Press release: Rare Alcathoe bat found for first time in Wiltshire

One of the rarest mammals in Britain has been found in Wiltshire.

The Alcathoe bat was first found in Britain in 2010 and, despite a lot of work to try and find it, sightings have only been made in North Yorkshire and a small area of Sussex and Surrey.

confirmed Myotis alcathoe, Winsley (Will's cave)
The female Alcathoe bat (C) Keith Cohen

This is why the discovery — made outside a cave near Bradford-on-Avon — has so excited Professor of Environmental Biology Fiona Mathews who has, with the Wiltshire Bat Group, been monitoring the area for many years.

Local bat workers Keith Cohen and Danielle Linton, who captured the bat said “We have been trapping bats at these Wiltshire swarming sites for many years. This bat looked distinctly different from those we usually catch, so it was very exciting in case it could be an Alcathoe bat. Luckily we very soon also caught a whiskered bat, which is the species it looks most like, and could compare them side-by-side.”

High Res Alcathoe AND whiskered (pic Camilla Mitchell)
Alcathoe bat (left) and Whiskered bat (right) (C) Camilla Michell

Professor Mathews said: “It’s incredibly exciting for the Alcathoe bat to have been found at this site. “In my recent report with the Mammal Society A Review of the Population and Conservation Status of British Mammals – JP025, I classified it as one of the species in most urgent need of research. We quite literally know almost nothing about it.”

The female bat, that had just finished breeding, was found at a swarming site in early autumn last year by workers who thought it looked unusual and sent dropping samples to Professor Mathews to test.

She explained: “Some types of bats go to swarming sites late at night after feeding. They’re almost like nightclubs for bats. Tens or even hundreds of bats can turn up but behaviour is very sporadic, so any given site could have hundreds of bats one night and absolutely none the next. We monitor these sites carefully and catch bats using mist nets, which are like large fishing nets. The bats are then removed by specially-licensed bat workers, checked and released unharmed. In this instance, workers thought the bat looked a bit unusual and sent dropping samples to me at Sussex where my company, Ecotype Genetics, confirmed the identity of the species using DNA analysis.”

There are currently 18 species of bats in the UK, of which 17 are known to breed here.
While the population size of the common pipistrelle, which is found throughout the UK is thought to be close to 2 million, the population of Alcathoe bats is likely to just a few thousand individuals, and breeding has been confirmed in only one small area in the South-East of England.

Malc_DHargreaves v2
Alcathoe bat (C) Daniel Hargreaves

Professor Mathews said: “The Alcathoe bat looks very similar to two other related species, the whiskered and Brandt’s bat species, so it is possible that people misidentify it. Indeed it was only separated as a distinct species in Europe in 2001. The areas where it has been caught so far usually have old oak woodlands nearby, which is not the case with the bat we’ve just found.

“This only serves to illustrate exactly why we need to do more research about the species to understand its needs, and how we can protect it.”

Press released by Professor Fiona Mathews, University of Sussex and Wiltshire Bat Group.


Next Wiltshire Bat Group……

Wiltshire Bat Group’s first meeting of 2019 will be on Thursday 9th May 2019, 7pm, Wiltshire Scout Centre, Potterne Wick, nr Devizes. 

Following some brief bat group business, Professor Fiona Mathews, University of Sussex and Chair of the Mammal Society, will be presenting further analyses of 15 years or so of monitoring the various mines and caves of the Bath & Bradford-on-Avon area (some of which comprise the Bath & Bradford-on-Avon Special Area of Conservation). This talk builds upon her presentation at a bat group meeting 2 years ago.

Fiona says; “The Wiltshire Bat group began ferreting about in caves in 1999.  Having established that the numbers of greater horseshoe bats in underground sites were significant, we began a programme of systematic ringing and monitoring that has continued for 15 years. This talk will take stock of what we’ve learnt from the more than 7,000 bat encounters we’ve logged, and be considering what the future holds for our populations in the context of continuing urban expansion, changes to farming, and climate change.  There might well be the odd fun photo too!

All are welcome to join us; the meeting is open to members and non-members. Donations are welcome to help cover cost venue costs. New members are always welcome.

Wiltshire Scout Centre is a new venue, just off the A360, just south of Potterne, Devizes. Directions may be found here: The postcode for satnav is SN10 5QP (not SN10 5QT as their website states), the grid reference is SU000578.

If arriving from the north, you will drive through Devizes; it is worth leaving plenty of time as recent roadworks and traffic control have caused some delays. 

Wiltshire Bat Group newsletter published, Spring 2019

Wiltshire Bat Group’s Spring 2019 newsletter is published this week; download here:

WBG Newsletter Spring 2019

As always a huge thank you to the project leaders and article authors for all their work delivering bat conservation in Wiltshire. 2018 was another epic year in the county, with new species confirmed in the county, new roosting sites created, new populations of rare woodland bats and much much more.

confirmed Myotis alcathoe, Winsley (Will's cave)
New Species for Wiltshire, confirmed by DNA analyses     Alcathoe whiskered bat, Winsley Mines SSSI 2018 (C) Keith Cohen

If you’d like to get involved see here for further information and contact Will Ponting, Membership Secretary.

Merry Christmas!

On behalf of all at Wiltshire Mammal Group & Wiltshire Bat Group, a very merry Christmas and happy new year to you all!XmasRhipp

Thank you to everyone for their efforts in surveying and monitoring Wiltshire mammals, and in promoting positive conservation messages! May 2019 be full of even more!!

Why not consider the perfect Christmas gift – a year’s membership to Wiltshire Mammal Group or Wiltshire Bat Group!

The Christmas break (and the associated over-indulgence!)  is the perfect time for winter walks and some impromptu mammal recording! Please submit your records via Living Record or email them directly to us. Or consider downloading and using MammalTracker or MammalMapper. Your records are important in providing the evidence base to support Wiltshire’s mammals.

Nadolig Llawen – Joyeux Noel – Fröhliche Weihnachten – Wesołych Świąt – Nollaig Shona

URGENT: Disease in Brown Hares; your help needed

In October 2018 Suffolk Wildlife Trust and Norfolk Wildlife Trust initiated a partnership project with the University of East Anglia to study a series of mysterious hare deaths in the East Anglia region. In promoting this work on TV, radio and the press, UEA have received reports of large numbers of hare deaths from across the UK (including south-west England, Wales and Scotland). Post mortems indicate that several viruses are involved including hares dying with symptoms characteristic of myxomatosis in rabbits. The reports indicate that these infections are spreading throughout the national brown hare population, and that spread is rapid.

Wiltshire Mammal Group is therefore asking anyone seeing a freshly dead hare to record its location and grid reference, date and to photograph the entire animal – especially around the head and bottom – and send the information to Dr Diana Bell at the University of East Anglia. Dr Bell has recently been studying the impacts of diseases on rabbit populations, including myxomatosis and strains of haemorrhagic disease.

Dr Bell said: “The death of any animal is obviously distressing but we’re asking people to try and photograph these hares to help us understand what is happening. Getting good images and the actual bodies of these hares, along with their exact location, is crucial for us to rule out or identify possible diseases. Any dead animals should be double-bagged using gloves and where possible put into a freezer for collection or ”

Wiltshire is an important stronghold for brown hares in the UK; the recently-published Mammals in Wiltshire (Second Edition) demonstrates that they are widely-spread in the county and indeed are more frequently recorded that rabbits. In fact, rabbits have declined rapidly in recent years in response to different strains of rabbit haemorrhagic disease.

There is also no closed season for hares, which means that they can be shot legally at any time of the year – including during breeding season. Illegal hare coursing is also still prevalent in Wiltshire (see Wiltshire Rural Crime Team Facebook page, 17th December 2018).

Hares can be distinguished from rabbits in a number of ways. Hares are larger than rabbits, with longer hind legs and black-tipped ears that are as least as long as their heads.

Have you seen a sick or dead hare?

Since more than one virus is involved, observers may encounter dead or dying hares exhibiting a range of symptoms, including the bulging eyes and bleeding characteristic of Myxomatosis to a wide range of other symptoms seen in the haemorrhagic disease (including looking apparently perfectly healthy to bleeding from the eyes and orifices, and lethargy).

Please note the precise location & grid reference (using a map or this website), and date. 

The team are keen to receive carcasses of the hare for post-mortem and analyses to confirm which viral infection is involved. Using gloves where-ever possible, double-bag carcasses and tag with the date and location and then freeze or leave in a cold place.

And then:

Please send your report, with a photograph of the hare (including its head and bottom) to Dr Diana Bell at the University of East Anglia by emailing Inform Dr Bell immediately and arrangements will be made for collection of carcases.

And for those reports in the south-west of England,  please also copy your report to another member of this research team, Dr Alex Barlow MRCVS, APHA Wildlife Group, Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA),

Carcases can be delivered, after discussion of case, to either of two sites depending on location; Please don’t deliver carcases before discussion of cases.

  • Main site; APHA Starcross VI Centre, Starcross, Staplake Mount, Starcross, Exeter, Devon, EX6  8PE
  • Bristol Vet School’s Post Mortem Room, at Langford House, Langford, Nr Bristol, Somerset, BS40 5DU

Wiltshire Mammal Group is not able to collect or store carcasses or arrange for their delivery.

Please be aware; this is incredibly serious for the UK’s brown hare populations (its not yet known what the impact may be upon mountain hare populations), and it is likely to result in a massive reduction in hare numbers. In a county such as Wiltshire, this will be especially noticeable where hares are normally so frequently seen.

In parts of East Anglia, the impact upon hare populations is expected to be so significant that some shooting estates have ceased any shooting of hares (for either sport, pest control or eating) in order to support populations as much as possible.

This webpage will be updated with additional information as it comes available

(GOH 18/12/2018, updated 19/12/2018)

More information

Dr Diana Bell at the University of East Anglia,

Alex Barlow Veterinary Investigation Officer, APHA Wildlife Group,


Gareth Harris, Wiltshire Mammal Group,

WMG’s 6th Annual Owl Pellet Workshop! EVENT CANCELLED

Event Cancelled – due to unforeseen circumstances this event has been cancelled. Apologies to those who have booked places (you should have been notified already by email). A re-scheduled date is not planned at this time. Apologies! (11th January 2019)

In its 6th year, WMG’s owl pellet analyses continue – the next owl pellet analyses workshop will be held at Lackham College, Chippenham on Sunday 20th January 2019 9am till 1pm.

Thanks to a number of raptor workers in Wiltshire, particularly Major Nigel Lewis, Michael Groves and their colleagues, we’ve been able to analyse owl pellets from across Wiltshire, and in particular Salisbury Plain. In doing so, we’ve been able to generate a some great information regarding the distribution of some of our lesser recorded small mammals, making a gre

owl pellet analyses (c) Andrew Barrett

at contribution to the mammal atlas project.

The workshop is ideal for beginners and as a refresher for those who have previous experience identifying small mammal remains from owl pellets.

Refreshment will be available on the day. If you’d like to join in or would like further information, please contact Paul Wexler on

A plea to raptor workers: If you are interested in contributing owl pellet samples for these analyses (barn owl pellets generate the most data but pellets from other species add some variety!), please get in touch too. We are particularly interested in samples collected regularly from the same locations as these can yield changes in the small mammal assemblage over time. Please remember to record the bird species, a 6 figure grid reference and a date of collection for each sample, which ideally should include fresh 10-20 pellets. For further information, please contact Paul Wexler on

Harvest Mouse nest searches, autumn 2018

Its that time of year again when we can turn our attention to nest-searching for harvest mice. I’ve been out in the past week and the nests are still green (so possibly in use but much trickier to find – well camouflaged in the sward).

HM nest_SPTA-Enford_Oct18
Harvest Mouse, likely breeding nest, October 2018 (Salisbury Plain Training Area)                         (C) Gareth Harris

Later this month I’ll be leading two further harvest mouse nest searches in parts of the county not recently surveyed – once again, this is trying to plug gaps in knowledge and known range following the publication of the mammal atlas.  Last year we had great success, finding good numbers of nests on all sites we looked, ranging from four farmland sites (with thanks to Simon & Jemma from Black Sheep Consulting), to Langford Lakes Wiltshire Wildlife Trust reserve, and many more in between.

Confirmed dates:

Sunday 28th October, near Wilsford (between Urchfont and Upavon), meeting at 1230. (given this is the day the clocks “go back”, an earlier start seemed a little hopeful!).

Saturday 10th November, Corsham Estate, meeting at 10:00.

If you’d like to join us, please email and confirm – (replacing the “-at-” with the “@”).

Thanks. Gareth (county mammal recorder, Wiltshire Mammal Group).

Wiltshire Bat Group meeting, Thursday 8th November

The next meeting of Wiltshire Bat Group (second and final meeting of 2018) will be Thursday 8th November 2018.

We are delighted to host Lisa Worledge, Bat Conservation Trust, presenting her talk entitled “The evolution of bats“.

Starting at 7pm at Wiltshire Wildlife Trust’s offices in Devizes. The meeting is open to anyone interested in supporting or getting involved in bat conservation in Wiltshire.

The meeting will start promptly at 7pm – please bear in mind that the meeting room is on an upstairs floor and so the front door of the building must be locked during the meeting. If you can avoid running late that would be great if – but in the event anyone is unavoidably running late, a phone number will be posted on the notice board by the door to call for you to be let in!

The Wiltshire Wildlife Trust offices, Elm Tree Court may be found off Long Street, Devizes SN10 1NJ. There will be parking available here, or nearby in town. If you’ve not been here before, allow yourself extra time to find it – the access into Elm Tree Court is easily missed.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Problems with Email addresses

We have just been alerted to the fact that there are problems with email addresses. Emails sent to their server are routinely bouncing (regardless of which email server they are sent from).

If you have provided such an email to either the mammal group or the bat group, and if you are no longer receiving emails (a series of WBG membership-wide emails were sent over the weekend, for example) then please contact the relevant group and provide an alternative email address. We obviously cant email you at the moment to request this individually!

Although this has only just come to light, it appears to have been an issue for some time.

Cheers! WBG.


Conserving all Wiltshire & Swindon's mammals