Bats: the flying commuters

Bad being held with extended wing

Did you know the railway is a commuting route for bats?

Bats follow the landscape using echolocation - finding objects through the reflection of sound - 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 wide and brightly lit 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.

Bat facts:

  • There are 18 species of bat recorded in Britain. Of these species, 17 are known to breed here.
  • All the UK bat species are insectivorous. A single common pipistrelle bat (one of our smallest species) can eat more than 3,000 midges in a night!
  • 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 protected by European and UK legislation. They are European Protected Species but are also protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Conservation

Bats are most likely to be found in railway tunnels in the winter during hibernation. During the colder months they rest in a state of inactivity in crevices and cracks that provide a relatively stable temperature and good humidity level. 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.

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.

Soprano pipistrelle bats found during an annual bat box inspection on the railway in Oxford

We would need to apply to the environmental regulator for a European Protected Species mitigation licence and mitigate the effect of the work in the unusual event we plan any work on the railway that might impact bats.

Since such 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, 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.

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.