Minister welcomes publication of Lesser Horseshoe Bat Species Action Plan

Date Released: Thursday, August 11, 2022

  • Unique Irish bat is found mainly in the West, from Mayo to Cork
  • Government departments, agencies, local authorities and NGOs developed the plan
  • Plan includes practical site-specific and landscape-level actions to support conservation

Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan TD, has welcomed the publication of the first Species Action Plan for the lesser horseshoe bat in Ireland by the National Parks and Wildlife Service at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

Minister Noonan said: “The Lesser horseshoe bat is a charismatic little mammal. It’s the only bat species in Ireland to live up to its stereotype of hanging freely by its feet and wrapping its wings around its body. Today’s publication of this Species Action Plan and its collaborative, pragmatic approach is a positive step forward for the conservation of this unique bat, and I warmly welcome it.”

The aim of the plan is to guide, inform and provide structure for the conservation management of this unique and important species over the next five years (2022-2026). It provides ambitious but achievable targets for the coordinated conservation efforts of all stakeholders over the coming five years.

The Species Action Plan provides some background to the ecology and status of the lesser horseshoe bat in Ireland. It also includes an overview of the conservation and research that has been undertaken to date.  The core of the plan is a section on practical conservation measures that can be rolled out. These measures include site-specific and landscape level actions:

  • Site specific actions will include repairing roofs and windows of existing roosts, grilling caves to prevent trespass, building new hibernacula and night roosts where needed, installing predator proofing to keep out cats and pine martens.
  • Landscape level actions are aimed at improving connectivity between and around roosts and increasing the availability of suitable foraging habitats. The actions described in this plan are those considered necessary to restore this species to a favourable conservation status.

A wide range of stakeholders, from Government Departments and Agencies to Local Authorities and NGOs, have been involved in the development of this Action Plan and their continued engagement will be required to deliver the list of actions. A steering group to initiate implementation of the plan, and to monitor and coordinate the delivery of listed actions, will meet in September.

The Lesser horseshoe bat is one of nine bat species found in Ireland, but unlike the other eight species the lesser horseshoe has a very limited distribution. It is confined to the six western counties; from south Mayo down to west Cork (see attached map of all know roost locations).

The lesser horseshoe bat is listed on Annex 2 of the EU’s Habitats Directive and there are 41 Special Areas of Conservation for which this species is a Qualifying Interest. National Parks and Wildlife Service rangers monitor the main summer and winter roosts for this species every year. The most recent estimate of the lesser horseshoe bat’s population is 12,790 individuals. Although population monitoring indicates that the species’ numbers are increasing, there is growing evidence that its range is contracting. The growing gap between occupied roosts in Kerry and in Limerick is of particular concern. This gap appears to have developed due to habitat fragmentation caused by agricultural intensification.

Concerns about habitat loss and landscape connectivity led to an ‘unfavourable inadequate’ assessment of the lesser horseshoe bat’s conservation status in the most recent Article 17 report to EU Commission.

One of the Action Plan partners is The Vincent Wildlife Trust. They have a long history of bat conservation in Ireland and in the UK. They manage a dozen bat reserves in Ireland specifically for the lesser horseshoe bat and have published a handbook of practical conservation measures for the species. In an effort to address the growing concerns about this bat’s conservation status, NPWS have been working with the Vincent Wildlife Trust to develop a Species Action Plan for the lesser horseshoe bat. This Species Action Plan has now been finalised, following extensive consultation with a broad range of stakeholders, including the Heritage Council, OPW, DAFM, TII, Local Authorities in the six western counties and Bat Conservation Ireland.