Posted: Wednesday 17 July 2013
by Richard Jones
Bats are now, very much, creatures from my childhood. At the time it didn’t seem so - like so much that is gone, the passing is only realised with hindsight.
Bats are now, very much, creatures from my childhood. At the time it didn’t seem so - like so much that is gone, the passing is only realised with hindsight. Everywhere bats are genuinely declining as roosts are destroyed or industrial farming is blamed for reducing their insect prey; my move from rolling Sussex countryside to urban London hasn’t helped their visibility, to my eyes at least.
As a boy, bats were a commonplace to me. They would wheel about above my parent’s garden in, to some people, nightmarish numbers. The slow drifting fall of dismembered moth wings was sometimes a frustration to an eager young entomologist, wondering what interesting insects they were devouring up there.
The small spinney on the edge of the South Downs, where I used to go tree-climbing and blackberrying with my school friends, had several large beeches, elms and sycamores at its heart. Too massive for us to reach the lowest branches, they were forbidden totems of secret wonder, but we knew, from moonlit adventures, that the small dark holes, where branches had long ago been wrenched away, were home to these small nocturnal flappers.
Fear of bats seemed an impossibility then. They were odd-looking, true, but too cute to be scary. We used to catch them with an old net curtain, luring them down with tossed lumps of soil until their whirling breakneck dives to investigate brought them down to fabric-fling height. Such behaviour is, I believe, not acceptable nowadays, and even handling a live UK bat now requires a special licence from Natural England.
So when I see bats looping over my South London garden now, I’m a boy again. And it seems I’m returning to my childhood increasingly often these days. In an earlier blog about my garden bats, I could count the appearances in the previous decade on the fingers of one hand; now they seem to be a regular sight here.
The warm humid evenings of the late-come summer have found me outside more often at dusk. At some time between 9.30 and 10.30pm, I put Buster the guinea-pig back in his hutch from the run on the lawn. Perhaps I’ll suddenly remember to bring in the washing, pegged on the line all day. I’ve also been running a bright mercury vapour light to see what moths can be attracted to an old tablecloth spread out on the patio.
Out of the corner of my eye, I catch the mad flutterings of something large and inky black scooting over the hedge. It’s regular bat o’clock now, and if the odd moth wing drifts down through the still night air, I no longer begrudge it. They’re welcome to take what they like.