Environment: Lucky numbers come up for the rare bats of Surrey

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The Independent Online
The bat population of Surrey has landed a lottery windfall. Today's hand-out of pounds 42.5m by the Heritage Lottery Fund includes a record pounds 6.2m to Wildlife Trusts. Stephen Goodwin, Heritage Correspondent, reports.

A Second World War "pillbox" placed to halt the Germans should they ever have decided to advance up the River Wey in Surrey is to be extended for use as a bats' breeding loft.

Three types of bat already use the old gun hide as a winter roost, but the temperature is not high enough in summer.

Some pounds 10,000 of a pounds 440,900 award to the Surrey Wildlife Trust is to be spent on building an upper floor to the pillbox "hibernaculum". A pitched slate roof over a thin layer of concrete, it should create just the right sort of 30C hot space that suits bats in their breeding season.

Bat populations are declining in Britain as gradually the right mix of roosts and foraging habitats is destroyed by man. "So long as we continue to concrete over, build on and plough up natural strips of habitat, numbers will continue to decrease," explained Frank Greenaway a bat specialist with the Surrey Trust.

The pillbox is in wet woodland on the edge of a water meadow. It was adapted as a winter roost in the 1980s soon after the Trust acquired the reserve and is in regular use by three types of bats - brown long-eared, Natterers, and Daubertons.

But bats are only one among many species which should benefit from the pounds 6.2m awarded to wildlife trusts. Other projects in Surrey alone include reclaiming overgrown heathland, home to birds such as the nightjar, and protecting coppiced trees.

Dormice need coppiced woodland to survive but frequently the cut stumps are unable to regrow because shoots are eaten by rabbits and deer. The Surrey trust converts the cut hazel wood to charcoal for sale locally and part its award will fund a new kiln. People will also benefit as many schemes are aimed at improving interpretation and also access for disabled people.

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