Cat owners should keep their pets inside at night to save bats from being attacked, a conservationist has urged.
Failing that, they should be stopped from going out around sunset when bats are at their most vulnerable.
A quarter of a million bats are killed by cats every year, it is estimated, and they are one of the main reasons bats end up in wildlife rescue centres.
‘It can really make a big difference,’ Beth Gerrard of the University of the West of England told the Cheltenham Science Festival. Of Britain’s 18 bat species, four are ‘vulnerable’ and two ‘near-threatened’.
Bird-safe collars, which help alert birds to the presence of cats before they spring on them, may also help bats, the conservationist said.
Earlier this year, animal rights campaign group PETA controversially called for all pet cats to be kept indoors permanently, and cat-flaps banned, because of the risk the pets pose to the wild birds they kill and their own risk of being run over.
This week, at Cheltenham Science Festival, Dawood Qureshi, a researcher at the BBC Natural History Unit, said: ‘It’s a bit controversial, but I do think you should keep cats inside.
‘I don’t really think that they’re very useful for our environment and our wildlife.
‘I know it’s a bit hard because they are everywhere … a lot of the time [they are] hunting for fun, especially if they are a domestic cat.
‘They’re killing off bird life.’
A quarter of a million bats are killed by cats every year, it is estimated, and they are one of the main reasons bats end up in wildlife rescue centres
Bird-safe collars, which help alert birds to the presence of cats before they spring on them, may also help bats, the conservationist said
Stefan Gates, author of a book called Catology, told the festival: ‘They are quite murderous and they do kill a lot of birds and a lot of mammals.
‘There’s a big debate going on about whether or not cats are good or bad for the environment, because they kill a lot of birds – I mean millions of birds every year.
‘But they also kill a lot of rats, and rats are the main species that predates on birds.’
The advice to keep cats in at night, or around sunset only, was part of a list of ways in which people could help bats, according to Ms Gerrard.
Bats make up a quarter of the UK’s mammals and can live for around 30 years, so need a lot of insects.
Gardeners can help by building ponds which attract water-loving insects beloved of Daubenton’s bats.
They can also switch from pesticides which kill insects to companion planting, which uses strongly scented plants to confuse pests looking for the plant they feed on.
When it comes to bat boxes, these should be placed around four metres (13 feet) off the ground to avoid predators and preferably face south or south-west to get sun for part of the day, while placed in a position to avoid strong winds.
The UK has 18 bat species, and these are the only mammals capable of flying, not just gliding.
Endangered bats include the greater mouse-eared bat, which is known as Britain’s loneliest bat.
It was declared extinct in England in 1990, before reappearing in 2002, and is now seen in most years.
There are only about 1,000 grey long-eared bats left in the UK.
‘A lot of the time [cats are] hunting for fun, especially if they are a domestic cat. They’re killing off bird life,’ said BBC Natural History Unit researcher Dawood Qureshi
HOW TO HELP BATS:
- Reduce garden and security lighting
- Shut curtains at night to minimise light
- Keep cats in at night, or around sunset
- Plant a variety of flowers in different shapes, to create a ‘buffet’ of insects for bats
- Have a hedge or line of trees, as bats like to fly alongside straight edges
- Use a bat box, high off the ground
To help light-sensitive bats, people are advised to shut their curtains or use black-out blinds to minimise light getting into their garden at night, and consider motion sensors to limit the impact of security lighting.
Ms Gerrard said: ‘Light pollution is a threat – as bats are nocturnal, they’re quite sensitive to light, and particularly some species more than others.
‘So this blocks bats off from their foraging route by adding a light into their foraging space, which they then can’t use any more – or by lighting up their commuting route so they then can’t get from their roost to their foraging spot.’
On the advice to keep cats inside at night, an RSPCA spokesman said: ‘On an individual level, predation on wildlife is likely to cause considerable suffering which is of course concerning to both animal charities like ourselves and many cat owners too.
‘However, restricting a cat’s natural behaviour can also have detrimental impacts on their individual health and wellbeing.’
The RSPCA recommends restricting outdoor access for cats at dusk and dawn, when wildlife is most active, and attaching a bell to a quick-release safety collar.