I have given a number of talks recently, both academic to the general public, and have frequently used the story of the beginning of my interest in bats as an introduction to get people’s interest. Having recounted the tale an unusual number of times recently I was struck, as I came to think of a topic for the first post of my revived blog, that this could be a good opportunity to put things down in detail. It runs the risk of sounding somewhat self-obsessed, but I think my experience can be used to illustrate a wider point, and I’ll aim to do so.
My interest in the natural world has existed as long as I can remember, but the point at which it became focused on bats is well defined. It wasn’t, however, on the first occasion that I encountered a bat. Around the age of five I went on a birthday trip to a railway museum and as we walked to the entrance we encountered a bat lying on the ground. Clearly that is not a healthy position for the bat, but I was excited by the prospect of trains and paid little heed – my father moved it from the path to some bushes and we carried on*.
Several years later bats got another chance. On a summers evening, at the age of eleven, my mother took me along to a ‘bat walk’ in our local park. There I listened to a talk about bats by the fledgling North Buckinghamshire Bat Group, followed by a walk around the park with bat detectors to listen to the bats as they flew above us. This clearly made some sort of impression on me, and so the next week we travelled across town to attend another bat walk and listen to bats in a different park. A week later we headed out once again, this time joining the bat group to capture bats as they flew from a roost inside a church. I was fascinated by the opportunity to see these strange animals, of which I had previously known almost nothing, up close and personal. To top it all I was allowed, with gloves, to hold a bat and examine it for myself.
I am always inclined to consider the time I first held a bat as the key moment that sparked my interest, however it would be wrong to ignore another factor. Following that first contact, the infatuation with bats that I had gained grew into a full on love affair (if you’ll excuse the crummy metaphor), as I learned to survey for, identify and catch them. The credit for most of that growth belongs to the myriad individuals who educated and encouraged me, or if nothing else went out of their ways to give me lifts to and from bat events around the county. If any of those people should read this they will doubtless know who they are, and I am grateful.
This brings me to what I think is the important point. The interest in bats that has grown to consume much of my time, indeed has become my day job, resulted from a chance counter reinforced by a wealth of encouragement. If the people who provided that encouragement hadn’t, I might have had a much less interesting life. This is reason that I am always keen to give and arrange public talks about bats and my work with them, and I would encourage others (many already do) to do the same. Bats and the natural world are more in need of champions than ever – and you never know how far the next person you share your enthusiasm with will take it!
*If anyone in the UK encounters a grounded or injured bat I would encourage you to call the Bat Conservation Trust helpline, and they will endeavour to find someone to come and look after it. You should avoid touching the bat yourself.