreme cases a droppings board can be placed in the place where
the droppings collect. This facilitates the occasional sweeping up and removal of the droppings
which can be dug into the garden as compost.
It is worth mentioning that if the droppings are much larger, say 15-18 millimetres long, your
uninvited guests could be rats or squirrels. Once again these should be eradicated because of
damage they might cause, and their nocturnal activities can sometimes sound like little
hobnailed boots clumping around on your bedroom ceiling.
© RAC Surveyors art 011/23/3