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Rare vagrant bat found on Arran

A National Trust for Scotland’s Brodick Country Park ranger has been involved in identifying and looking after a rare vagrant parti-coloured bat that was found grounded on the Isle of Arran earlier this year.

Ranger Corinna Goeckeritz received a phone call from a family in Kildonan, a few months back. Nine-year old Victoria Mowatt, who is a member of the local National Trust for Scotland Young Naturalists’ Club and attends Whiting Bay Primary School, found that bat on the ground. Victoria looked closely and established the bat was still alive, although obviously in trouble. With the help of her family, the bat was captured and put into a shoe box.

Victoria explains: “I know bats like dark places, so I emptied out my friendship box for her. Then we fed her water from the end of a small paintbrush on advice from the rangers.”

For ranger Corinna, who has recently completed training for her bat licence, there was a surprise in store. The Mowatt family were curious to know which the species.

Corinna said: “I was a bit embarrassed when I was not able to tell them, as this was a species of bat I had not come across before. Back home, I consulted bat identification books and also asked experienced bat workers for help. Even then, identification was not straightforward.

“In the end, the bat turned out to be not just a rare Scottish species as first suspected, but a species not native to the British Isles.’ Parti-coloured bats are relatively large bats usually found in continental Europe and parts of Asia. Their name is derived from their distinctly bicoloured dorsal fur. The hairs are brown at the base, but have silvery tips, giving the fur a “frosted” appearance.

“The natural distribution of parti-coloured bats ranges from eastern France eastwards. Vagrant parti-coloured bats are recorded sporadically in Britain, thought to be individuals blown off course on migration. Most of these records however occur on the east coast of England. It is impossible to say how this particular bat ended up on a Scottish west coast island. Severe weather is likely to have played a part – she could even have made part of the journey as a blind passenger on a ship.”

John Haddow of Auritus Wildlife Consultancy, who helped identify the bat, said: “There are only around 30 UK records of parti-coloured bats. Sussex bat expert Dr Tony Hutson, who is currently writing a paper on migrant and vagrant bat species, confirms that there have been several records of parti-coloured bats from Shetland, and some more from North Sea oil rigs, but nowhere else in Scotland.”

The unique Arran record has been confirmed by DNA analysis kindly conducted free of charge by the genetics laboratories at the Waterford Institute of Technology in Ireland.

Lindsay Mackinlay, the National Trust for Scotland’s Nature Conservation Adviser added: “This is a very exciting find and we are proud that the Trust has been able to help the bat on this occasion. The Trust does a lot of work to conserve all bat species in Scotland, and indeed, we only just established the UK’s first bat reserve down at Threave estate, near Castle Douglas last year.”

Brodick ranger Corinna Goeckeritz commended Victoria who made the discovery and acted quickly and sensibly to save it. She said: “Credit should go to Victoria Mowatt who discovered the bat. It is unlikely the bat would have survived without her.”
The bat is now in the care of Tracey Joliffe, an experienced bat carer based in Dundee.

Corinna said: “The bat’s injuries suggest that she was caught by a cat, possibly easy prey after a long, exhausting journey from the continent. Unfortunately, the injuries the bat sustained from the attack were too severe for her to recover fully. An irreparably damaged wing means that she will not be able to fly again and will therefore remain in Tracey’s competent care.

“Long-term captive bats can be very useful for educational purposes. Having access to such a rare vagrant is a great opportunity for bat workers to familiarise themselves with the species.”

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