Cats should be kept indoors at sunset to prevent them from killing bats, an expert has said.
Other ways people can help native bat species are to use blackout blinds, build ponds, and eat organically.
There are 18 species of bats in the UK and they play a vital role in UK ecosystems, but some of the nocturnal flying mammals are under threat.
People are increasingly encroaching on their habitat, destroying their food and interfering with their lives.
Beth Gerrard from the University of the West of England’s Bat Conservation Research Laboratory told the Cheltenham Science Festival there are a variety of things everyone can do to help.
hours of darkness
She recommended keeping cats indoors at night, as domestic cats hunt and kill bats during hours of darkness.
“If you can’t keep them overnight, if you could keep them for half an hour before sunset until an hour after sunset, that can really make a big difference,” Ms. Gerard.
“Bats have a few natural predators, for example, owls and snakes, but house cats are not so natural and they actually cause a real problem for bats.”
The Bat Conservation Trust estimates that at least a quarter of a million bats are killed each year by pet cats.
The RSPCA has agreed that cats should be kept indoors at dusk to reduce opportunities for hunting birds and other animals.
“All bird feeders in the garden should also be placed high up out of the reach of cats, and to reduce spillage on the ground to prevent other birds and wildlife from feeding there, as this may make them more vulnerable to predation,” a spokesperson said.
Another simple way to improve bat numbers in Britain is to stop using pesticides, reduce light pollution and make gardens bat-friendly by attracting insects to eat.
Pesticides and herbicides destroy the plants that bats depend on for food and can sometimes poison them directly.
“Reduce outdoor lighting [can also help], therefore garden lighting but also security lighting. I’m not going to ask you to turn off the streetlights, but you could do [security lights] less bright or just put them on motion sensors so they’re not on all the time,” Ms Gerrard said.
The house lights are shining
Along the same lines, she said people should be wary of house lights shining through their windows at night and consider using blackout blinds.
“You basically want to reduce the light spill into the outdoor area that the bats use,” she said.
Other tips for bat enthusiasts include organic food to reduce the number of pesticides used and also to ditch meat and dairy products as livestock need a lot of land and this often comes from invasion bat habitat.
Other advice provided by Ms Gerrard was to add ‘linear elements’ to the garden as bats use them to navigate, so a straight hedge like a bolt could help their migration; grow various plants; and build a pond.
“Bats are really important to our ecosystems. Locally and globally,” Ms. Gerrard said.
“I don’t think people really understand the impact they really have on our environment.”
She said they are better pollinators than most insects because they can carry more pollen and travel it longer distances.
“We need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to help mitigate the threats they face,” Ms Gerrard said.
“Almost a third of all bats overseas are threatened with extinction. And in the UK we have four near-threatened species, four species at risk and two species listed as near-threatened.
“Bat populations have declined massively in the last century, but I think most bat species populations are increasing now.”