Yorkshire experts go bats for new species

WILDLIFE experts are keeping their eyes peeled for a tiny, newly discovered bat in one of Britain's last forest wildernesses.

Rangers at Kielder believe the thumbprint-sized Myotis alcathoe, or Alcathoe's bat, may be present in the 62,000 hectare (155,000 acre) Northumberland forest.

The mammal, named after a Greek princess who was changed into a bat after refusing to worship the god Dionysus, or Bacchus, was discovered in Greece in 2001 but was thought too small and weak to cross the English Channel.

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But last month scientists at Leeds University revealed they had discovered the Alcathoe bat in a North York Moors woodland - the first time the tiny flying mammal had been spotted in the UK.

Further research identified the bats in the Sussex South Downs, and suggested it may be present in many other parts of the country.

Tom Dearnley, Forestry Commission ecologist, said: "One of the reasons the bat has gone unnoticed for so long is that it resembles both whiskered and Brandt's bats, both of which we have in Kielder Water and Forest Park.

"There are no guarantees it's here, but we'll certainly be on the lookout, especially in our ancient woodland areas."

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In Yorkshire the bats were found in a Forestry Commission woodland in Ryedale, a site that was home to England's last known colonies of rare barbastelle and lesser horseshoe bats more than 50 years ago.

Alcathoe's bat has a distinctive echo location call, which goes to a much higher frequency than those of its relatives.

John Altringham, from Leeds University, added: "We have bat recordings from both the Lake District and the north west Yorkshire Dales that may be Alcathoe, so it would be no surprise if it rears its tiny head in the North East.

"We read so much about species becoming extinct in the world, so it's always nice to add another to the list.

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"But this of course also means that both whiskered and Brandt's are rarer than we thought as some of them are Alcathoe."

Kielder Water and Forest Park has seven bat species, with 18th century Kielder Castle Visitor Centre - a former hunting lodge of the Dukes of Northumberland - the home of pipistrelle and brown long-eared maternity colonies.

Rangers equipped with special detectors will go in search of the creature as part of the Kielder Partnership's Wild about Kielder season.

More than one third of the UK's native land mammal species are bats. The latest discovery takes the number established in the UK to 17.