21 June 2002

Pipistrelle Bat

STRAWBERRIES for summer tea and bats flitting around the farmhouse on warm summer evenings are both quintessentially country scenes. There are other connections too – strawberry crops and bats need support all the year round and both can be devastated by poor conditions.

At Ian and Yta Batchelors 33ha (82 acre) Somerset farm the 2ha (5 acre) strawberry crop is an important income generator in a good season. For income stability and year-round cash flow, however, organic free range egg production for major supermarkets gives a consistent income.

Some of their farm is now certified organic and much is in conversion. "The farm is not big enough to be profitable in conventional production so we need to pursue niche markets," said Yta. "We would have preferred a middle route for practical reasons but this was not feasible."

Their work to support their Pipistrelle bat population, a target identified in the FWAG Farm Biodiversity Action Plan, also reflects the farming year. Although times might be good in summer, bats need shelter, hibernation roosts and, especially, enough food to provide internal fat resources to keep them alive over winter. Even in hibernation they slowly use up their body reserves. Food sources in late summer and autumn are vital, especially for the young bats – without food at this time of the year they will not survive their first winter.

So the Batchelors now have two nurseries at their home – one for the Pipistrelle bats, the other for their young son, Tristan, now 10 months old. Both nurseries will be maintained to ensure the successful entry of new generations to their farm.

Richard Knight