This post was first published by The Croydon Citizen on 18/04/2018.
Going bats in Wandle Park
If you live near Wandle Park, it’s likely that the neighbourhood’s bats will have wintered in your attic.
This was one of several fascinating bat-facts brought to us by Croydon Council’s knowledgeable Community Partnerships Officer for Parks and Leisure, Meike Weiser. She led our intrepid group, which assembled at Wandle Park tram stop as dusk was falling on Friday 13th April. Meike had a bat detector with her, to pick up the tiny mammals’ cries which are outside the range of human hearing. To my astonishment, so did others. There were also several with bat-detection apps. Croydon is a hotbed of bat-geekery… who knew?
Bats are the only flying mammals. They emerge from hibernation in the spring when many of the females are pregnant and in need of lots of energy from food. On awakening at dusk, bats circle until a large group of them has gathered, then fly in formation, going first to the nearest water to drink. Hence, by the Wandle at nightfall was our best chance to spot them.
I wondered if our large and chatty group might scare the bats away, but happily this was not the case. The creatures prefer to move straight, following roadways and treelines, so we stayed on the paths and as the sky darkened, the bat detectors flashed and beeped as several pipistrelles (the smallest and commonest bat found in the UK) flickered and dived above the water. Noctule bats have also been seen in Wandle Park, Meike told us, and on one occasion a larger and rarer brown long-eared bat was spotted. Group member Dave Vigor reported that he’d recorded a pipistrelle from his window in Addiscombe in the last week.
If you do find bats in your roof, the species is protected, as is their habitat; you can’t just remove them and you need to contact Natural England for advice. Bats have suffered badly from declining insect populations in the UK – no surprise when you learn that one single bat eats around 3,000 insects in a night of hunting.
My hearing’s pretty awful compared to other humans, let alone to bats, but I also picked up from conversations around me that quite a few of the group’s members had never been to Wandle Park before. They were pleasantly surprised by the river, the bandstand and the café, which make this such a beautiful urban oasis. Word about the batwalks must have spread across Croydon and beyond.
Thanks to Meike Weiser and the park’s Events Manager, Andy Dickinson, for organising such an interesting evening.