BatChat

The History of Bat Conservation with Dr Bob Stebbings

March 01, 2023 Bat Conservation Trust Season 4 Episode 43
BatChat
The History of Bat Conservation with Dr Bob Stebbings
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

S4E43 As series four comes to a close, Steve sits down with a titan of bat conservation. Dr Robert (Bob) Stebbings is one of the original bat workers in the UK and in this episode we hear about some of the major bat conservation work undertaken by Bob over the last half century.

Make sure you follow the show so you get notified of our two bonus episodes which will go out before the next series. The first of those will be an interview with the team who made Wild Isles and you can watch the trailer for this upcoming landmark nature documentary here.

Night Winged was written by Helen Ball and you can find her on twitter and Instagram.

Get in touch with the show - comms@bats.org.uk - if you have a story to share, are doing a bat project or want to submit a piece of writing or poetry.

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Steve Roe:

Hello, and welcome to BatChat from the Bat Conservation Trust, the leading charity in the United Kingdom solely devoted to the conservation of bats and the landscapes on which they rely. This podcast is for anyone who loves bats. We bring you stories straight to your headphones from the world of bat conservation, and from the people out there doing work that furthers our understanding of these magical creatures. I'm Steve Roe; professionally, I'm an ecologist and in my spare time, I'm a trustee of the Bat Conservation Trust. You can join the conversation online using the hashtag BatChat - that's all one word. This week, we've a bumper episode for you. And it's actually our last in this current series. But don't panic. We have some news on that for you later in the show. This week, we're sitting down with Dr. Robert Stebbings. We heard about Bob in the very first episode of BatChat from Shirley Thompson, who mentioned he was involved in the TV episode,'bats need friends' at the end of the first ever national bat year in the late 1980s. Bob now lives in Northamptonshire, and it was last summer when I met him at his house. After catching up over coffee, we sat down in the conservatory overlooking his garden and I asked him how it all started.

Dr Bob Stebbings:

So we'll start from the beginning. I mean, you were 12 when you became interested in bats. I was exactly 10 years old when I was first invited to join a Cambridge University group that had got interested in studying bats at Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, which is where I was born and bred. And I was taken underground on the second of January 1952. And I was shown how to identify the bats that were in chalk mines near Bury St Edmunds. And I was then shown how to ring bats on that first visit. And I was ringing bats from the second of January 1952 At the age of 10, at the age of 10 and two months! And the chap who taught me was a chap called Owen Gilbert, who was a soil scientist who worked for the Nature Conservancy in Maplewood in Cumbria. So he didn't often visit Bury St Edmunds. So we corresponded and telephoned each other occasionally, and I carried on going underground by myself winter after winter, visiting the site and ringing bats and recovering ringed ones and finding new ones, and so on and so forth. And by 1957 I discovered that the activities that well I didn't really realise that at the time, but this was subsequently, I realised that what I was doing was disturbing bats and causing them to avoid being caught. And so in 1957, we wrote a paper about the results, and that was published in the zoological Journal of the zoological society. And basically, it said that the number of bats in any hibernating location was determined by the amount of disturbance they had. Now, I used to go about once a month, so the winter so starting in September, through to April, at the same time, I was looking at research papers published in The Netherlands particularly, were bad work, rigging bats that started in the 1930s. And they had come by 1957, to the conclusion that they too were causing the decline of bats in the places they were looking. But I was also looking at colonies of bats in areas which had been written about in the psychological literature over the previous two centuries. Everything from Gilbert White, talking about the noctue bats in Hampshire, where he lived, and also the noctule bats that lived around the west side of Bury St Edmunds, which used to number say, three or 400 noctules in an eyeful just flying above my head, feeding on summer chafers, the smaller version of the cockchafer over and over just clouds up them. Now by 1960 When I left Bury St Edmunds to start my official work my full time work. Those bats have disappeared all but I'd only see a few. And I've been back several times over the last 40/50 years. And there are very few noctules flying anywhere. I'm in the summer in that part of the country. So you're going from a population that must have numbered many hundreds, down to close to zero now, in the same sort of period, I started work at Hillsborough Research Station in Dorset and which was 1884 Victorian house with hollow walls and several different sections to the roof. And within a short space of time, although I was a botanist, supposedly, I used to go into the roof spaces at lunchtime, and I found nine British species of bats living in that roof. So that was grey long-eared, brown long-eared, Daubenton's occasional whiskered, very occasional Natterer's, mouse-eared bat. Now mouse-eared as you may realise, was very rare at the best of times in Britain. What I did do, though, I did discover in surveying big houses in the purple, I did find where it had been breeding for a number of years, I found a huge pile of droppings in a big building, which also had greater horseshoes as a nursery colony, which was exterminated in 1953. But I didn't discover it until 1961. But because greater horseshoes lived in the area, and I was aware that the numbers had gone down substantially just by talking to local people. And so then I got really interested in working on the greater horseshoe, not only in Dorset, but across Britain, and did discover that the numbers have declined from say 150 to 200,000, down to less than 15,000. The time I was doing this work, I mean, this is sort of condensing 25 years work. And pesticide poisoning, timber treatment in buildings was one of the principal causes. So more and more, I was getting drawn into looking after these bats throughout Britain. And there was a chap called Roger Ransome, who was working in Gloucestershire, around Stroud, and his area sort of went down into the Mendips, and more laterally across to the Forest of Dean, that sort of areas. So he worked on that colony from the late 50s. Right through to, well he's still working! In the case of Wales, the work was, well, a chap called Tom McOwat. I met him on his honeymoon on a boat to Rum. And I was working on the size clines in pipistrelle bats across the whole of the UK. And I had discovered that there are bats on Rum. So I went up there on the 17th of June 1971, in order to catch a sample of the colony living on rum, and on the boat going over there, I just happened to meet Tom McOwat and his wife Rena, and he was basically an artist who had been working for Cumbernauld council as a sort of trainee illustrator artist. And then shortly afterwards, he moved to South Wales to do an art course at Cartmarthan art college. And this was 1972/73, that sort of period. And he kept writing to me saying he was interested in caving, basically. And he kept writing to me saying it found greater horseshoes hanging in various places, mines, caves, just old ones and twos. And so in 1975, we visited all these sites and we started putting rings on them, and the recovered them in different places. And then, there was one day end of 1975 October, there were two botanists working at Stackpole on behalf of the Nature Conservancy, as it still was in those days. And they said they were staying in the stable block at Stackpole. House as walls. And they discovered a chap he was killing bats coming out of the roof of this house, or the stable block and one of the bats they picked up and had a ring on it. That ring then was given to the system regional officer warden in the Nature Conservancy chap called Stephen Evans. A month or more later, that ring got to me. And I said Eureka. And it turned out to be the main breeding site for the greater horseshoe in southwest Wales. I say main because subsequently, we discovered lots of different places. But it was then, through lots of evidence that we investigated, we discovered that must have been at least 15,000 killed at the time in 1962. When the building burnt down, due to a it was a dust fire, basically, explosive fire. And as a result of all that, we talked with all the all the locals who had lived there, and they used to say, well, we you still walk home and the woodlands near there. And bats were constantly bumping into us, you know, great horseshoes that there was so thick in the air, you couldn't avoid being hit by them. So we were started doing a series of pub talks. Saturday night, we'd set up a screen in a pub, we went around to all the local area. And I'd talk, you know, in the pubs about bats really wanting to get local people to come to a saying, Well, we know where bats are and where they used to be and all that. So we got a huge amount of information like that. And it was surprising how much crept out of the woodwork. And so we've gradually built up a very big picture of the whole of West Wales and Tom McOwat has really sort of brought it all to life and managed to get the site's protected, but he's done a tremendous amount of work on it. So that was another episode, which is so important for the bats of West Wales. I mean, it wasn't just the greater horseshoe. When I was doing surveys in west Wales, I came across the first records for serotine bats. And then on one of the courses I used to do at Orielton Field Study Centre, I went up into the roof to show people what we look for in roofs and how to survey for bats and so on so forth, one of the regular courses that I used to do, and I said, 'Oh, that's interesting, that bat up there in the roof, that's a Nathusius' pipistrelle'. And that was the first Nathusius' for Wales. I had found the first for Britain in 1969, in Dorset in the House Research Station that I first studied in. And in that particular case, I happen to be with the senior officer for the research station. And I was just taking him around to show him all the different places, I found bats. And there was a rich tile with a little tiny hole in it. And I looked up and looked in the hole with a torch, couldn't see your face or anything. And I said, 'Oh, that's a bat that's new to Britain'. Just as you do! It took us two days to actually, well got it out of the hole. And then it took two days to really confirm what it was. Because we didn't have all the books and things with us at the time.

Steve Roe:

I was going to say yeah, where do you go for that? Sort of?

Dr Bob Stebbings:

Yeah, so we did measurements and all that. So that got published in Nature, actually, the scientific journal as a new record for Britain. And I should say that when I first started studying bats in Britain, the species list was just 12. And now it's what 17/18? Who knows? New ones turn up! Yeah. So, um, so my life really has been principally looking at the rare, endangered species. The horseshoe work got published in a number of different places. But during the late 1960s, I was getting increasingly concerned that bats were still being killed needlessly. And the thing which changed everything was European conservation year, which was 1970. Now, before 1970, all the telephone calls I used to get were, I've got bats, how do I get rid of them? Well, I did a lot of broadcasting radio and television through the 1960s. And I did an intensive amount during 1970 because all the other species were being highlighted across Europe that needed protection. And I jumped on the bandwagon and said, What about bats because nobody else was interested in bats across Europe. After 1970 I used to get telephone calls, then saying, We've got bats. We know we mustn't kill them, but how can we get rid of them? So the whole tone of telephone calls changed in that one year. Now, Lord Salisbury, who was a botanist, he had got an act in parliament that was beginning to take shape, which was to protect endangered species of plants, wild plants. And a friend of mine at the time who was president of the mammal society and of the Suffolk naturalist society, Lord Cranbrook. I said, Look, we need to get bats protected. Oh, can't do that Their Lordships won't like having bats protected. What can we narrow it down to because the lordships like animals with big eyes and nice cuddly things they don't like the idea of. So we gradually worked it up the wild creatures and wild plants act of 1975 included the mouse eared bat and the greater horseshoe. And also that ringing bats, which were already shown was harming bats through disturbance. We'll put marking bats on it as well. And Cranbrook said, 'well they'll probably accept that'. Sure enough, by the end of 1975, that act was law. And so the mouse-eared which was effectively extinct anyway. And the greater horseshoe were protected, as well as meaning that anyone wanting to bring bats had then to get a licence. So I was employed by the Nature Conservancy to organise the ringing of bats and licencing and all that sort of thing. But that wasn't good enough for me. So after the 75 Act, we then were greatly encouraged in Britain by a chap called Jack Creighton, Lord Creighton, he was Secretary of State for Scotland. He really got interested in bats, and he had much more power in government having been a minister. And we had a number of meetings in Parliament. I gave talks to different groups of MPs and lordships in parliament over two or three years. And eventually, the wildlife and countryside act 1981 was developed and passed. And there was a huge amount of anti Stebbings at the time in the press, and even hit the Washington Post as being a pariah of conservationists still, quite fun. really in some respects, it didn't, didn't really hurt. I was just annoyed.

Steve Roe:

What was it that sort of inspired you to get that group set up? You know, what was the process of it? And how enthusiastic were people to actually get those groups set up? Because some of those pre-date BCT, don't they?

Dr Bob Stebbings:

Oh, yes, yes, yes. Well, there was John Goldsmith in Norwich, sort of Norfolk back group, but one man. He started Oh, he was going in the 1960s. He died of course, a couple of years ago. And then in the 70s, Phil Richardson. So suddenly, somebody who was interested in mammals as well as bats, and sort of floated more towards bats by sort of 1980 ish. So he had started early on. The London bat group, they were quite early with Tony Hutson. So but what I was concerned about, I mean, as I was working full time on bats, it was if you like, I had the time to be able to develop these groups. And I thought, Well, what we need is county bat groups, you know, not just the odd one, but all the counties. And so I started doing courses in different counties in the early 1980s, just when the Act had come into place. So I'd give talks to Council offices, which often included local naturalist and people that the council already knew. And then individual counties came up with a bat group. And a lot of people then came to the various courses that I was running in different places around the country, most noticeably, Preston Montfort in Shropshire, and the Alton Field Study Centre in west Wales, they were always sort of oversubscribed by people wanting to go on the courses. And then I'd give individual courses up and down the country.

Steve Roe:

I mean, you mentioned some great names there. I mean, when I was here, when I was getting into bats, we went, we'd go on holiday to various places to North Norfolk or Devon and Cornwall. And we'd been in the bat group for a couple of years. And we were going on a family holiday to Norfolk. And we'd said to some people in [the group] on the committee we're going to Norfolk, have you got any good places to go. And Pete Bush said 'oh my trainer was John Goldsmith, I'll give you his email address, dropped John an email and got a reply straightaway and said, Yeah, I'm not here that week. But if you phone this lady Sue Parsons, she's doing work at Paston Great Barn'. Phoned Sue she was like, Yeah, I'm doing account next week, you know, come in, come along, here's where to go here's a grid reference. And, you know, she was so enthusiastic took me inside Paston Barn to see these 40/50 barbastelles.

Dr Bob Stebbings:

Nice barn Paston but only if you've not got to pay for the repair of the roof!

Steve Roe:

And it was just so nice to have people who were so enthusiastic to get people involved in and enthused, really. And I think those experiences really did sort of keep me going to do what I'm doing now. What do you think are going to be the challenges for bat conservation in the future?

Dr Bob Stebbings:

Well, again, the watering down and amateurish-ness of Natural England. The focus on species conservation has dropped, which in one sense is okay, if you're maintaining habitats in the way that they are recreating habitats, real rewilding, of course, is the in buzzword I suppose. But when I was young, you know, I'm talking about 1950s. Particularly, you'd go out of an evening, and almost wherever you were, there would be clouds of bats flying around. In the late 70s, I was able to show through national surveys that I started, which has been continued by BCT. I was able to show huge declines happening very quickly, which was principally due to climate, bad weather at the wrong time, you know, so the young of the year couldn't be fed by the mothers because they couldn't get enough food to feed them. And then, of course, it takes years for the numbers to rebuild afterwards, and they never do rebuild because by that time, habitats have changed.

Steve Roe:

Now we'll come back to Bob's interview in a minute or two, but one of our listeners has written a poem about bats. Helen Ball from Staffordshire Bat Group has actually appeared in series two episode 20 when I joined her underground on the search for hibernating bats, so if you've not heard that, do go and listen to it after this episode. Helen's poem is narrated by Morgan Brind, who recently co-hosted the BCT batty awards for talented achievement. This is Night Winged.

Morgan Brind:

"We share this fleeting moment, as day and night divide and colours dim and soften, awakening dulled eyes. Elemental movements ebb at the periphery of my sight, shape-shifting into darkness, aware of shortening light. As it passes from shadow to shadow, dark against darkening sky, its deafening calls of silence go unheard by the passer-by. Images wane and flicker with every swoop and dart and dive, skeins of movement pieced together, falling through starlight. If I gleaned you from the heavens, held you fast and tight, would your mystery evaporate, like your presence in the night?"

Steve Roe:

That was Night Winged by Helen Ball. A huge thanks to Helen for creating that beautiful piece. You can find her online we've put the links in the show notes. If you've got a piece of writing or poetry that you'd like to share with us, drop us an email to the address in the show notes and you never know. It might be featured on a future episode. Now back to Bob's interview. What do you think we can do to inspire the next generation of young bat workers? Because they are the future, aren't they?

Dr Bob Stebbings:

Yes, well, quite so. The reason I dropped out of bat work was because I didn't have the energy anymore and it takes a lot of energy to fight politicians and it's not up to me. I'm old. And it's up to young people. It's it's the their Earth now. And, okay, young people will make some mistakes like we all did in the past. But it's their world. And they're the people who will be seeing changes now. And will have to go forth and work with politicians, because it's still politicians who are the key.

Steve Roe:

So this is going to be difficult question, given you've done power work for the last 70 years? What's been your most notable or favourite memory of working with that? Or a particular bat species?

Dr Bob Stebbings:

Oh, golly. Well, I shouldn't say this, I'm supposed to be a scientist. I think they're just beautiful animals, incredible animals. You know, and they've given me a living for heaven's sake, which, well, can't be bad for me. But no, I had a lot in captivity for a summer had in captivity individuals for years. And I mean, these were injured animals nearly open. And they were just sort of tremendously interesting animals to have around. Very intelligent, resourceful. And at this moment, I'm just picturing, there may be people hearing this, which may remember a bat called Henry that we had, which was a long-eared bat with one wing. And I can picture it now. We were feeding it on the kitchen table, as we often did. And it was a slippery surface on the table, and the bat came out of its cage to the food bowl. And it slipped on the sort of Formica surface. And we all laughed. And it looked at us with its wide eyes. 'What do you do that for', you know, kind of expression that was, and I could picture it. Now that is, that's, that's stuck with me for all that was going back 30 years. But yeah, they all got individual characters. And I think that's the other thing that people should remember. They are all individuals, even though they live in colonies. And it's important for them to live in colonies, because of the way in which they can exchange information amongst each other, and tell each other where the best places to feed are, and all that sort of thing. But they're all individuals, and you've got nice ones, and nasty ones, and vindictive ones, and just very pleasant ones, in the same colony, just like humans.

Steve Roe:

What message would you give to everyone listening now? Who is involved in that conversation? This is your one chance to get a message out there, what would it be?

Dr Bob Stebbings:

Well, in all the broadcasting I did in the 60s and 70s, particularly, the only message I ever wanted to put over was that bats are beautiful creatures that need our protection, because they ain't gonna get it from anywhere else. And they give so much delight to bat group members all over the country, people who have them in their own houses. Often nowadays, they love to see them like swallows coming back in the spring and that sort of thing. And people really do get real delight over watching these fascinating animals flying around at night wondering how they're finding their way around. But there's so much we still don't know about them. And people should continue to marvel over these beautiful animals.

Steve Roe:

Nice answer. I'm just gonna go back a little bit when you were mentioned Nathusius' and checking all the different research and you said, you know, there wasn't that much research out there. And you know, I've got this, this is the book that dad brought home from, from his place of work when I was getting into bats by you 'Which bat is it?' published by the mammal society. Yes. How much work went into this and how did you even get started in creating this dichotomous ID key?

Dr Bob Stebbings:

When I first became interested in bats in the early 1950s, there were no keys on how to identify bats that were published. And I used to get all the books I could find encyclopaedias which had photographs of bats. Many of the bats that were in these books were dead specimens that was propped up on a branch or something to make it look as if they were alive. There was very little literature about just how to identify them. My sort of interest in developing that first publication was that Well, I found it difficult. I wanted to make it easier for people coming along to identify them. Because the whole thing about natural history is the first principles are you want to identify the species you're looking at? Don't matter what kind of animals or plants, you want the key. And so I developed that and sent it around to all the people I knew at the time and said, Have a look at this and see what you think. And have I left anything out? Or is could anything be improved? Which is how that happened? And yes, it's got a thesis pipistrel on the cover, which was the one from 1969. And that is that is that is the actual bat. Yes. And, you know, we had it in captivity for about three days, I think, before it got released back to where it was found, when it took us that long to identify, to be sure we were looking at that specimen. So it was so important that I thought that was the first thing I needed to publish. And then it's been updated once or twice since. And with a little bit more on a collocation and things like that. But this was really for the field naturalist, someone who finds a bat, I mean, so often, there was some very notable naturalist of the past, sent me a specimen switch they had incorrectly identified. And so even amongst people who you would think would know, better, got the identities wrong, which is why that was produced. And then, as a result of that, I got involved in archaeological digs in a number of places. And what I had developed was a whole collection of every species of bat, dismembered into individual bones. And so even tiny fragments of bones can be identified to species, but I haven't got a key for it. My only key is boxes and bottles, all specimens to compare with, but it needs a key producing.

Steve Roe:

Okay, that's a challenge out there for someone listening to do it.

Dr Bob Stebbings:

Yes, but I need to deposit somewhere else, to some good cause at some stage.

Steve Roe:

And over the years, you've been involved with Bat Conversation Trust to varying degrees. What do you think the Bat Conservation Trust does best?

Dr Bob Stebbings:

Well, publicity is probably the best thing. We still need as much publicity for bats as we can get. I mean, okay. They do appear, but I was looking at a journal the other day, which came from the Zoological Society of London. And it's intended for kids, this magazine and the talking about, you know, turtles, lizards, antelope, gorillas, not to mention of a bat anywhere, you know, and after all, you know, a quarter or more of all mammals on Earth are bats. And we still don't get enough mentioned. And it should be much more out there. And again, I think that is still the most important thing that all bat group members can do is promote bats in every possibility local newspapers, you know, just talk, talk to journalists. I mean, journalists are always desperate for any sort of copy. And, you know, I used to phone them up regularly, and national newspapers, whatever, and you're bound to get an article the next day, which for many newspapers would, if you're careful, in what you say, would come out accurately,

Steve Roe:

Were you the person who invented the bat box because you did that publication didn't you from the work that you did in Thetford.

Dr Bob Stebbings:

It wsa invented, quote, unquote, 18-something or other by a Frenchman the concept of putting in a box just for bats. I was the first person in Britain to, if you like, develop the idea that all bats needed was just a space to form a cluster in; Britain being Britain's weather they need to be warm a lot of the time. And also, they had a thing about placing them high as being the only places that bets reduce. So I built this first one, so I didn't have a ladder, so I put them on pine trees on a nature reserve with three different places but mostly on a nature reserve, which is more than nature's national nature reserve just north of where and Dawson and I put them as high as I could reach. And I also put some about two foot off the ground. All of them were used whatever height and I thought, oh, and I'm made nice simple boxes, just crude self. More of a square box. And then I thought, Oh, that's right, then we will getting a lot of publicity from bat boxes and bats generally. And a chap called Ron Webster, who is a producer of Natural History items for the tonight programme with Cliff Mitchell more do you heard a clip? Long before you're born and he found out that they had had sponsor a duck. And they've got 1000s of people sponsoring a duck. And McDonald, hopefully, name you won't remember. Whoa, no, either. He was the anchorman newsreader for the BBC on BBC One. Anyway, this Ron Webster said. Can we do a sponsor a bat? And I thought about it a bit and thought, oh, I don't know what we what can we do sponsor? Oh, we could sponsor bat boxes. Here. Let's try that we might get the odd 100 people sponsoring or something. So we went down to Dorset. And with film crew and we filmed these few boxes that I put on these pine trees 10 years before. And it was in February, I think was in the winter. The day wasn't particularly cold, but it wasn't warm either. And so you got a bat box cameraman set up. Sort of walk up to the box, lift the lid, put the lid down and come away. So walked up, lifted the lid, put it down and the cameraman said, 'Hey, there's a bat in that!' I wasn't expecting a bat in the winter. Because I'd never looked at them in the midwinter at that time. And sure enough, it was long-eared bat was hanging on the underside of had a ring on it. And so anyway, we had that film. We showed it one evening and so 6:30 programme used to run from six'till seven. Called the Nationwide. And it was watched by a good proportion of the whole country. Anyway, we said sponsor a box for £7.50 I think it was and and I said well, we'll be able to put the boxes up close to where you are. You won't get to see them but we'll get them in a bit of forest close to the sponsor. Anyway, we had over 3000 boxes sponsored. Most of the sponsors were residents of London. And well, the long short of it is with the aid of the forest Commission, we so chose six which was going to be run as a proper experiment. We chose six forest Ardross forest north of Inverness, Kielder forest on the England Scottish border, Cannock forest in the Midlands, Thetford forest in Norfolk, Wareham forest in Dorset, and Yateley forest near blackbushe Airport. And we're going to put 60 boxes, no 60 trees had eight boxes each. So a tree would have four at five metres high, another four, three metres high. So we could see whether they prefer to be north south, east and west and whether they prefer higher or lower ones, all the same type of box so on all made by disabled manufacturing company. So we had these boxes and they got put up in the autumn of 1975. And, of course, I had to write a newsletter sent out to all these people, so I had to have a secretary to keep in touch with over 3000 people. And of course, nearly all the boxes sponsored by Londoners put them all up in our dress forest north of Inverness. So we had an awful lot of disgruntled people and the trees in Ardross forest. Well, they were planted in 1896 before the commission was started, which wasn't started until after the First World War. And some of the trees are about that diameter. So you couldn't actually put four boxes around at the same height, they had to be staggered. But the trees also would lean like that, where you have a ladder up against them, and being on top of a hill, often a gale blowing. Anyway, we we did learn a lot from that. And I used to do all the boxes in one week, I drive up on a Sunday night to Northwest Scotland stay with a friend in the Nature Conservancy Anyway it was 2300 miles in the week, plus six days running down 60 trees carrying ladders! It was, you know, those days, it was no effort because I was so young and strong. And that went on to until 1985, we did it for 10 years. And then quite a lot of them were then taken over by local Bat Group's who carried on doing them. Yeah, so we did discover basically that bats prefer to be higher rather than lower, but we'll still use them. And they use different aspects at different times, depending on what the weather's doing, what the seasons doing. So basically, that's why we came up with a general principle of putting up three boxes. north south, west, south east on a single tree. So three boxes per tree, because you also find that when a box, so you've got a strong morning sun on the south-east box may get too hot. So the bats just move around the tree during the day. Whereas if you have one box on a tree, if it gets too hot, then they've got to come out flying get caught by a sparrowhawk on the way. Yeah. Which I've seen bats caught by sparrowhawks on a number of occasions and by hobby. So that's how the general concept of putting these boxes. I mean, I know there are so many different shapes and designs and bats will use almost anything anywhere, anytime. But it was the general principle of doing experiments which nobody, all these 1000s hundreds of 1000s of boxes in Russia. No one had done any actual experiments to determine what the preferences were for bat so just put them up.

Steve Roe:

Dr Bob Stebbings, it's been an honour talking to you, thank you so much.

Dr Bob Stebbings:

Oh, it's been great pleasure. Memorising, remembering stuff that I did a long time ago.

Steve Roe:

Thank you to Bob for sitting down with me. It was a real joy listening to all of Bob's stories about the history of Bat Conservation here in the UK. As you've heard throughout this series, bats are magical but misunderstood mammals. Here at the Bat Conservation Trust, we have a vision of a world rich in wildlife where bats and people thrive together. We know that conservation action to protect and conserve bats is having a positive impact on bat populations here in the UK, we wouldn't be able to continue our work to protect bats and their habitats without your contribution. So if you can please donate, we need your support. Now more than ever, you can donate by following the link at the bottom of the show notes of any episode. Thank you. And that brings us to the end of series four of BatChat. I really hope you've enjoyed listening to all of our guests this series and the Bat Conservation stories being told, it really helps us as a show if you leave us a review about BatChat either in a podcast app or on social media instructions of how to leave a review or in the show notes. And you can tag us on social media using the hashtag BatChat. With BatChat, we're reaching out to lovers of bats all over the world. So if you know someone who's never listened to a podcast before, we'd love it, if you could show them how to listen and how to find BatChat. Now I mentioned at the start of the show that we had some news for you. We're finishing this series slightly earlier than usual, but we have a couple of bonus episodes for you, which will be released before the start of the next series. So make sure you tap that follow button so that when those episodes land, you'll get a notification straightaway. The first of those bonus episodes is about the upcoming landmark nature documentary series Wild Isles, narrated by Sir David Attenborough this major five part Natural History Series from Silverback films is coming to BBC One and iPlayer this year. And we have an interview with the Silverback team about that series for you as a bonus episode. You can watch the Wild Isles trailer in the show notes. Recording for series five of BatChat is already underway and will be coming later in the year. We're looking for participants to share bat stories from across the UK with the podcast. So if you're working on a great project or have a story about the bats in your area, please drop us an email to the address in the show notes. We hope you all have a fantastic summer getting out there and enjoy seeing bats in the night sky. Batchat is an original podcast from the Bat Conservation Trust, the series producer and editor was me, Steve Roe, and I need to give a huge thanks to all of my guests this series, because without them this show wouldn't happen. And the communications team at BCT, Joe Nunez-Mino and Andreia Correia da Costa, for their fabulous work and supporting promoting goes on social media and linking to the episodes on the BCT website. And of course, without you listening to us, there wouldn't be any point in producing the show. So a huge thanks to you guys, our listeners for your ongoing support of the show.

Introduction to the episode
First half of Bob's interview
Night Winged poem by Helen Ball
Second half of Bob's interview
End of series notices