Wightlink helps to plot the journey of one of the Isle of Wight’s most special seasonal visitors

Bat expert Adrian Bicker is regularly travelling from his home in Dorset to the Isle of Wight this spring to gather data for what is thought to be the largest scale area-monitoring survey for bat activity ever undertaken.

Wightlink is supporting Adrian with cross-Solent travel while he carries out his important research into the migration of the Nathusius Pipistrelle, a rare bat in the UK – not to be mistaken for the country’s most common species, the Common Pipistrelle and Soprano Pipistrelle.

Very little is known about the migratory habits of this special creature, although previous research using rings (a method commonly used to track birds) has found six Nathusius Pipistrelles in England that were originally ringed in Latvia and Lithuania.

Keen to find out more, Adrian set about detecting Nathusius Pipistrelles in his local area and found around 400 passing west along the Dorset coastline each autumn. He assumed they would migrate back to the Baltic in the spring along the same route, but the evidence was inconclusive.

Initial research by Adrian last year found some activity at Hurst Castle and Fort Victoria in the western Solent, but much higher numbers were detected at Gurnard. He believed if they were not flying in from the west they may be arriving from the south. This was one of several clues that led him to believe that the bats may be migrating across the English Channel.

This spring, Adrian has placed a number of small ‘AudioMoth’ bat detectors designed by experts at the Universities of Oxford and Southampton at locations across the Isle of Wight. Colleagues have set up extra detectors in the Channel Islands and along the French coast.

These bat detectors record the high-frequency calls that the bats use to “see in the dark”. The shape and pitch of these calls enables Adrian to tell when a Nathusius Pipistrelle has flown past the detector.

Adrian says: “This year’s acoustic survey on the Isle of Wight aims to prove that Nathusius Pipistrelles really do fly across the Channel on their way back to the Baltic. If they are heading out from the Normandy coast around Cherbourg it would make the Isle of Wight a likely landfall on this side of the Channel.

“If we can demonstrate waves of activity leaving the French coast, passing through the Channel Islands and arriving on the Isle of Wight it would be strong evidence of Channel migration – all new knowledge to help us understand the life of this amazing little bat.”

Nicola Craig, Environmental Officer at Wightlink, says: “We were really interested to learn of Adrian’s research into this rare species of bat and were delighted to help him with travel to and from the Island to help him learn more about their migratory habits.

“It is amazing to think that these tiny creatures are capable of flying so far and it will be particularly interesting to learn if they are flying such large distances over open water.

“Wightlink is keen to support projects that help the environment, having already been involved in a number of marine research projects in the Solent. We are looking forward to learning the results of Adrian’s research into one of the Isle of Wight’s most special visitors.”

For more information, contact Karen Woods on 07775 694266 or [email protected]