S2E19 The Bat Conservation Trust is a small conservation charity but undertakes a vast amount of work in their aim to conserve bats. During the runup to Christmas, Steve spoke with their Chief Executive Officer, Kit Stoner, to find out what it's like to run a small but busy charity, the current challenges and whether she manages to get out and do bat work in her spare time after work!
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Hello, and welcome to this week's BatChat from the Bat Conservation Trust. We hope you all enjoyed the festive period. If any of you receive bat related gifts then let us know on social media using the hashtag BatChat. I'm Steve Roe and in the run up to Christmas, I spoke with the Chief Executive Officer of BCT Kit Stoner to find out more about the operation of our charity, the upcoming launch of the British bat survey, as well as how COVID-19 has affected the organisation. Of course, with the new tier system changing on a regular basis. Organising interviews in person is proving tricky at the moment. And this interview was done over the phone. So bear with us on the quality of the call. My first question to Kitt was what's it like to work at the Bat Conservation Trust and to give us a typical insight in the life of a chief executive.Kit Stoner:
There's always do it's never, it's never a boring job. But it's not there's not really a typical week as such, which is actually one of the things I really enjoy about it. So in theory, the role is leading the organisation so includes planning ahead for the organisation. So for example, doing things like budgets, financial planning, strategy development, for the rows, also a lot of more immediate and reactive work. And that could be anything from policy to getting involved with projects to funding to HR. So for example, this afternoon, I was in a webinar run by a coalition called Race for recovery. And BCT is planning to take part in the new Kickstarter initiatives and the government which is looking to support young people into work. And rest and recovery is specifically looking to try and focus on recruiting people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds in the conservation sector. So this afternoon, we were just finding out a little bit more about how the project will run and how the coalition will be able to support both the young people and the host organisations. Then this morning, we had our weekly COVID group meeting to make sure that what we're doing that we're doing what we need to be in relation to the safety of staff and volunteers. Yesterday, I was on the governance board for a fairly new project called species on the edge. And that's a new collaborative species recovery project that's focusing on Scotland's coasts and islands. And that's been developed by rethink nature, which is a coalition of seven species organisations. And it's being led by nature, Scott. And then over the last week, we've been lots of meetings, including roundtable on planning white paper, online, online launch of the nature recovery networks, had a couple of steering group meetings for a new project called earned recognition, which is a collaborative project with Siam and Natural England. And that's looking at reforming species licencing with a view to making it faster, but also making it more effective for stakeholders. That's been very important on that list of stakeholders. So that's a bit of a few things I've been up toUnknown:
So it's pretty varied then, what do you find best this week. about the job?Kit Stoner:
The variety is one of the things I enjoy most about it, you never know what's coming. I have a feeling that i i For easily when it comes to jobs, but BCT I've been here for many years, I can't even add them up now. But I've been had a number of different jobs within that. And the CEO role I would say is that the most varied of all of those, you never know what's coming, there's always something new to learn. Staff is obviously that is a huge asset to the organisation. And that's one of the bits I love about the job is working with those staff. They're a talented bunch. They're really hardworking and committed to the cause. And also very supportive of myself and SMT and of their colleagues. I like having the overview of the organisation. So as I said, in previous roles, I was working more on specific projects. Whereas once I got to senior management level, you can start to see the links between the different areas of work. And you can see how it all it all kind of links together. And one of the things I love is is going to conferences and actually hearing about what it is that we've been up to because obviously I do I do have an overview but I don't know the detail of every single project I'd be lying if I said I did. And it just always astounds me we're a relatively small organisation, it always astounds me exactly how much is that we achieved and it makes me very proud to lead the organisationUnknown:
And what's been your most memorable, better experience in that time? Oh, most recently, which are the ones that the one that springs to mind is going to Zambia and seeing the straw coloured fruit bats in Kasanka National Park, which was just, it was absolutely incredible. It's pretty hard to describe it sort of, I think it's around 10 million bats leaving and returning to the roost at sunset and sunrise. It was just absolutely incredible experience. But I guess coming back close to home, seeing those first bats on that on that mammal ecology course and went into a roost She has a licence, obviously. And there was just a little roost or lesser horseshoe bats peering down with a little those of us. And I did feel then I did fall a little bit in love with them. And I say, I came back and joined the bat group straightaway. I think actually just seeing pipistrelles in the hand, I will never get fed up with things. On the hand, the first time I saw one, I think like everybody, when they see one for the first time, just goes, how can it be that small? Can it be such an amazing creature and be that tiny? And and every time I see one, I still think that so I guess those are some of the memorable bat experiences.Steve Roe:
And you said just a moment ago that you decided to have a career change? Where did you learn the skills necessary to lead an organisation like the Bat Conservation Trust?Unknown:
If I'm honest with you, I suspect at the Bat Conservation Trust. So obviously, you do various bits of training as you go through your career. But I do think an awful lot of the skills have been learned in the different jobs I've had at BCT. Some of it's been on the job learning on definitely, I've definitely been learning from them. And of course, I've also learned quite a lot from my own line managers. And as you mentioned, at the beginning, I was lucky enough to start my CEO role in a job share with Julia Hamner, who'd already had several years of experience as CEO. So I learned a huge amount from her. So I feel as if I was quite lucky, I got to kind of transition into being a CEO.Steve Roe:
And what do you find most challenging about being a chief executive?Kit Stoner:
I think that's the variety that I find most interesting can also be the most challenging, because you don't really know what's coming, you could be sort of planned today, and then something completely left field will come in, and you don't necessarily know how to deal with it. So but you have to deal with it because it's your job. So sometimes it can be a little bit hard to make time to plan and to think strategically. And I think that has definitely been very true this year. We were like so many organisations, you've had to do a lot of firefighting. And I think, theory it can. It can feel quite lonely as a CEO because you are kind of single post. Yeah, but actually, I have a great bunch of Trustees, as you know, as you're one of them, and also a really great, tight knit senior management team. So I don't feel as if I'm on my own. I do feel as if support are there. So that's really important.Steve Roe:
And again, you mentioned there Coronavirus, how challenging has Coronavirus been to the organisation?Unknown:
It well, quite! So there's sort of three three prongs really obviously there's the safety of staff and volunteers. So we've had way that we work has changed. We've obviously shut the office down. We do have a very small number of staff in the office now. But we've had to get the office to COVID secure we've had to do our activities in different ways. So the helpline, for example, has had to be completely remote this year, we've had five new members of seasonal staff come on board and leave and none of us or we think one person has actually met them in person, they had to have all their training remotely, which has been quite challenging for the helpline team. And obviously the communication around Coronavirus. And bats has been a sort of a drain on our resources having to redirect some of our our communications resources towards that. And then finally, there's just the very small risk. We don't want to miss an unknown risk of whether humans can transmit Coronavirus SARS Cov-2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19, whether that can be transmitted from humans to bats. And so we had to do quite a lot of work with our global colleagues around guidance on that and trying to mitigate the risk of that fear of that happening. Again, do you I mean, does BCT work a lot with Bat Conservation International and other organisations? Yeah, we do as they do this year. It's been very important to our international colleagues. We are a member of Eurobats. And so through that we are on a number of international working groups. So we've working at currently working on some guidance on bats and insulation. We've had a lot of input into bats and artificial lighting guidance. That's a wind turbine guidance. So that's all at a European level with BCT input. I'm also a trustee of batlife Europe, which is an NGO and Umbrella network of organisations that organisations across Europe. And then we do have contacts with other organisations as well BCI, for example, we share knowledge and experience with them around our monitoring programme, for example. We've also talked about capacity building, because we have a fantastic book about groups in the UK and they wanted to learn a little bit more about how we how we manage that. So the vision of BCT is a world rich in wildlife, and I'm quoting this off the website, where bats and people thrive together. What steps can we take as workers and as the general public to help achieve achieve that vision?Kit Stoner:
There is so much that everybody can do at any ability. There are lots of practical ways through volunteering. So that could be our national about monitoring programme. could be as a volunteer on our out of hours helpline people can do so much locally through their back group, as you know, it could be education work, it could be survey work, could be back care, multitude of other things. But I appreciate that not everyone has time to volunteer. But people can just little unimportant things like for example, planting but friendly flowers and their garden, so lucky enough to have a garden, or in a window box, if they have a window box, or just having a small area of water to encourage insects into the garden, all of those things can help that. But I actually think one of the most important things that anybody can do and you don't need, you don't need any special skills to do this is to be an ambassador for bats. You know, they are misunderstood creatures. But the majority of times when people do understand more about them, or particularly if they see one in the hand, they are fascinated, and they very quickly understand their importance. So I think one of the easiest things that absolutely anybody could do is tell as many people about how brilliant that saw.Steve Roe:
And you've got insider knowledge, obesity, with all the different projects that are going on, what do you think is going to be the next big thing in the world of bats?Unknown:
I think probably technology Well, it could be lots of things. It could be things I don't know about yet. But I think technology, you can probably ask that question every year. And it could always potentially be the it's always developing. But I think one of the recent game changes is the development of the audio, which is a sensor that's available at quite a low cost. Which means that a large number of sensors can be left out in the field to record bats at night. And here's a sensor that we've been using in our pilots for the British bats surveys over the last couple of years. And we also had a collaboration as far as to England last year, in 2019, which focused on recording woodland bats. And that pilot succeeded in recording and identify nearly 2 million bat calls in the summer of last year, which is really exciting. And it's actually the largest dataset of that records ever collected by BCT. And I think I think that's just the beginning. We've got lots of plans to use this technology. So I think I think that's one of the next big thing in the world of bats.Steve Roe:
So I'm quite excited about that project, because potentially means we can collect so much more data with the reduction in cost of the audio mouth. When exactly when do you think that projects likely to launch nationwide?Unknown:
Next year I hope so we have, we have hot press, we have actually got some funding for it. We've we've been in discussions with funders this week. So we're planning to launch two projects. One of them is the British bat survey, which you already know about. But then also a sort of side project of that called Nightwatch. So we're going to be using the same methodology. But the British bat survey will be done with stratified random samples across the UK, whereas Nightwatch will be open to all and it means that people can just put audio more site in their garden, or in their local green spaces. So it's a much more accessible and easy to access nocturnal survey and a really good way of connecting with communities and let them them with their nature. Oh, that's great.Steve Roe:
So does that mean people for that night? What does that mean? People will be able to upload their data to a to a nap or something and then get the data, right?Kit Stoner:
Yes, they will Yes. So they'll use the audio most places in the gardens and green spaces, then they'll use an an app to upload their data. And then the volunteers will receive feedback on the species they've recorded. And as well as that they also receive some feedback with actions they can take to support those species. So they're not just inputting the data to ask, but they're also getting information about how they can actually support that species. And hopefully that will really engage them in their in their local nature.Unknown:
Brilliant. And, I mean, we've touched on it already. Really what's I mean, what sort of challenges does BCT face? And what are the biggest challenges facing our bats in the UK? I think that BCT like many organisations got some, they've got some try and challenging financial times ahead. We've been really lucky this year, we've received a lot of support from members from bat groups, and other supporters. And we are really grateful for people because it's been a difficult year for everyone. So we're really grateful that people have felt able to continue supporting us. But we are expecting the fundraising climate to be very competitive over the next couple of years. And so we're working hard to try and identify new opportunities and think creatively about new income streams. So I think that's one of the big challenges of BCT. In terms of bats at the moment, I think the biggest challenges are around policy and legislation. So over the past year, we've seen the environment Bill progressing through Parliament, it was delayed due to COVID. It has now just been discussed at the Committee stage. And it's really crucial that we have a robust fit for purpose environment act for when the transition period ends, or 30. Time is running short. And it is essential that the needs of species are taken into account in that so that's that's one challenge. And more recently, we've seen the white paper on planning that was published in August. And we have a number of concerns about the approaches outlined in that white paper. I don't think I've got time to go into all of them. There are quite a lot of them. You can see a summary of our concerns about consultation response to the website. But I guess just to mention a couple of them. One of them is that anything to do with our planning system and your planning reforms need to make sure that integrating nature's recovery with the land use planning system, and that needs to support the aims of the environmental field. So for example, the local nature recovery strategies and biodiversity net gain. And as they stand, we don't feel that is the case. Another big concern is making sure that we have robust, up to date and fit for purpose data. And for some species, such as bats, inevitably, that's going to need to be on a site by site basis, there's a lot of focus on the moment about just getting lots more data on everything, which is obviously we're very supportive of that. And strategic level mapping. And obviously, that can provide many benefits, but it's not capable of replacing on site survey work. So that is one of the concerns that we have in the current proposals. And we know that if developments are well planned. And if surveys carried out early in the process, they don't need to be a problem at all. So the potential changes to the legislation after the transition period is that part of why BCT has been getting together several MP bat species champions. It's one of many reasons actually so that the species project the species champion project have been going for about three years now, I think. But it certainly is helpful to have champions in the commons and in government. So we've had species champions across England, Scotland and Wales raising issues relating to bats in debates, and one of our English species champions has also submitted a number of written questions. Sometimes those are in relation to bats, and sometimes in relation to the broader issues relating to nature. But I do think the species champion project as a whole has worked really well, in raising the profile of species across parties and more MPs have an understanding of issues related to species and are willing to speak up for them. But I would say there is still much work to be done on that front. I mean, if all the work that you do at BCT, what do you consider most valuable for the long term health of UK bat populations? Is that legislation part of it? Or is there other things as well?Kit Stoner:
I think it's a it's almost impossible question to answer that one. Because obviously, all of our work is important, otherwise, we won't be doing it or it all ultimately leads towards our, towards our vision. But it feels like right now, this sort of snapshot in time, it does feel that one of the biggest challenges about conservation is coming through that that policy and legislation sphere. So advocacy and campaign work does is moving to the forefront. We need to speak up for that. And that habitats. Now more than we've had to do for some time, I think,Steve Roe:
do you think that the UK conservation movement works well? Or could it do more to cooperate and join forces?Unknown:
I think it's working better than it did previously. And I think it is doing more to corporate interests join forces. And certainly when, for example, I joined BCT, BCT has always been quite a collaborative organisation. So we have had a number of clarity projects over the years. But I think there's always room for improvement. One example, a relatively recent example is rethink nature, which is a group of seven leading species conservation organisations, including BCT. And those who have been listening to your previous podcasts will almost certainly have heard of the back from the brink project. And that is a project that came out of that rethink nature partnership alongside Natural England. So I think it's definitely an example of where we are achieving more by working together. And I think the policy work is another really good example where over the last two or three years environmental organisations have been working together well, so we're a member of wildlife and countryside link, and also a supporter of greener UK. And those are both umbrella organisations for a number of different conservation organisations. And they'd be needing work on the kidney environment bill at the Agriculture Bill. And as I mentioned, more recently, the white paper on planning and forms. So for us, because they're quite a small organisation that support is, is really invaluable. We benefit from the greater policy resources that larger organisations have. But we're also able to feed in really specific important points about bats and ensure that species are taken into account. So it's a two way process. And just some quickfire questions, what bat detector do you use? And what's your favourite bat species? Oh, sector is magenta on quite old school. I do need to try some of the newer ones, but I kind of like the heterodyne because you you watch the bats rather than watching the screen. And I like watching the bats. So yeah, that's what I use and favourite bat species. Oh. I think I might need three potentially pipistrelle as I said before, because they're just so tiny. But they also they always turn up this particularly common pipistrelle. They were set up on that walks and that ones that people can see. So they're just such a brilliant engagement tool. Brown long-eared bats because they're just so smiley, and you can't not love them. And barbastelles I love as well, because that was the first that I saw in the hand after I joined the bact group, so yeah, they have a special place in my heart as well.Steve Roe:
Who have been the people most influential to you.Unknown:
Yes, quite hard that question, a lot of people, I think probably, in terms of my appreciation of nature, I think that started quite early in life. So pretty good, my family to think that we didn't have a car when I was younger, I used to go for lots of walks, and I grew up in mid Wales. So there were lots of very nice folks to go on. And then I was just sort of exposed to people who were, who thought the environment was important from quite a young age. So that's that definitely influenced me. And then I already mentioned that online mammal ecology course. So obviously, the teacher on that had an influence on my, my starting to get into bats. And then that work has been so many people that have been influential my line managers by colleagues, volunteers that I've met. Yeah, it's hard to it's hard to there's a lot of people out there, I think you've influenced me, mostly in a good way? I think And and what's the one thing you'd love to do, but never managed to find the time? It's really hard to answer that. It's really silly things like domestic tasks, and putting together a wedding album from 10 years ago, things like that. But I guess in terms of, of nature, I think I would, I would love to spend more time in Africa. I did my fieldwork field in Madagascar, I went to call from BCT. And I would have absolutely loved to go back and work on a conservation project there are on mainland Africa for a couple of months at some point. Close to home, I haven't ever been to the west coast of Scotland, believe it or not. So I would like to find time to do that at some point to do.Steve Roe:
Why should people care about the conservation of bats, and therefore the Bat Conservation Trust.Unknown:
That's a crucial part of our ecosystem. There are also indicators of a healthy environment. So because changes to our bat populations can indicate changes and other aspects of biodiversity. And it's all the the environment that we all ultimately depend on. So in the UK, they're their top of the food chain, they eat up nocturnal insects. So if that's the present in good numbers, then it's very likely that it's going to be good quality habitats that support native plants, which in turn, support insects. And they in turn, obviously support bats, birds, amphibians, the whole web of life. They're also really invaluable measure of our in the health of our towns and cities. And if it and supports healthy populations of a number of bat species, there's a good chance that the town has a healthy environment for any mammal and of course, we are mammals. So So that's very important to us in terms of measuring where we would want to live and where we can live healthy. There also have a really vital role in the UK and globally in in pest depression. So we've got some research on the way to quantify their role in the UK. But we do know there's been a couple of studies in Europe, which involves studies that are present in the UK. One of them's a horseshoe bat in continental Europe suggested that the species consumed at least 55 Pets feast of pet pets feet. Catalonia, I think it was to find a bit of Australia was shown to feed on the rice borer moth, which is a major, major pest of rice cultivation. So they play a huge role in pest suppression and globally, they also play a crucial role in pollinating plants and in seed dispersal. So they're really crucial to our ecosystem. But quite apart from that, they're also absolutely fascinating in their own right. And people love engaging with nocturnal rodents, but they're a little bit different. So they're a really good way of people engaging with nature. So there are lots of reasons that people should care about them. And I guess I should say, we need better about them, unfortunately, because they've been such significant declines over the past 100 years. And although we are starting to see some small signs of recovery in some of our species, we've still got quite a long way to go. Yeah. Are you a member of your local bat group? Or have do you have enough of bats once you've finished work that says, Well, I don't really see any bats at work. So I am a member of my local bat group, which is Cambridgeshire, and they will tell you I'm sure that I don't do anywhere near enough as I should, locally because in the days in the days when I was commuting to London, two or three days a week, I was usually too tired to actually I have actually no, obviously this year has been a bit different. So I have actually been out and about and done a few more surveys, pedestrian bike monitoring programme and just being out and about locally and at least see more bikes this year than I have done in previous years, which is good, Great stuff. Kit Stoner, thank you very much for that insight.Kit Stoner:
My thanks to Kitt for sharing that insight with us. And my thanks to you guys for your continued support for BatChat And for streaming this podcast because without your listeners, there would be no point in doing it. We're really pleased that you enjoy it so much. In these uncertain times. We all need things to keep us connected. 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 introduce them to BatChat. We're back in two weeks time when we'll be going underground with a bat group on hibernation survey. So join us then for what may be the first podcast we've ever been recorded from inside a mine adit.