Extremely rare and endangered greater horseshoe bat is spotted for the first time in 100 years in Dover Castle’s ‘Horseshoe Passage’ in Kent
- The elusive mammal was found by Claire and Toby Munn of the Kent Bat Group
- By coincidence, it was found in the castle’s Napoleonic-age ‘Horseshoe Passage’
- Experts have been hunting for bats in and around Dover Castle since 2019
- The protected species has not been seen in Kent in a more than one century
- Experts think the bats’ UK population numbers around 4,000–6,000 individuals
For the first time in a century, the greater horseshoe bat — one of Britain’s rarest creatures — has been found in Kent, in the Medieval setting of Dover Castle.
The elusive flying mammal was identified by Claire and Toby Munn of the Kent Bat Group and — in a remarkable coincidence — it was found in ‘Horseshoe Passage’.
This walkway — which is not usually open to the public — is part of the defences at Dover Castle that were added during the Napoleonic Wars over two centuries ago.
Experts have been scouring the castle since 2019 after it was suspected that bats seen flitting around the 2,000-year-old fortification might be greater horseshoes.
With backing from English Heritage, the Kent Bat Group had placed recording equipment in farms near the castle, to listen out for its echolocating sonar calls.
This protected species — which goes by the scientific name Rhinolophus ferrumequinum — has not been seen in Kent for more than a century.
In fact, the bat — threatened by loss of habitat and the use of insecticides by farmers, killing its food — is thought to number only 4,000–6,600 in the UK.
For the first time in a century, the greater horseshoe bat (pictured) — one of Britain’s rarest creatures — has been found in Kent, in the Medieval setting of Dover Castle.
‘We were astonished when the Kent Bat Group let us know of this incredibly important discovery,’ said English Heritage Kent’s Neil McCollum.
‘We feel very honoured that the rare horseshoe bat has found a home at the castle — and in the aptly named Horseshoe Passage.’
‘At English Heritage, not only do we care for some of the most historically important places in England, but, by doing so, we also can provide a home for incredible wildlife that is intrinsically linked to English history.’
‘When we set out to look for where they might be roosting, the words “needle in a haystack” came to mind,’ said Ms Munn.
‘So, when I spotted the pear-shaped shadow hanging down ahead of us in the tunnel, it’s fair to say that after 15 months of searching and ten months of shielding together, Toby and I felt like we had won the lottery!
‘On closer inspection, being careful not to cause any unnecessary disturbance, there was no mistaking that this was indeed the greater horseshoe bat we had been searching for.
‘This is an historic find and is just one example of how brilliant Dover Castle is for supporting an array of wildlife, which we have been monitoring now for some years, both in a professional and voluntary capacity.
‘It’s really fantastic to be working with English Heritage, who are just as passionate as we are about the natural history of their sites.’
The elusive flying mammal was identified by Claire and Toby Munn of the Kent Bat Group and — in a remarkable coincidence — it was found in ‘Horseshoe Passage’. This walkway is part of the defences at Dover Castle (pictured) that were added during the Napoleonic Wars
The greater horseshoe bat — which goes by the scientific name Rhinolophus ferrumequinum — has not been seen in Kent for more than a century. Pictured, the bat in the castle passage
According to the experts, locating where the greater horseshoe bats roost is vital to the Kent Bat Group’s research on the species. They now hope to uncover where the bat is travelling to and from.
If permission is granted to take a small clipping of the bat’s furry coat, the team may also be able to find out if this bat has come over from France — or moved east from its existing range in the UK.
The Munns said that they hope to determine if there are more greater horseshoe bats in the area — or whether the specimen they found is a pioneer that is starting a new population of the species in Dover.
For the first time in a century, the greater horseshoe bat — one of Britain’s rarest creatures — has been found in Kent, in the Medieval setting of Dover Castle
THE GREATER HORSESHOE BAT
Pictured: Greater horseshoe bats
The greater horseshoe bat —Rhinolophus ferrumequinum — is an insect-eating mammal that can be found across Europe, Northern Africa, Central Asia and Eastern Asia.
In the UK, it is a protected and rare species, with experts estimating that its population numbers only some 4,000–6,000 individuals, around 1 per cent of its former size.
It range has also shrunk by around half — with experts attributing these changes to a combination of habitat loss and insecticides that have reduced the availability of its prey.
The once cave-dwelling, nocturnal species is now know to favour making roost in old houses, churches and barns.
R. ferrumequinum hibernate over winter — and, in May, the females of the species form maternity colonies to have their offspring.
Adult greater horseshoe bats grow to around 2.4 inches (6 cm) long with a wingspan of up to 15.7 inches (40 cm).
The weigh less than 1.2 ounces (34 g) — about as heavy as a standard light bulb — and can live for up to 30 years.