Making a bat plan!
Many people don’t even know there are bats in Hamilton. Project Echo, an advocacy group that includes Waikato Regional Council, is lobbying for a bat plan for the city, to help mitigate the impact of urban development on the small night flyers.
Bats are pretty cool, mainly because they are so rare. They are also the only indigenous mammals in the country, on land, so they are pretty special in a country full of birds.
I have a passion for urban ecology, to show people, hey, you have these really cool things in your backyard. We are pretty much the only city where bats have been found, apart from Auckland, but in Auckland they are not too close to the centre. They are a bit of an outstanding feature for the city to protect, it would be a shame to lose them.
Hammond Park is definitely some of the oldest bush that you find in Hamilton. Bats are not very picky when it comes to trees, a tree just needs to be mature enough that there are cavities in them. The kind of trees that people find ugly and are cutting down are the ones the bats love. Cutting trees with a bat in it, you are likely to be killing a bat. Not only are we losing roosting habitat but a bat.
Big old gnarly pines are brilliant. For native trees, it takes hundreds of years to get to that point. We have about 30 bat boxes in the city, but they haven’t really been used. It doesn’t really make sense to cut down trees and then put boxes up on sticks. We need to plant trees but they take forever to grown into bat trees.
Development is a major issue because there is so much happening in the city at the moment. This development across the river, that’s basically their last remaining habitat. The presence of humans and houses and cars and lights, whether they can adapt to it or not, we don’t know.
I’ve seen no more than four or five bats here, coming out at night, but it doesn’t mean there are not more. It’s not like the South Island or in the bush of the North Island, where you can get hundreds coming out from roosts.
We find they tend to move up and down the river, they come out the trees, feed for a while, then shoot off to the river. They link up with all the gully systems of this river. They are definitely foraging along it but also use it to navigate.
They seem to be getting less and less in the last couple of years, but that is just anecdotal evidence. There’s been no census of bats in Hamilton. It’s not a large population, I don’t think. They are really easy to miss. The body is about the size of your thumb, and the wings are about 10 centimetres, depending on gender and age.
We are developing this map of Hamilton where bats are likely to be so hopefully it can be picked up by the Hamilton City Council, that it can be part of a bat zone, and they can require trees to be checked before felling in these areas. It’s not hard to do. It’s not impossible, it just needs everyone to do it.
We have just surveyed about 20 sites in Hamilton, focused on the gully systems mainly. We found bats in places where we knew they were. We also found them at the lake, Rotoroa, which was exciting, we hadn’t found them there before; and at Forest Lake.
The project was lucky to get funding from DOC, regional council and the city council. We have funding to do the survey for three years in a row. Ten years would be great. Statistically and scientifically it makes sense to do it for a long time. We are trying to do what we can, provide the science and rely on the decision-makers to do the right thing in the end. If the political will isn’t there then there is only so much we can do ourselves. We need some big changes to happen.
Is it too late? I don’t know, maybe, but at least we will have something that offers accountability to what’s taking place. It is definitely a battle, and I wish it had started about 10 years before it did. I do worry the local population is going to get extinct.