BatChat

Chester Zoo - Twilight Zone

February 03, 2021 Bat Conservation Trust Season 2 Episode 21
BatChat
Chester Zoo - Twilight Zone
Show Notes Transcript

S2E21 Chester Zoo is the most visited zoo in the UK with over 2 million visitors a year. It's also a conservation and education charity committed to preventing extinction. The fruit bat forest in the Twilight Zone exhibition is a fantastic visitor experience; Steve joins Dave White, the manager of the Twilight Zone, who explains how it's also used as an insurance population for the endangered Rodrigues fruit bat Pteropus rodricensis which is only found on the island of Rodrigues. Dr Claire Raisin the field programme coordinator for Madagascar and the Mascarenes explains how island-wide bat surveys which started in the mid-1990s are helping Chester monitor the nine main roost sites in Rodrigues. And finally we meet Helen Bradshaw the Estate Ecologist who amongst her many roles manages the native bat species roosts across the 250 hectare Estate opened in 1931 by George Mottershead.

Find out more about the project at Chester:


Join the conversation on social media using #BatChat:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BatConservationTrust/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/_BCT_
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/batconservationtrust/

For more bat news, head to our website https://www.bats.org.uk/

Producer: Steve Roe

Thank you to Wildcare and Wildlife Acoustics for sponsoring the BatChat Podcast in 2022-2023.
Quote BATCHAT at the Wildcare checkout for 10% off all bat detectors!
Visit wildlifeacoustics.com to learn more.


We're running a Listener Survey
We’d really appreciate it if you could answer a few quick questions about BatChat so that we can bring you the best possible content for future series.
You can leave your answer anonymously if you'd prefer: https://forms.office.com/e/VAvudX7NFr 

Support the show

Please leave us a review or star rating if your podcast app allows it because it helps us to reach a wider audience so that we can spread the word about how great bats are. How to write a podcast review (and why you should).

Bats are magical but misunderstood. At BCT our vision is a world rich in wildlife where bats and people thrive together. Action to protect & conserve bats is having a positive impact on bat populations in the UK. We would not be able to continue our work to protect bats & their habitats without your contribution so if you can please donate. We need your support now more than ever: www.bats.org.uk/donate Thank you!

Steve Roe:

Hi, and welcome to this week's BatChat from the Bat Conservation Trust. I'm Steve Roe. Chester Zoo is the most visited two in the UK and a conservation charity committed to preventing extinction. With 2 million visitors a year, there were over 1000 people working to keep the place going. And this week, we're lucky enough to be joining three of them. The Twilight Zone is a fantastic exhibit where day and night had been reversed so that you can walk amongst the bats whilst they're active in the darkness. But as we learned in this episode, the conservation with bats at the zoo covers far more than just this exhibit. We meet Dave White who manages the Twilight Zone, and he explains how it also acts as the insurance population of Rodriguez fruit bats for their wild counterparts. Dr Claire Raisin, the field programme coordinator for Madagascar and the mass greens explains how Island wide bat surveys which started in the mid 1990s, helping Chester monitor the nine main roof sites in Rodrigues. And finally we met Helen Bradshaw, the estate ecologist who amongst her many roles, manages the native bat species roost across the 250 hectare estate opened in 1931 by George Mottershead. These interviews were undertaken in December before Christmas when the zoo was open to visitors. So Dave we're currently at Chester Zoo in the in the fruit bat forest first of all, thanks very much for letting me interrup your day to come in and come on BatChat what would you normally be doing at this time of day?

Dave White:

Firstly, thanks, Steve for coming in to chat with us you know, I'm really appreciate it and you know, welcome to Chester Zoo and fruit bat forest. So usually my part of the day I've got quite a varied routine really. So I managed the what we call the Twilight section, which is encompasses a range of different species, nearly 30 species in fact that I manage with a with a fabulous team of keepers. So we have everything from small rodents, so pygmy mice and Turkish spiny mice to giant anteaters, sloth and of course, the fabulous bats that we see in front of us.

Steve Roe:

And I mean, we should say to the listeners, we're sounding slightly muffled because we're wearing masks because we're obviously inside the, the forest itself. So why are we wearing masks just to be to be cautious? Yeah.

Dave White:

So ultimately, you know, I don't think I need to explain to people the pandemic that we're going through at the moment and I think masks are a part of our daily attire, shall we say? So, we were just wearing these masks just to protect our bats we're not sure of the transmission so we're just being extra cautious. So once we go about our daily husbandry, but the the bats here at fruit bat forest we're wearing our masks and we also wear nitrile gloves when we're doing the food preparation and doing our cleaning within the within the house.

Steve Roe:

So can you just give us your background as to how you became the manager, the team here at the Twilight Zone?

Dave White:

Yes, sure. So I've had a keen interest in animals in the natural world from a very young age. I sort of grew up catching sort of insects and butterflies in the in the forest as a young kid, and just the interest group in there. So I I went on to work at a Bird Park to get the interest with you know, getting into working with zoos and animal collections have done some work in Australian zoos as well. And it brought me back to the UK. I worked in a couple of zoos until I found my current job now here it is a toilet manager at Chester Zoo. Great stuff.

Steve Roe:

So for listeners who have never been to the attraction, can you just describe where we are and what we're looking at here?

Dave White:

Okay, so currently we are stood on the visitor path of fruit bat forest. It's about 20 metres by 30 metres. And it's about nine metres high. So it's a large exhibit. It's a walk through exhibit. Currently, as we stand here, the lights are up. So we can have a great view of the bats and the exhibit in front of us. But it's on the reverse lighting so gradually, as the visitors start arriving around 10 o'clock, the lights will start dimming down to be in darkness. We have a number of structures in front of us. The building itself is called fruitbat forest. So there are a lot of natural trees in front of us which provide great points and opportunities and roosting spots for the for the bats, as well as we've got some open space here to allow the bats to do what they do best. And that's to fly and show off those you know those magnificent wings?

Steve Roe:

And when was the building open and How popular is it in comparison to other exhibits on the on the state?

Dave White:

Well, so prior to this house. So this house was opened in 1998 June 1998. And prior to that we had a nocturnal house. And as modern zoo practices expand and we learn more and more and exhibits more geared towards the animals. And more modern zoo practices, this house was built and in-house actually, to provide a much larger area to exhibit the bats in a much more better way to allow them to bring visitors in wasn't allowed that wasn't available in the previous nocturnal house. So it brings the visitors in to really experience and immerse themselves in the bat world.

Steve Roe:

So I mean, I've been here before as a member of the

Dave White:

So we have three exhibit two species of bat, the general public and like you say, when when visitors normally come it's in darkness. What are the bats we've got it because know, the you know, the view we put here is really great. And it's really easy to see than what one of the species you've got here. large bat that you see in front of us, these are the Rodriguez fruit bat. And as the light starts dimming down, we have another species of bat, which currently are roosting up in the in the reset the far side of the exhibit there. And these the Seba's short-tailed bat. So these these really show themselves off once the lights are down and really are really feeling around as you're walking through. And it really immerses of people with the with those bats. As an exhibit, I'm going to be a bit biassed, I think it's probably one of the best exhibits and it's the least one of the best exhibits in the in the zoo. But as an immersive exhibit and as a one of our roles as a zoological institutions is about education. And I think species such as you know, your big patch your elephants, they can almost sell themselves people know what they are, they can see them. Whereas I think with bats, it's it's can be challenging at times, they come with a lot of myths and unfair, sort of unfair comments made about them, especially in the in, in the pandemic, their experience now even more so. So I think it's gonna be even more challenging to, to get people in there. So the bats, but the feedback that we get from the visitors that come in there, especially young children, young children love coming in here, I think it's more their parents that are gonna get dragged in. But it can be a challenging exhibit. And I think I great, I get great pleasure when I see someone that's a bit apprehensive to come into the exhibit, to spend a bit of time with them just before the exhibit to explain to him a bit about bats. dispel some of the myths about bats. And then gradually you just sort of walk them in. And as you're chatting with them, they haven't realised they got to the end of the exhibit, and they and they come out. And actually that was really fantastic. So I think for me, that was I really love that, to be able to do that and to share the bats with the visitors that come to the zoo.

Steve Roe:

And what sort of numbers have you got here? What are the numbers of the two different species?

Dave White:

So we've got around about 200 Rodrigues fruit bats, and we've got around about 300, sebas bats currently, so just over 500 bats in total with this building.

Steve Roe:

And are these species which echolocate or don't echolocate?

Dave White:

Okay, so the Rodrigues fruit bats, these don't echolocate, okay. They've got a really good eyesight and a really keen sense of smell. So they use this those senses when they're searching for their food. You can see one just wandering down the branch there for a tasty morsel. And then the Sebas bats they do echolocate, so you they will use their echolocation to move about the exhibit.

Steve Roe:

So why are these the species that have been selected for part of this exhibit?

Dave White:

The reason why the two species was selected, if we take the Rodrigues fruit bat, first. This was a this is endangered species. It's part of the endangered species programme. It's a managed programme. So it's part of our insurance populations for species. This is what we focused on with this particular species. It's also an ambassador for larger fruit bat species. So from an educational point of view, it tells a story obviously, that they're great to look at as well. So it's trying to engage visitors with with fruit bats, and again, dispel some of those myths. And then the Shiva short but thought now that they are eco locators. So it tells a story about echolocation. And so there's an educational tool there. It's a micro batch as well. So the comparison between the Rodrique throughput and the micro BAP as well as it can it can then link on to our native that you know people with they can see a sebas bat, they can then go back and research what sort of bats they will find in the UK and then that leads on to the UK native bats. So it there's a lot of useful tools and watch these bats provide and housing them in captivity.

Steve Roe:

Should we head outside and then wrap up some questions outside perfect. Yeah. So Dave, we've come outside just to just to limit the amount of time that we're in there. How does the captive breeding programme work? Do any of those bats get released into the wild?

Dave White:

So currently the way that the breeding programme works so I manage the European population for the Rodriguez fruit bat. And ultimately, that's an insurance population for their wild counterparts. So I manage colony size, I interact with collections that hold these bats, provide them with the necessary information, the updated information on the species in the wild. So again, they can use though that information for their visitors as well. And it's all about maintaining that population, that captive population on a database. So hopefully, in the future, these these potential panels could be candidates for a full release back into the wild, but currently, they're an insurance population.

Steve Roe:

And is that because habitat over there still isn't quite up to scratch what it should be?

Dave White:

Yeah, I mean, the, the Rodrigues. fruitbat, currently is classified on the IUCN as endangered. It's, it's threatened with a number of things bid on an island that sort of, you know, very, very small. There's habitat loss there. There's the main threat as well as cyclones. So a lot of the Cyclones will affect bat populations. So they do fluctuate from year to year. And a lot of these can cyclones can take animals out to sea, can destroy their feed and reached in spots. But also if it's bad weather for a number of days, the bats will not move and potentially will starve because they will just stay roosting in the trees. So there's, there's a number of factors. But ultimately, there is this insurance population, if if things really did take a drastic turn for the worse.

Steve Roe:

And in terms of a visitor attraction, how many people visit the bats here? And do you think it has a positive effect on that conservation from a public perception?

Dave White:

I'm not sure exactly the numbers have been quite an interesting one to to specifically enter this house. But I do know, it's very, very popular. I'm seeing some of the cues, in the, in the height of summer to get into the bat house. It sort of explains everything really. So I personally think it does have a positive effect. I mean, the visitors that I've interacted with, you know, you get a lot of different people. I mean, I sometimes call this house a bit like mama, you know, you either love it, or you hate it. And that's that's just because I think it's it covers a lot of people's fears. It's the dark is in a house, if you can't see where you go in and also then add bats into that is no, it's a big mishmash of people sort of fears. But I take great pride in pleasure in changing those fears. You know, right, the entrances people are, you know, they do look a bit nervous you approach them, you explain reasons why they give you a lot of facts that are untrue about bats. You sort of dispel those myths, you take them on to the exhibit, you walk through you guide them you chat about the bats, and slowly people engage in sort of, actually, this isn't as bad as I thought. And actually the you know, when you see you when you see the bats up close, you know that they're fantastic little you know, people don't appreciate like, when you see a Broderick fruit bat, they're these little teddy bears with wings, you know, and people, people don't appreciate that. So I'll take that I'll take great pleasure and pride in changing people's perceptions of bats.

Steve Roe:

what's the funniest thing you've heard from a visitor?

Dave White:

Oh, I think I think probably how many eggs do they lay? is probably one of the funniest. And to me, you sort of can have a little bit of a chuckle, not obviously their face, you sort of you don't you sort of hold it in and then have a little chuckle afterwards. But to me, it's been about education, I guess, people see something that's flying, and just totally associated with a bird. So I guess if you break it down like that, it's not the most silliest question. But actually, when you sort of explain, they're actually mammals and they give birth to young, they don't lay eggs, and then suddenly again, and that's part of the educational role that we play. So it's probably the one of the funniest.

Steve Roe:

And you've been out to Mauritius working with human and wildlife conflict. Can you tell us a bit more about that, you know, what's the relationship between Mauritius and Rodrigues? And what's, what's the habitat actually like where these bats are in their natural habitat?

Dave White:

So I was fortunate to go out to both Mauritius and Rodrigues Island to experience these bats for myself and the world. Obviously, these two islands historically back in the 1600s, were colonised by via you know, sailors that first, you know, came across these islands and brought a lot of invasive species. And suddenly, you know, I don't need to explain about the dodo probably one of the most famous and iconic, you know, conservation symbols that there was no predators. So, slowly over the years, a lot of native species has been decimated and lost. And it's down to Mauritian Wildlife Foundation where the largest NGOs So within that region, to their efforts to the collaborations with other organisations, such as the north of England Zoological Society, Chester Zoo, and a lot of other stakeholders that have enabled, you know, restoration of habitat, you know, there's very small amount of habitat left, but what it is, is really holding on. And actually through some of the restoration programmes, it's starting to flourish in certain areas. I went out to in Rodriguez, the Grand Mountain nature National Park, they were removing a lot of the a lot of invasive species by flora and fauna on these islands. They're doing a lot of great work really hard work removing a lot of the invasive flora, replacing it with the natural flora, which then is attracting the bat back, which is increasing the habitat and also is really important pollinators. These natural natural flora is then allowed to buy the bats to be dispersed over the island as well. So hopefully, it's a long term project, but actually, it's looking at the moment what was a really sad state of affairs is actually looking really, really positive. On Mauritius. Certainly there's a small areas of forested area, probably only about 2% of forest is left. Mauritius is also you know, classes is honeymoon island with these long white blown brief beaches. So there's vast amounts of beaches. It's surrounded by one of the largest, or probably the third largest coral reef in the world. So it's got like, beautiful blue beaches. But the actual forest that's left is very small, probably around about 2%. And then obviously, all the other areas are quite urbanised.

Steve Roe:

So you're not just the site manager for these bad she also the stood bookkeeper. So what does that entail?

Dave White:

I'm the stub bookkeeper for the Rodrigues fruit bat. And as my role as the vice chair, the small mammal tag, I'm responsible for the subgroup of bats. So my stock book work is managing the captive population, and liaising with collections that hold these bats, keeping them up to date with the status and the wild status conservation work that's been happening. And my new role is trying to raise the profile of of bat species in firstly in the art of zoos, but just genuinely raising the profile of, of, of bat species. So just one of the my sort of new tasks that I've just set myself was to set up a bat newsletter, which I've just circulated and got some quite good response back, actually. So hopefully, that's a tool that I can start, you know, getting this information out and just, you know, sort of sharing it, which is, which is big part of conservation is sharing and sharing knowledge and capacity building the network. And so hopefully that goes some way in raising the profile.

Steve Roe:

And finally, what's this baton count tool that you use?

Dave White:

Yeah, so I'm here at Chester Zoo, we determined raise the profile and also get our conservation message across with specifically saying with the fruit bat encounter with the Rodrigues fruit bat, and educating people about bats. So we invite paid visitors into the site. So it's a very exclusive, almost one on one encounter with one of our knowledgeable keepers. And we will interact and we'll take a banana out for the for the seabass bats and we will interact with other visitors to hold the bat take onto the exhibit and allow the receivers bats to come down and feed off the bats and and sort of just get people engaging with these bats. And it's a great success. And at the same time, we can also talk about Native bats, we can talk about the Rodriguez fruit bats. So it's a great tool to enable us to, you know, engage people educate people, and hopefully they can go off and especially with the younger generation, they're the sort of conservationists and zookeepers of the future. And I think if we can educate those, that class of person, then I think we've got some great. It looks bright for the future, I think, but it's a it's gonna take time. It takes time. But hopefully, in the future. We've got little conservationists that will love bats

Steve Roe:

Great stuff. David White, thank you very much for taking time out of your day to show us around.

Dave White:

No problem. Thanks very much indeed.

Steve Roe:

So we've just come away from the twilight zone with Dave White, and we've come over to one of the office buildings on the other side of this state and I'm here with Dr. Claire Raisin. Claire, do you want to introduce yourself and say what your role here is at Chester.

Dr. Claire Raisin:

Yeah, I'd love to thank you. So my name is Claire, and I'm the field programme coordinator for Madagascar and the Masquerines so that means that I coordinate all of Chester's whose projects in Madagascar, Mauritius and in Rodrigues which is a small island, off the east coast of Mauritius. So we've been at we've actually been working with fruit bats in Rodrigues for a number of years now. So Rodrigues is a endemic fruit bat, as you know, and the partners that we work with the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation have been surveying the population in Rodriguez since about the mid 1990s. And this is actually an amazing project because our drinks is quite quite a small island. So it fit, it's about the size of Greater Manchester. And for the last at least 20 plus years, we've been doing Island wide bat surveys. So three times a year, people go out to the nine main roost sites on Rodriguez. And for three nights in a row, they count every single bat that's leaving that roost. And by doing this doing these simultaneous counts at multiple sites across the island, we're getting really, really useful information about exactly what the population size is and how the bats are using different routes on the island. We also go and visit what we know are temporary roosts. So these are sites that that crop up and a few bats will roost in for a week or so and then they'll disappear off and move somewhere else.

Steve Roe:

So with those sorts of census then that you do all at the same time to get an idea of populations what's what's the number of volunteers involved in that then?

Dr. Claire Raisin:

Okay, so that's what we normally have is between two to three people at each roost site. So you have to have a clicker like a doorman on a nightclub. And I mean, I will tell you, it's tough, it's really hard work, you have to walk up to a beautiful viewpoint on a tropical island and sit on a cliff top with a really good for you and watch the sunset and count the bats flying past you with your little clicker. It's it's tough.

Steve Roe:

But having said I mean people here in the UK used to bats largely either coming out of single trees or buildings. So it's quite easy to get your eye in. I mean, you are quite literally looking at a forest counting these bats out.

Dr. Claire Raisin:

Yeah, absolutely. It's taken us a few years to choose the best viewpoints actually. So once we've once we found one of the permanent sites, we assessed the whole area, and then find the sort of the perfect, almost like the funnelling points. So we go and sit up sit up on a high point near the near with the main roof stairs, and literally sort of have a mental image of a line in front of us going to a fixed point on the other side of of the route area. And every time a bat crosses that invisible line, we click it. But obviously, they're not going on a perfect left to right there. They're darting all over the place. And if they fly back in, we have to minus a number. But what's what's lovely is actually when you're doing this just towards the end, the end of the breeding seasons, lots of the lots of bats will come flying out really quickly. And then you'll see the mums with really heavy pups on their back at the back. And it looks exhausting. They're really kind of lumbering their way out. But at some of the sites, they I mean, they're probably coming within five or 10 metres of you. And it's absolutely it's wonderful to watch.

Steve Roe:

And we know, I mean, it's an obviously not a very big island. Do we know how far those bats are travelling at night? That to the feeding grounds?

Dr. Claire Raisin:

Not too far. Yeah, I mean, it probably only maybe up to 10 kilometres. But yeah, they're not not travelling too far. But as we say, they don't have too far to go in Rodrigues.

Steve Roe:

And why is the census needed, why are you guys putting in all this time and effort into into doing this census.

Dr. Claire Raisin:

So I mean, fruit bats, as a group, many of them are threatened all around the world. So Rodriguez provides us with a really, with actually with a unique opportunity to get a really good understanding of the population dynamics. So by getting an idea of the population size, how that varies throughout the year. But what we're finding really useful is actually how sort of natural catastrophes such as cyclones can affect these populations. So there was cyclone in the early 2000s, which is thought to have caused a 50% mortality in the fruit bat population on Rodrigues. So that's, that's huge. And it's, it's not an immediate impact. So some bats unfortunately, will get blown out to sea. But actually, it's deaths in the weeks afterwards, mainly of dehydration because all the fruit has been blown off the trees, they've got nothing to eat and nowhere to get get enough hydration. So having that sort of information gives us a really useful scientific basis to advise on other fruitbat projects on what sort of population sizes you need to be aiming at. And if you need to do some kind of management, how to also consider the potential impacts of these natural catastrophes.

Steve Roe:

So very limited amounts of food resource, a tropical area with cyclones and there's a human pressure as well there isn't that tell us a bit more about that?

Dr. Claire Raisin:

That's right. Yeah. So in Mauritius we've had over the last few years actually Chester Zoo have been working on a sort of a human wildlife conflict project with with people and fruit bats. So the primary the primary industry in Mauritius is tourism, but the secondary one is agriculture and a lot Lots of people work on fruit orchards. And a lot of people actually just have fruit trees in their back gardens. And there's a very strong belief that fruit bats are eating their fruit and causing a loss of income. There are a whole myriad of issues around this and that, yes, fruit bats are eating fruit, but they're probably not eating as much as maybe some of the smaller birds and rats and other things on the island. But fruit bats are loud. I mean, they're messy, and they're noisy when they're in your tree that you know about it. And also, you know, they chatter all night they poo on your car, they're just a lot of people just aren't that keen on them. So it's very easy to blame them. So there's actually been a lot of public pressure to have a couple of fruit bats in Mauritius. So we've been working with various groups across Mauritius to try and understand exactly what the problem is with fruit bats, if they really are the cause of of a significant loss of income, through the loss of fruit, and then also to think about the ways that we can manage it, other than a curl. So, we've been working again with the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation to help promote netting of fruit trees or putting up protective nets, encouraging people to try and coppice not to trim their trees so that they're easier to harvest the fruit from. Because one of the issues is that the fruit bats will tend to land at the top of the tree and eat the fruit at the top, which people can't harvest anyway. But again, it's just it's sort of convenient, convenient to blame them.

Steve Roe:

How long have you been doing this work then? And then what's the what's the projected future of the project? Have you got a an idea of a timeline of when hopefully, you may not be needed over there to try and resolve conflicts?

Dr. Claire Raisin:

I mean, that's the that's the aim of every conservationist really isn't it's to make ourselves unnecessary. But I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon. Unfortunately. I've actually been working in Mauritius for 1520 years now I did my PhD out there on parakeets. So I've been a no no it quite well now. So in Mauritius, we're hoping to sort of set up a network now of people all with a vested interest, whether that's academics, government bodies, fruit growers, Orchard owners, to work together to come to a long term management plan, and we'd like we would like to see some significant changes happening in the next couple of years. In Rodricks, we'd like to keep monitoring this population for as long as possible. As much as anything because we've got this amazing historical data. As we start to see the impacts of climate change. Now, continuing to collect the same data could be really, really useful. And as I say, that will help us extrapolate patterns for other fruit bats across the world as well.

Steve Roe:

So if listeners want to find out more about the work question, where's the best place for them to have a look,

Dr. Claire Raisin:

I would say the Chester Zoo website but also the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation website and also their Facebook page where they're sharing a lot of information about the fruitbat campaigns and the public awareness. And if you ever want to go then I strongly recommend it. You can, if you can get out there. There's an island called Elissa gret that have some some fruit bats on it. We can get up close and personal with them and see what wonderful creatures they are.

Steve Roe:

That's it, holiday booked! We'll stick those links in the show notes. Dr. Claire Raisin, and thank you very much.

Dr. Claire Raisin:

You're welcome. Thank you.

Steve Roe:

So we've moved from Twilight Zone and Dr. Claire Raisin and over to we're not in sort of the central area of the zone. I'm here with Helen Bradshaw. Helen, you're the native species ecologist here at Chester Zoo. What sort of things to get to get up to in your day to day role?

Helen Bradshaw:

Hi Steve thanks. Yeah, it's very much one of those roles where no two days are the same. So yeah, as you say, I cover in my role as ecologist, which is everything native species. And also I coordinate our UK field programmes as well. So that's any project work we have in the UK with partner organisations such as wildlife trusts, for example. So day to day, yeah, I could be overseeing work somewhere out on the estate and maybe some pond works or work on our nature reserve. And also, we've got, as you know, yeah, significant bat roosts within the site. So there's quite a huge range as we have an estate of about 250 hectares. Now, outside of what we call the core area of the zoo, there's quite a lot to keep me busy in terms of native species. So whether it's yes, bats, great crested newts, badgers, and also our plant species we work with. There's like yeah, there's an awful lot to keep me ticking over.

Steve Roe:

And do you find it's harder to engage the public with native species given that they've come out you know, for a day to see all the more exotic stuff that you've got here.

Helen Bradshaw:

It's not too bad actually. I'd say it's definitely getting better. Certainly last few years. I think a lot of the national media programmes so for example, springwatch autumnwatch has done a huge amount for native species in the UK, and generally people are becoming much more aware, with the nature reserve we have here at the zoo that's helped as well, people do come just to visit the nature reserve. And also, with the bat species we have here on site, the rod reads that people can come and visit it just spur on those conversations as well. People like to engage and tell us about the bats in their garden, for example of their bats in their house. So I think things have changed. So in the in recent years, and many people are keen to talk about the wildlife that they have now near to them.

Steve Roe:

So we'll get on to the bat species that you've got here at the zoo in a minute. But when did the zoo start taking an interest in the native species on its site?

Helen Bradshaw:

It was about I think it's coming up for 20 years nearly now. So one of my former colleagues, Sarah Bird, she really started or the native species work here on the site. She started off working in our botanics team. And then she became the biodiversity officer for the zoo. And some of the projects she started almost 20 years ago, we have actually still got going on. So some of the ones which she began such as our black poplar programme, which is a tree species here in the UK, which is quite rare and threatened in Cheshire. She started a programme of taking cuttings and working on propagation of those trees to go back out into the wild. So she's worked on quite a few projects over the years and really built up the zoos native species programme working on everything from dormers, to pine martens to bluebells, and also freshwater mussels. She's done a huge range in the last 20 years and culminating in 2013 when she created the zoos nature reserve. So it's yeah, 20 years worth of work. Actually, we're building them.

Steve Roe:

I mean, people sort of wish associated zoos with that exotic stuff. Some people might be surprised to find that they're doing not just the native species on the state, but actually like you say those reintroduction schemes for the rest of the UK. Is that fairly unique to just a zoo? Or is that done by a number of other zoos in the rest of the the rest of the country?

Helen Bradshaw:

Yeah, there's a lot of zoos now which have, I suppose you'd class Outreach Programme that'd be like or working yet in situ in other countries. So Chester Zoo isn't unique in that, but it's certainly one of our strongest elements, the team that I work in the field programmes team, and that's our area of specialty. So I seem to be speaking today to my colleague, Dr. Claire raisin who she covers Madagascar and the Masquerines. We've got colleagues that work in a number of other countries as well. And the focus of that is very much embedded in working with conservation organisations in those countries. Conservation is a huge area, it's a huge challenge, obviously, that we are globally facing. And work can only be done well if you're working very much with partners to get the best out of projects. And that is definitely something which has to do, we're very keen to pursue into the future.

Steve Roe:

So what about species do you know of on the state then?

Unknown:

Yeah it's been really interesting last couple years. So I joined the team here at the zoo in the middle of 2018. And we've got a few confirmed roofs on site. So we've got our soprano pipistrelle roost of around 215, maybe a bit more individuals. We've got our Daubenton's and our brown long-eared roost. Our brown long haired roost is a another maternity roost of around 50 bats, which is quite a sizable roost for Cheshire, most BLE roosts tend to be around the sort of 20 ish mark, don't they? So we're quite pleased with that sizable roost. And so as well as the routes, we've also confirmed on the other species feeding and flying over the site. So yeah, whiskers Brandt's and noctules as well. So we've got quite a wide range of habitat on the site. And so we are picking up a number of, of species.

Steve Roe:

So you say, you know, three risks on the site. And we'll we'll talk about those more in a minute. Do any of them do any of those root cause issues when those buildings require maintenance or update work as part of ongoing renovation works?

Helen Bradshaw:

Yeah, with the work that we've been doing to establish what routes we've got on site, we've done that primarily. So quite literally, we know what we've got, and where, and so that any works, we do, we can take into account the maps and the species. And also make sure that any works are done in accordance with any licences that we need. And ultimately, it's to protect what we've got, like with many places, unfortunately, we do have some buildings, which are very much come to the end of their life, they are beyond repair, or they're just no longer functionable in terms of, yeah, modern requirements, really. So there are over the next couple years, we think some buildings that we might have to demolish. And there's some buildings that we're working with, we've got a couple of listed buildings on the site. And we're very much the starting point is to work around the bats and their needs, and as always mitigation and go through licencing processes as a last resort. But the idea is to make sure that we've got all the information we have to do that as as and when we need to.

Steve Roe:

And do you ever run bat walks for members of the public on the site? It's been

Unknown:

a few years actually. So the last bat walk inside the zoo was done, it could be about eight years ago now I think, and that was actually done in conjunction with Cheshire bat group and also our local environmental record centre. I came on that as a just as a volunteer so Before was actually working here at the zoo. And yeah, we had a wander around that night to see what we could pick up. And I think it was actually on that night that we discovered, we've got the pip roost. And it's a complex thing as you can imagine having people in the zoo at night. And so it's unfortunately, not something we can do regularly. But it's certainly something we've discussed a number of times as to try and do for people. What's slightly easier is to do things out on our nature reserve. So last last year, we have an annual wildlife connections festival, how the zoo, which is held down there, our nature reserve. And so we were able last year to do a couple of evening walks, guided walks for those people that came along to the wildlife connections festival. And that was a great evening been able to take them around. And for many people, and certainly there's lots of young people and families there. It's great to be able to give them their first introduction into that.

Steve Roe:

And you said you eight years ago, you weren't working out at the zoo. How have you ended up doing the role you're doing now? What's your background?

Unknown:

Okay, yeah, so it's a bit of a an odd route. Rarely, most people end up working at zoo. So I've set out to work at zoos in the first place. So after leaving university, I started working as a park ranger. And that was working for a local authority. I then moved over and worked in the planning system as a local authority ecologist for about 10 years. Then, I've been at the zoo here now for the last year, two and a half years. So really enjoyed working in planning. And despite all the challenges that go along with that, and the opportunity came here to the opportunity came up to work here at Chester Zoo. And it was a case of Yeah, it was just an opportunity not to be missed.

Steve Roe:

And I mean, we're here today on a on a midweek day in December, so it's pretty chilly. So it's probably not one of what would normally be a busy day anyway. But how has Coronavirus affected Chester Zoo?

Unknown:

Yeah, it's not been a good year in so many ways has it? So the zoo was closed from mid March through to June. And that is the longest we've ever been closed. I think there was only a short period during the foot and mouth outbreak many years ago when the zoo was actually shut. So this year, yeah, we're taking quite an impact. Clearly, if the zoo was closed, we've got no visitors. That is the way we generate our income. The visitors that come here through the gates at the zoo directly contribute to the conservation work that we do. So that's been really difficult. Yeah, being closed means we've got Yeah, less funds to do the conservation work. And that's been really challenging. We've also had number of staff on furlough myself included. So that's been really difficult working somewhere like this. It's more than just a day job you are, you're very much very passionate about what we all do. So actually, not being at work for some of us was a real challenge not being here to see the bats that were coming back during April and May time and not being able to know what was going on with them was yeah, that was pretty frustrating for me. So there's been a number of knock on effects. Certainly the financial one has been the biggest aspect if at Chester Zoo. And that's going to be an impact the next couple years, we'll have to do our best to work out. And then yes, in terms of my aspects and how it's directly impacted my work. Yeah, we've lost that survey season, which has been really difficult. So we're a bit behind on the surveys would have liked to have done this year. And we'll have to pick up some of those next year, which that may mean some projects or delays. But we've also got that gap in our data, which for any fellow data geeks out there, that's really frustrating. But we're back open now. And the work continues. So yeah, we've got a big job ahead of us to try and catch up with what we can and just carry on.

Steve Roe:

And do you find the other members of staff are quite keen to get involved in those surveys or once they finish work? Are they keen to get off home and put their feet up for the day?

Unknown:

Actually, it's brilliant. Yeah, working with the teams here. So for example, Dave White and his team, the Twilight team there, people are really keen to get involved. And the bat team particularly are fantastic. And they're always wanting to come out on any bat surveys we've got here in the zoo, which is superb. So for them. It's yeah, transfer of knowledge and learn about the native species. But some of them have also got a huge range of skills to bring as well. So really fortunate here that we do have the bats that we do on site and the team as well. And all the surveys that we do, we've got a huge population of great crested newts here on site. We've got one of Cheshire's biggest population. So March and April and May time is spent doing newt surveys as well. And again, there's lots of people that want to get out and get involved. So really fortunate actually, usually it's a case of having too many offers, which is a great position to be in and trying to do a router to divvy out who can come out on what so it's a blessing. Yeah, working with zookeepers. They are fantastic naturalist in their own right. And most of them spend an awful lot of their time outside of work. Birding or going around. Yeah, doing an awful lot of native species work as well. So it's, yeah, it's a privileged place to be.

Steve Roe:

And you manage to get involved in that work outside of the zoo as well in your own time.

Unknown:

I do. Yes. So that's, I suppose in a way, almost where it started for me. I went on one of my first back walks about 20 years ago now and I was really keen to learn more. I had a friend that was already involved in Cheshire bat group and and that's where I am. And she's encouraged me to come along. So I did in about about 2007, I went on my one of my first bat outings with Cheshire back group, I can still remember it. Now it was on one of the maze, and the team there just got some new detectors and new kit that they were keen to try out. That was it. I've pretty much been to almost every other route in since then. So still very much involved. Bat groups are a fantastic way for anybody to get their first sort of foot in the door with bat work, but also just to meet the classic like minded people, isn't it and there's just so many people, they're keen to share their knowledge. And yeah, the back group now and the people involved in Cheshire back group, very pleased to be able to say a lot of them are very close friends. And it's great. Just having those other bat geeks you can call on when you've got an unusual question and you've come across something, you can almost guarantee somebody else will have come across it somewhere or they'll know somebody else to speak to in the back world, which is superb.

Steve Roe:

And we're gonna have a look at the roots that we know of in a second. Do you find bats ever turn up in odd places on to zoo?

Unknown:

Oh they do! Yes. Because of I suppose the great site we have here from a feeding potential point of view. There's Yeah, bats zipping around all night, I think. And then obviously the large roosts that we've got, we've certainly got our fair share. So bus being bats, they'll bunker down anywhere sometimes, won't they? The more unusual nor the most commonplace, actually, I'd say during the summer months, when we've got our benches out with the picnic benches with parasols on them, our team, our guest experience team quite often open parasols and a summer months and fine. There's a bat perched up inside them. So yeah, there's usually a quick radio call to either myself if I'm on site or somebody in the twilight team to come and give them a hand. More often than not, we just yet as long as the back seems to be fine. If it can be left where it can where it already is, then we do so. But yeah, there's a few places to turn up. And that is very much something that yeah, we do keep our eyes peeled for.

Steve Roe:

Shall we go to look at some of these roosts?

Helen Bradshaw:

Yes, let's go.

Steve Roe:

So Helenelen you bought us to sort of the posh bit of the zoo, I guess it looks like an older bit of the zoo. And we're looking at a pretty complicated roof for it. If I was doing a bat survey of this , this would be the place you'd sort of say there are going to be bats here.

Unknown:

Yeah, this is one of the oldest buildings on site. So when George Motteshead, founded the zoo back in the 1930s, this was an old Victorian stable yard. So say, traditional layout, if you like it's like a square yard basically, isn't it buildings all the way around. And the old sort of coach style entrance. So we discovered a couple of years ago here that we've got our nice sizable, brown, long-eared maternity roost of somewhere, it was about 50 bats, and they use one section of the building as their main maternity roost. And then the rest of sort of the roof areas, the loft voids, they have a bit of a dip in and out as and when they choose a few feeding perches. Occasionally, the odd rogue BLE tucked up there sometimes. But yeah, they use this. Yeah, the whole section of the building rarely, which Yeah, it makes it a bit complicated.

Steve Roe:

What are these buildings used for during the day.

Unknown:

This used to be our maintenance yard, up until January of this year, January 2020. So are within the zoo. As you can imagine, we have a huge range of teams keeping the place ticking over. And our maintenance team was everything from our blacksmith to our joiners, our painting team and everything else in between. So they've been based in this building for a long, long time. And we were in a position last year to be able to start building a bespoke new maintenance facility for them on the other side of the zoo. So they moved out early January, yeah, February of this year. And now at the moment, it's a Yeah, it's say empty. We've got some use of the yard for our winter lanterns programme. But at the minute, yeah, the buildings are empty for the time being.

Steve Roe:

And on the walk over here you said you've you're about to apply for a modification licence this route, what what are you doing to the roost here?

Unknown:

Yeah, these buildings are grade two listed. And they are they're really nice building. So from a strategy point of view, they sit really well with Oakfield house, which was George Mottershead original home when he started the zoo so we very much wanted to keep the buildings, there was no question really about getting rid of them. And we're hoping to convert them for what we call your food and beverage use in the future. And those plans should have commenced this year. But obviously they've been hard to put on the backburner. Hence the modification to the back licence we need and the licence we've applied for is just to do some works in areas where it's low but you so the maternity roost is very much stay in and that won't be impacted through the works. It's just some other areas of the roof where we need to do reroofing works and just change slightly some of the use. So that will mean some slight losses. But it's Yeah, low important In terms of the use of those roof spaces for the bats, and we will be putting in a mitigation loft as well, but the main maternity roost will be completely unchanged.

Steve Roe:

Great stuff. Shall we have a look at another one?vSo Helen was slammed sounding slightly muffled because we've put masks on and we're, we're inside the elephant house, which is obviously not where the public come. We come in here.

Unknown:

So in here, Steve is one of our other interesting roosts on site. We have got Daubenton's roosting in this building. It's an unusual one in that yes, compared to some bat roosts in the UK which share sometimes a bridge structures, sometimes their houses, but in this occasion, our Daubenton's share their roost with our elephants, at Chester zoo. So in terms of the building, it's a bit like a large warehouse, isn't it? It's obviously very high. It is quite a wide open building. And our Daubenton's are roosting in an area where it's an older section of the building and actually behind bit like what you would class as a facia on the outside of a building. So there's some old bamboo panelling against the walls high or put the top and our Daubenton's roost, just behind those. And it's

Steve Roe:

not a small area, because this panelling goes across two or three different sides of the building. It's quite a large area isn't it

Unknown:

yeah, so it's a suppose a classic is a linear rooster wouldn't wait. And, and it is yeah, it's quite long. So we've got perhaps what a 30 metre length section where we're looking at here, maybe, and then maybe 20 or so metre, on the opposite wall as well. That's, yeah, this was a route that we confirmed actually by eDNA. So we gathered up some of the droppings off the walls because it's a difficult use to survey. At night. Obviously, we've got elephants tucked up inside here. So there's a bit of a disturbance issue in terms of trying to do an emerging survey on this roost from the inside. So we gathered up some of the droppings sent those off for eDNA, and they came back as Daubenton's so we were really quite pleased.

Steve Roe:

So the bats are emerging inside the enclosure, where the elephants are, whereabouts do they leavebecause obviously all these doors are closed at night.

Unknown:

That's right, it was really interesting when we when we confirm the roost internally, obviously, all the doors are shut at night, and there's no windows left open. So it was a bit of a conundrum. So we had a good look around. And then we realise so just where we're standing here behind us now, we've got a humongous metal door, which is about five metres high, would you say almost as wide. So it's a great big industrial looking door. And we realised that we could see all the droppings down one side of the door. So this seems to be the main entry point for them an exit point through search and the rest of the building. We've not managed to find any other locations, that where there's any droppings to indicate where the bats are coming and going from. However, I do have to carry out there with them that it is a pretty difficult building to get a good look at. As you can see from the roof structure, it is quite a lot like any other industrial buildings, so it's not a slight roof. It's metal sheeting with some perspex in place. And so there's no what we would call natural roosting features anywhere else in the roof. To be able to have a look at all these other nooks and crannies. We would need a cherry picker or something to get up high. But it seems to be that this door is the main point that the bats are coming and going from

Steve Roe:

And Daubenton's are obviously water lovers why over here was whereabouts those was flying from and where's the nearest water body?

Unknown:

Yeah, so where we're situated here at Chester zoo our northern land boundary is actually the Shropshire union canal. And where we are here at the roost, the Daubenton's have got a very short commuting route of about maybe a few seconds, perhaps 30 seconds as the bat flies to get straight onto that canal so perfect, feeding habiat. We're also surrounded by semi agricultural land. And the canal if you were to follow it eastwards also leads up to galley meadows, which is the Wildlife Trust reserves. So there is actually some good feeding habitat in the around in the area.

Steve Roe:

We've come from the elephant house back across to sort of more central in the zoo. And these this is where the soprano pip roost is.

Unknown:

It says yes. So compared to the elephant house, this is quite a different building. So no elephants in this one. The building that we are looking at now is it's been used as a cafe and a gift shop for a number of years. It is a 1950s 60s sort of flat roof building. So quite architecture you'd say it's quite typical of its age but very much a flat roof, two storey building,

Steve Roe:

and how many how many soprano's are in here, and where abouts are they emerging from?

Unknown:

yes, it's been an interesting one. So the top count, we've had, I think maxed out at around 215 Sopranos. And we're fairly certain that she's just using one side of the building. So one little corner and they are dropping out. And we're not sure if they are using just a box soffit. Or actually, if they're underneath the flat felt roof. So typical sopranos if you're like,

Steve Roe:

You said they were dropping out of several different places. And some of those holes holes are quite small. And they've said they're coming out just above that little pipe there where the hole is quite literally just a centimetre or even less than that.

Helen Bradshaw:

That's right. Yes. So we've got one main roost entry and exit point, which has been, we've always had the bulk of the numbers out of those on the surveys. But then on occasions as well, we've had them shooting out of some yet rather small gaps. So as you say, just above the window, here, we've got a little piece of pipe going along the edge of the building. And it must only be about maybe half a centimetre gap if that. And yeah, we've had pips coming out of there on occasion as well. We've also got copper sections around the front of the building, where we've got some MDF, that's where the little bit and there's a small gap. And on occasions, we've also had individuals dropping out there as well.

Steve Roe:

So just to wrap up, I mean, you've got all the bats on the Estate. And then you talked about the nature reserve. Do you have any plans to introduce enhancements without through things like that box scheme? So is it a case of just enhancing that nature as for the bats?

Unknown:

No, yeah, we've got big plans, hopefully. So the nature reserve, as I say, was created in 2013. And is establishing really well now. It connects up to a reedbed habitat, and directly then on to the Shopshire union canal. So some great habitat there. We've got coronation meadow that was established. So that's doing really well. And over the years, we've been focusing on the last five years, certainly a lot of monitoring, and certainly including a lot of invert sampling as well. So more inverts more bad. So we're looking over the next few years now to the rest of the state, and what are the measures we can do? We've just this year, put in some areas for environmental stewardship. So we're looking now at our hedges and edges would you say so how we can improve our hedges for wildlife, and also those field margins. So over the next few years, now, there's quite a lot, we want to look out for the rest of the state on what improvements we can make there for biodiversity, which, of course, will ultimately help our bats as well.

Steve Roe:

Great stuff. And if people want to find out more about the work you're doing, how is he where's the best place for them to go?

Unknown:

Yeah, just to our website, the zoo's Facebook page as well. We did a Facebook live a couple of weeks ago, which I think is still on the Facebook page. And that was directly from our nature reserve, which was really good. And people can come down to the zoo as well calm and take a look at the nature reserve. It's free to access. It's always open as you don't have to come into the zoo itself. But yeah, they can get in touch with us via our website, if anybody's got any further questions. And if there's any partners out there that are keen to work with us or got any native species projects, then I'm all ears!

Steve Roe:

Great stuff. Helen, and thank you very much for your time.

Helen Bradshaw:

You're very welcome. Thanks for coming to see us.

Steve Roe:

A huge thank you to Dave, Claire and Helen for taking the time to make those recordings with me. If that's inspired you to visit Chester, you can book tickets in advance of the zoo reopening this spring, all of the links mentioned in the show notes. We hope you've enjoyed listening to this episode of BatChat. Why not tell us what you think on social media. Our hashtag is BatChat, and we'll be back in two weeks time.