S4E35 We're back with a brand new series! This week Steve joins a volunteer roost visitor, Chris Smith from Staffordshire Bat Group, on a roost visit requested by the Bat Conservation Trust. Chris discusses the value of the free service, how he got into volunteering for the visits and why he thinks it provides such a great positive outcome for bats (most of the time!). Hear how Chris undertakes the survey and provides advice to the roost owners afterwards.
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Hello, and welcome to series four of BatChat. From the Bat Conservation Trust, it only seems like five minutes ago that we were introducing series one.This podcast is for anyone who loves bats. It brings you the stories from the world of bat conservation, from the people on the ground, doing work that furthers our understanding of these magical creatures. There's a lot of information and experience out there, and our aim is to bring it right to you.I'm Steve Roe. I'm an ecologist and a trustee of the Bat Conservation Trust. Before I introduce our first guest of this new series, I just want to say thank you to all of you who have got in touch over the summer to say how much you enjoyed the podcast. I've had a brilliant time interviewing all our guests for this series. And over the next five months, I look forward to sharing them with you. And now you yourself can appear on BatChat to more information on that at the end of the show. For our first guest, we travelled to Stafford to undertake a roof visit with Chris Smith from Staffordshire bat group. I've known Chris for many years now and attended several groups visits with him when I was training for my bat licence in the early 2000s.Chris starts off by explaining what a roof visit is and how it works. So we're just on the otherside of a heatwave. And we just had a rainstorm and it's cooled off a little bit. And you can hear the birds sing in the background. And I'm with Chris Smith from Staffordshire bat group. And Chris, where are we and what are we doing?Chris Smith:
Okay, we are just south of Stafford. And we're here at the request of the Bat Conservation Trust to talk to a homeowner who needs to do some building repairs. But they've got bats, it's a maternity roost of common pipistrelle bats,they've had them for a number of years. And they're really keen to make sure that when they do the work, they're not going to harm their bats, they're not going to be causing a difficulty for the bats that's going to cause them a problem because they want their bats back in the future. They don't want to inadvertently exclude their bats as well.Steve Roe:
So what is the VBRV or volunteer bat roost visitor service? What what is it and what does it do?Chris Smith:
Okay, so the volunteer bat roost visitor service, the Bat Conservation just run it as a telephone service, initially for homeowners to get ahold of, if they have a problem with that.So if they have an issue with bats, and then the telephone call service at BCT then go out to find if necessary, a volunteer roost visitor and the volunteer roost visitors are specially licenced within Natural England's bat licencing system so that you are allowed to go and do visits to homeowners, you're allowed to go and advise them you're allowed to go and go in and disturb bats and look at bats. So that's obviously what the licence covers. So the licence is allowing you to go and do that.It isn't a licence that is used for commercial work, it is purely for volunteer who's visitors to go in and, and help the home owner so Natural England have set it up so that homeowners can have some help and support and input about their bats and the bats are going to be supported. But at the same time. Part of when you do your loose visitor training is you are trying to find a way for people and bats to coexist.So that that is where the difficult bit arises. But at least homeowners are given the opportunity to have someone who is supportive of them and the bats in trying to find a way forward rather than just them thinking we've got to get rid of the bats. We only wait we can do our extension our roof repairs or whatever is to get rid of the bats. And that isn't something that Natural England wanted. So they've set up the volunteer roost visitor service.Steve Roe:
And how long have you been? Well, first of all involved in Bat Conservation but also doing the VBRV service.Chris Smith:
I think I got my first licence about 2005. So as I became licenced as a volunteer who's visitor working basic safety staff here and you end up travelling around. I'm a building surveyor. So I bring in slightly different skills because obviously I've had 30odd years been working on buildings and contract works. So I've been in slightly different skills, which has meant that also I've ended up doing volunteer booths visits somewhat further away where people have maybe got a more specific need for something that's building related as to how they need to do repairs to their house or to a missions. SoSteve Roe:
the house about to go into his just over the road here what species is the rest of what's the issue that they've got in this particular property.Chris Smith:
So the they've got a maternity roost of common pipistrelles here, which was found a number of years ago,they've already had visits from volunteer roost visitors in the past to find out about their bats and about problems they had with bat droppings on their boiler and just in their roof space. So that's allowed them to know about the roost visitor service, they've then come back to BCT. To say that they need some roof repairs. They've got problems with a valley gutters,the valley gutters quite close to the where the maternity roost is. So they need some advice and some support and help on how they can get their repairs done,while at the same time being very aware of the backs and actually they want to keep their bats so they want to work around their bats as best they can.Steve Roe:
Great. Let's go Let's go meet them.Chris Smith:
Okay, I'll go have a look there and then I'll come down because I've got some notes off the bat conservation anything else and then have a word your back the word you want to do? And how you're going to show you Yes.Homeowner:
Would you like to drink thenChris Smith:
cup a cup of tea then it'd be wonderful tea thank you. Steve you happy coming up with your recording equipment?Steve Roe:
Borded out roof void;luxury!Chris Smith:
Yes, a roof void,you can stand up in with boards on and everything else. What I've been told by BCT is that they wanted to replace the valley gutter because it's, we can see here, it's all the felt's coming away. And it looks like there's two or three layers of felt has been patched. So they just wanted to make sure that it wasn't going to affect their bats or do it in such a way that it wouldn't affect the bats. And thisSteve Roe:
can say this, there's a little MDF box, with a load of and then some doors onChris Smith:
this house. So in they've had two other roost visits and they've obviously wanted to contain the droppings and everything. And the bats look like they're going to be in the cavity or the soffit on the outside. And so presumably this if we open it is a little bat house. And then we go look. So the roof here it's a modern trust. Rafter roof sits up against the gable end, which is blockwork. The outside of the cavity will be brickwork. I don't know looking at it at the moment where the cavity is got insulation in it. But a wooden to think it's going to be full of insulation, it looks like it's a 1970s 80s building. So maybe half the cavity has got insulation in it. And there's a reasonable amount of droppings stuck on cobwebs. And it looks like they'd been pushed out of the top of the cavity wall or between the top of the block work and the underfilled and then just catching in spider's webs just reach in and grab a couple and they just crumble up to dust. So typical bat droppings. They did say a little while ago that their boost was200. So that's a really nice big roost. And as I drove down here,on the left hand side of the road here that the House backs on to trees woodland and it looks like a little stream down there. So presumably, it's a very good spot for foraging. So they've obviously picked the house because of that.Steve Roe:
So this bat house has been put in like save because of a previous visit was the issue the number of droppings or was it back into the living space orChris Smith:
on the original boost reports they were putting a new boiler in and the bat droppings were around where the new boiler was going in. And so they didn't know about the bat droppings until they were put in the boiler room. And then they wanted to contain the bats partly from coming into the living space, but also to stop the droppings building up around the boiler. I have found before now bats occasionally climbing into boilers to keep warm. So it isn't really something you want apnea you want to keep the bats and the droppings out of your boiler so they've obviously agreed some format just for creating this box that then is sealed against the blockwork Look so that the bat droppings don't fall out, they don't get into the boiler. And then as a side benefit, obviously they don't have the Mr. Plum said he cleans out regularly to couple of times a year, the bat droppings in here, but then doesn't have bat droppings in the rest of the roof space. And the work they have said BCT that they want to do is on the valley gutters here, which are probably at close this three metres away from the front of that house.And they obviously really keen on their bats because they want to make sure they're doing the work in such a way that they're not going to disturb the bats or minimise disturbance to the bats.Steve Roe:
The roof structure we're studying, it's a really modern structure, and it's poured out in the middle. And like Chris says, We've got a modern timber truss structure in the bitumen felts or rips few metres away from the from the box. And we can see evidence of the starts of old wasps or Hornets nests underneath the tiles.Unknown:
And whether whether this has been pulled apart to look at what they've got there in order to assess what needs to do to repair the valley gutter or whether it's just falling apart for old age, I'm not sure.But in places there's two or three layers and it's sagging.So I think they've done some repairs, or perhaps done because the the roof here looks like it might have been extended. So maybe what they've done is they've extended in the past.And when they've joined the roof together, the change in direction is going to be where the tiles cut. And if tiles are cut, these are interlocking, you can see from the back here,they're interlocking pantiles of some sort. And if they if you have a big tiles, if you cut them, you'd necessarily have destroyed some of the bit where they seal against each other the images. So it may be that that's where the problem is. But we'll have to go and have a look on the outside and go and see.Alright, let's, let's make our way out. Just like the next piece of this before my time we're just gonna have a quick look on the outside. And then I'll come on over word with you about the works that you've planned. And we'll have a look at what you want to do when it's raining or guys. Go in and out quickly. And Steve, so this is the gable end. And there's just a few dropping still on there.It's a bit dark looking at it.But they're obviously going underneath the soffit.Somewhere. And your work over here. Yeah. Long will be absolutely fine. Because yes,that one even you can yes, you can see the the valley with the mortar coming out either. So one of the problems and so you should be absolutely fine.Because yeah, they'll obviously have to take off one or two tiles either side. Yeah. And then put the new Valley plastic all the way down. It'll run all the way down to the gutter, and then just cut the tiles in. But the closest they're going to be well, if they scaffold up here,they're going to be metre and a half to two metres away from the bat. So if you're doing it in September when the likelihood is the may still be one or two bats, but you won't have any maternity leaves that shouldn't disturb it.Homeowner:
That's the thing.Exactly. The young might have gone.Chris Smith:
Yeah, well, the young should by then be flying,be out and about. And you might just end up with one or two that's there. But that should be minimum matter disturbance for the bass.Homeowner:
We haven't gone out recently to look at them flying.But when we did once a couple of100Chris Smith:
as anyone ever counted them out for you exactly.Homeowner:
No, we're not exactly No, no, we did count them out and roughly. All right, I think we're up to about 200 Move the camera down theChris Smith:
Yes. Straight over we keepHomeowner:
our garden as you can see, it's sort of semi wild.Unknown:
So would you be interested in finding out how many bats are there? I'm just thinking because we've got quite a few volunteers in the Staffordshire bat group and I'm wondering if anyone who lives close to you would come and count them andHomeowner:
the only problem would say we've got is the moment for a few dropping for whatever reason. We always knowChris Smith:
this. Yeah, to get them all right. So we just got my notes here.Steve Roe:
As Chris is now making some notes based on what we've just seen upstairs. So I mean, based on what we see outside Chris, what's your recommendation to the homeowner gonna be?Unknown:
Okay, looking at what we've seen in the roof space and looking at what they've told me so far to BCT, which will be passed on to me. I think it will really just be a case of making sure that they aren't doing the work when the likelihood that the bats are here. They have said that about Santi at the moment, but maternity moves move they they'll often move around depend on the weather conditions on the insects, so it's quite likely they could come back later on. So you can't sort of make the assumption that gone now permanently. So I think, you know, I'd be looking at asking them not to do the work until after being in September. And making sure there's a method of work in place for the contractors, the work that I've been taught by BCT, if that's exactly what the work is, isn't too far away, is three metres away from the box they're created. But it's not in the same area of roof where the bats have roosting in the gable in soffits. So it shouldn't be a big disturbance. So really, if we can timetable it when the bats are unlikely to be there,and we can make sure that the contractors know what to look for do everything by hand, take it apart slowly. And when they put any new under felting underneath where they're going to put the valleys in. That if it's all in bitchiness, then,that way we've, we've done absolutely the best we can for the bats, the homeowner can have all the repairs done, and they've been really considerate about the bats. And hopefully everyone will feel it's been a success. I always accept cups of tea. I'm sorry, Steven. But it's twofold. Because it also partly relaxes everyone. Everyone sits down with a cup of tea, and they're doing things and then occupy. But also, I do a lot of stuff in Birmingham, which is for Asian families and all Indian community. They all have got maybe not so much some of the younger people. But a lot of the older people, it's really important for them when you come into their house to welcome you in and they want to and so actually refusing to drink is not frowned upon. But obviously it's just difficult because they didn't want to it don't want to welcome you here so. So I always except for city. So can everybody about the proposed works?Homeowner:
We hadn't heard of it before. Because the gullies are often given as a problem. You'll see when you go out with the cement under the towers breaks away fills the galley initial coming down, and we get a lot of moss, because that's north and this was certainly actually got a lot of moss on that side. So we asked a Chappie to come around and say, Could we reach cement repoint him? And he said,Why don't we put in equal dry valleys? I'd have a dry galley.But dry bagging. And I've never heard of them before. Have you have you? Yes. So basically,it's yeah, it's if you have not,you know, you've put a plastic membrane under and you bring the tiles together. So I had a word with them. They said it didn't doesn't create too much noise.But they will be here with the fourth property. That's bit less than a week, perhaps.Chris Smith:
And obviously, what don't have to do that's to take out some of the tiles either side of the valley, and then cut some new ones. So that it all matches in. And I see I see the the underfilled. Up there was ripped. I don't know whether they'd taken that off to have a look at the becauseHomeowner:
No, no, no, that's been ripped for ages. No, IChris Smith:
haven't. So presumably they'll be placed that well they do they will do is just put a button in I think looking at me because because that will will close off the value. So it was a real big problem. Yeah. Because Because obviously what you've got is the cement is at the end of the the tiles where they've been cut.And as everything expands or contracts over time, it all falls out. So yes, it will avoid all of that for you. It wouldHomeowner:
before galleries you have to doUnknown:
that. And so yes, and it's not too close to the bat roost. So So I think if yes,they're bound to do, there's bound to be some noise because they'll have to put a tower scaffold up or scaffold and towards working around. Normally your back boost I suspect goes at the end of September, end ofHomeowner:
September couldn't see them really starting before the mid to end of September.Unknown:
In which case if you're if your bat roost, which normally will start to break up as a return to some time you know mid to late August, by the time we get to middle of September, hopefully, most of the bats if not all of them will have gotten maybe down to a small number. So the odd one up to up to October. Yes, you're dropping out? Yeah. Yes. So So planning the work for September should not be a problem. And what I'll do is, I think that if you've got a method of work that you can give to the contractors so that they're aware of the bats, and then they'll be looking out for everything.Because obviously, a lot of contractors they understand that's a protected with a method of work to look at to work with.There'll be aware of the backs,they'll know that if they find anything, they can just stop work. And you know, you've got my telephone number, I can always then speak to him on the phone or come out if necessary.Yeah, and I think that's it, I think if you if you've got a contractor or can find a contractor who, who understands about bats, it's so much easier because the vaccine themselves aren't harming the property, the bats in themselves aren't going to be a problem from a health point of view. It's just the fact that they're there. And people need to be aware of how to to work around them and timescaleHomeowner:
mainly, because it gets very hot in my car be fairly warm from the last few days. But, but it's not too bad.I usually have a mask on when I go up anyway.Chris Smith:
And being in the roof space. At least it's not too but you're not gonna smell into the house.Homeowner:
No, no, no, not at all in the house.Good. Good.Are we, you know now that we've come out of Europe. Are we still registrered with Europe? Is it a different legislation?Chris Smith:
It's all still the same law, which is the wildlife and countryside act 1981. And what happens is they've just there are then regulations,which part of them were European regulations, then they've just been amended and dumped into British law. Separate from now,but there's no real change in the law is no change in in the protection for bats at all.They're just maybe changing the actual regulate regulations. You have to quote if you quote them,but the same volunteer or all volunteers? Yes, yes. But my my day job is on the building surveyor, and I specialise in doing surveys for bats.So that's why I end up doing end up doing this with bats. And particularly, I ended up doing things where people have got building works, because I know about the materials and everything else, this is where my, my skills tend to come across. Basically, I can I can do the report back to the Bat Conservation Trust, they'll send you a letter, you can then have that letter to give to your contractor. So your contractor will have a method of work, you know how they should go about it to minimise disturbance and harm to bats. But also giving them some comfort that they're not going to be doing anything illegal by doing the work for you, inadvertently you're Yeah,that's good.Homeowner:
You say end of September is the best rather thanUnknown:
I think from the middle of September onwards, you,there's always a chance you could have one or two backs in there. Yeah, but the work is far enough away from the area where the bats are. And hopefully they doing the valleys. There'll be taking a few tiles off either side of the valley, they're not doing the whole. So they're in a localised area, yes, there will be some noise, maybe a bit of dust, but they can do all of that to keep minimised. Keep it away from the loose access. So it should be absolutely fine.Homeowner:
That's reassuring.Anyway, it's nice that we, you know, yeah, that's very helpful.Because we will always do worry,you're gonna say, well, we can't do that sort of thing I would do. And we have got a problem with those Galatian.Chris Smith:
Yeah, that shouldn't be a problem that we saw, you'd be saying, No, you can't do anything. Oh, no, no.And this is this. This is what the whole the volunteer roosters the systems for is to get people out to who know about that to talk to you as homeowners and hopefully, find a way that you can, you can live in your house and share it with bats and both be happy. That's what the the aim of it is. It's just They were very nice. They were they're nice. People aren't sometimes difficult, you know,trying to balance you need works done and the bats are there, but trying to come up with a scheme that allows both to go ahead.really good. And they're interested in the bats. Yeah.And I think that's just it's so interesting that bats that's really where The whole versus the thing works well, because they're interested in their bats. And then you can, you can,you know, retain that interest and actually get more involved.What's,Steve Roe:
what's the next step for you then?Unknown:
Okay, so I'll take some photographs, taking a few notes,what I'll do now is I will go home. And there's a standard form that the Bat Conservation Trust have done in conjunction with Natural England. That makes it easy for a roost visitor to fill in, it's got a lot of questions on it. And a lot of stuff that needs to be answered about how buildings are put together, where the bats are,what they're using as how they're getting in and out. So that at least, when BCT take that information to Natural England, naturing can read through it, they can read through my notes will be added to it about what I think the bats are doing, how they're using the building, and what the works are what would involve in disturbance, or harm to bats.And then they can read through all of the notes there that I've written, they can look through all the standard bits and pieces, ticking all the boxes.And hopefully, it will allow Natural England's officer to make a quick decision.Steve Roe:
So I mean, you've done countless ones of these over the years, and you're clearly very happy doing it to take time out of your day to do it in your spare time. What what's the value of the VBRV service?Unknown:
Okay, the value, the value to bats, I think is is really big, because that for that for homeowner, for homeowners got bats, a lot of homeowners, I think when they talk to contractors, or maybe when they buy the stuff in the press, bats aren't always given very good press bats are seen as an issue, bats are seen as a stop on people being allowed to,to use their house, how they want to use it, to repair it, to maintain it and extend it. And really, that isn't how the bat should be seen. And the volunteer visitor service is a way for Natural England to help homeowners except their bats.And for me, it's a really good way of supporting bats, but equally supporting the homeowners because what, what I ideally want to do is to have a homeowner who is happy to have their bats, they can get that bee pest and they can get the extension and they can do whatever they want. But if they can keep their bats, then both of them on a win. And if they can do it in such a way that actually then they maybe become keener on their bats. Sometimes people will then get involved with the local bank group.Sometimes they'll allow people to come in and do boost cats,sometimes it's just then that you've got a contact that maybe it's just going to talk to their neighbours and be very happy saying their neighbours all bats and not a problem at all. And then they'll also be very positive about the whole use this to service Bat Conservation Trust Natural England. And it's really just trying to get a win win for everybody. And I think the volunteers for service can do that. You do get ones that are difficult, you get ones where the problem is so intractable from a physical building point of view that you have no alternative other than exclude the bats. The problem can also be so intractable because of the householder that the household has attitude.However much you spend time talking to them however much you go and, and maybe go on tour three visits, and really work on engagements, everything else,they're never going to like their bats. So sometimes you end up having to go down the route of exclusions. But that is that is rare. It's also a good learning thing. It's it's very good way of, you know, learning how to deal with people. And it's part of what the training for the volunteer boosters disease, about how to deal with people who have these difficulties and had to come up with ways of, of supporting the homeowner and the backs in everything from how you talk to them to how you approach it to how positive you can be about their works and everything else.Steve Roe:
I was gonna say you've answered that question. I was gonna say you said hopefully it's positive experience mean? I mean, it's very hard to say but on a percentage, how many are not a positive experience from the homeowner side of things?Unknown:
If I think if I assessed not been a positive experience by excluding bats,which is the that is the worst outcome. Absolutely everybody apart from the homeowner because the homeowner clearly doesn't want them but the backs to exclude the roost of bats is got to be the worst outcome. So in the past five years, I think cause physically done to roost exclusions and advised our third one. So, how many roosters it's do I do a year? That doesn't 15.So out of so that's maybe three out of 45/50 visits, which are think I don't know how that compares to other roost visitors. But the exclusions that I did do, one of them had gone on for a number of years with a lot of roofers as they tried all sorts of different ways. And it really was absolutely, after four or five years, maybe more than that, it was the only way to solve the solution. So three out of 45 in the past couple of three years,I think it's got to be reasonably good as a as a benchmark to start off with,Steve Roe:
yes, not bad as and you touched on in there. You've had to travel slightly further,because there's a lack of volunteers around and that number has been slowly dwindling over the over the last few years. Where do you see the future of the service going?Unknown:
I'd like to see the future the service carrying on as it is, I know that have been funding issues with bat conservation, just naturally England are know that they've got alternative fundings in place. I think the service is a very good one. I think the difficulty is that there are a lot of people who it is difficult to commit to it.Because if you become quite engaged with the homeowners and their bats, you can become quite committed to it. And you feel you ought to be going out. And doing lots and lots of work to help and support them. Lots of you know, night counts on how many bats were coming out. And it is just difficult because we're volunteers. So on, I've got a full time job, my full time job involves me and bats,which means I'm doing at this time of year, evening surveys and doing surveys. And it is it is a real difficult balance to do. In the winter, it's a lot easier because I'm not doing evening surveys. So I think for volunteer, I think the really,the more volunteers we can have,the better. And I'm always happy to train new people to come and do it. And I'm probably I'll probably produce one new roost visitor every couple of years at the moment. So the volunteers will come out with me, they'll come on booths visits, they will observe to start with then they'll end up you know, sort of running the routes, visit with me looking at it and making sure and helping and supporting them and, and stepping in if necessary. But it isn't a quick and easy process. Because at the same time, they've got to do all of the usual work for getting a licence from bat ecology,biology and everything else. So if someone's already got a licence as a consultant, they can quite quickly, you know,transfer over to get that extra licence to do volunteer routes visits. But for members of back groups who aren't working in bats, it's quite a big commitment for them to also spend the time to do the training to come out and do this as well as me doing the route visits might be evenings,weekends, like today. It's just a big commitment. So I would really like to see the whole volunteer blue service carry on.And I would hope the funding could be found to do it because I just think it is such a positive experience most of the time for homeowners and batsSteve Roe:
Great stuff and nicely timed just as the rain starts. Chris Smith, thank you very much.Chris Smith:
Thank you, Steve.Steve Roe:
Well, a huge thanks to Chris for having me along on that route visit. If you'd like to find out more about how to become a route visitor the link is in the show notes. Now I mentioned at the start the show that you guys can appear on BatChat to we want you to get in touch with your favourite battery experience. It doesn't matter whether it was the first time you've ever seen about you might have seen a brief shadow flying past as you were leaving your house. Perhaps you've been checking bat boxes with your local bat group. And so if that's of close for the first time or so of that species that you've never seen before,perhaps you've counted a bat roost this summer and something unusual happened, maybe heard what bats sound like on a detector and thought it was the coolest thing ever. Whether you're new to bats or a seasoned bat lover, we want to hear all about your favourite bat experience. So please do get in touch. The voicemail link is in the show notes. And don't worry,you can hear your message back and rerecord it if you don't like it before sending it to us.Messages can be up to 90 seconds long. We can't wait to hear from you. And we'll be back in two weeks time with the Sussex bat group. So see you then.