Bats: the flying commuters

Bad being held with extended wing

Did you know? The railway is a commuting route for bats.

Bats follow features in the landscape using echolocation to identify their route of travel, and the railway provides a linear pathway through towns. The railway differs from roads in that busy motorways are so brightly lit and wide that they can provide a barrier to the movement of bats through and across the landscape. The vegetation along the railways may also provide good foraging and roosting habitat for a variety of species.

Here are some other things you might not have known about bats on the railway.

Bats a fact!

  • There are 18 species of bat recorded in Britain. Of these species, 17 are known to breed here.
  • Bat species that can be found on the railway include Natterer’s, common pipistrelle, soprano pipistrelle, Noctule and brown long-eared bats.
  • Noctule bats prefer to roost in trees but don’t like tunnels. The other bats mentioned above can be found both in trees and structures (such as station buildings and tunnels).
  • Bats are most likely to be found in railway tunnels in the winter during hibernation, when they will rest in a state of ‘torpor’ in crevices and cracks that provide a relatively stable temperature and good level of humidity. They can also hibernate in trees. In the summer they are more likely to be found in trees along the railway, roosting in cavities, rot holes and beneath flaking bark.
  • Bats are protected by European and UK legislation. They are European Protected Species but are also protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
  • Ecology surveys are undertaken as a routine measure before any work to structures or trees. However, if under unforeseen circumstances bats were found during the course of our work on the railway, the work would have to stop immediately and an ecologist would assess the situation.
  • In the unusual event that we’re planning any work on the railway that might impact bats, we would need to apply to the environmental regulator for a European Protected Species mitigation licence and mitigate the effect of the work, maintaining the conservation status of the species. Much of the time, because our work is often minor or associated with repair, this mitigation would comprise a strategy to avoid impacting the bats or the roost – for example doing work at a time of year when the bats are not there. If necessary, in certain circumstances, we would seek advice as to whether we should provide replacement or additional roost sites. Licences are also needed for surveying and some other conservation activities.
  • All the UK bat species are insectivorous. A single common pipistrelle bat (one of our smallest species) can eat over 3,000 midges in a night!

Working with wildlife

We are dedicated to minimising our impact on wildlife. Our in-house ecologists work alongside external experts to carry out detailed surveys helping us to identify the animals, insects and plants in the area that might be affected by our railway maintenance and upgrade work.

We work closely with national conservation groups, natural environment regulators and authorities in England, Scotland and Wales, if necessary consulting them before starting work, and calling on their experts when needed.

Find out more

Sharing our railway with wildlife

How we’re working with nature

Managing habitats by the railway

Guide to the UK’s bats (National Trust website)