Former Blakeney Point wildlife ranger presents BBC2 documentary about bats

Programme Name: Inside The Bat Cave - TX: 26/10/2020 - Episode: Inside The Bat Cave (No. n/a) - Pict

Programme Name: Inside The Bat Cave - TX: 26/10/2020 - Episode: Inside The Bat Cave (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: Kate Jones, Anita Glover Lucy Cooke and Ajay Tegala - (C) BBC - Photographer: Production Picture: BBC - Credit: BBC

For his latest BBC primetime television role, National Trust Ranger and one-time Blakeney Point gatekeeper Ajay Tegala will be…Bat Man.

Programme Name: Inside The Bat Cave - TX: 26/10/2020 - Episode: Inside The Bat Cave (No. n/a) - Pict

Programme Name: Inside The Bat Cave - TX: 26/10/2020 - Episode: Inside The Bat Cave (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: Greater mouse eared bat - (C) BBC - Photographer: Production Picture: BBC - Credit: BBC

As Halloween approaches, there couldn’t be a better time to offer a little bit of positive PR to a creature of the night forever associated with October 31: the bat.

Former National Trust Blakeney Point wildlife ranger Ajay Tegala – who is now based at the Trust’s Wicken Fen reserve in Cambridgeshire – will be presenting an hour-long documentary, Inside the Bat Cave, on BBC2 on Monday October 26.

The programme will offer viewers a remarkable journey into the secret world of one of the most endangered and least understood animals on earth.

With cutting-edge night-vision cameras and ultrasonic detectors, the programme follows a greater horseshoe bat roost at a private school in Dorset for four months during the summer of 2019, capturing the hidden life of the colony.

Blakeney Point - Ajay Tegala. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Blakeney Point - Ajay Tegala. Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

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Viewers will see the birth of a new generation of bat pups (who knew!) and follow their progress towards their perilous maiden flight outside the roost.

Ajay will be presenting alongside Springwatch favourite and animal expert Lucy Cooke and bat expert Professor Kate Jones.

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“A lot of people aren’t big fans of bats but I wanted to help show that they really are amazing, beautiful creatures and help to bust some of the myths about them,” said Ajay, who filmed the documentary from February to July 2019.

“Bats are harmless and really intelligent and I hope that by learning a little bit more about them, people will realise what wonderful creatures they are.”

EDP Feature on Blakeney Point - Ajay Tegala walks the reserve. Picture: Matthew Usher.

EDP Feature on Blakeney Point - Ajay Tegala walks the reserve. Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

The only flying mammal, bats’ association with Covid-19 (the vast majority of scientists agree the virus crossed into humans from an animal species, most likely a bat) hasn’t helped with their public image problem.

And then there are those that instantly link bats to haunted houses and horror films or who turn to the Bible for advice: the bat is mentioned three times in the Bible, twice in the list of unclean creatures and once in a passage in Isaiah, describing the end of all idols.Of course the reality is that these shy, nocturnal creatures are hugely important to ecology and the environment, helping to control numbers of night-flying insects, pollinating flowers and spreading the seeds of plants.

Ajay, who grew up in East Anglia, has a degree in Environmental Conservation, was a ranger on Blakeney Point for several years and now works for the National Trust at Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve, is going into battle for bats.

Inspired to become a ranger when he volunteered at Wicken Fen at the age of 15, he remembers being taken to see bats when he was a young child.

Ajay Tegala on Lowestoft Beach
Picture: Nick Butcher

Ajay Tegala on Lowestoft Beach Picture: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

“There was an old brick kiln where bats roosted and I remember seeing them emerge in the dusk like a magical cloud, as if they were flying out of a cave,” he said, “I remember thinking they were much smaller than I’d imagined they would be and watching them fly and swoop like swallows. I was hooked right then.

“Each summer, I monitor the pipistrelle bat roost in the café at Wicken Fenand when I watch these lovely creatures emerging from a tiny hole, flying so acrobatically out into the night, it reminds me of the first time I ever saw them.”

Fittingly, considering it is Halloween season, some of the filming for the documentary took place in a former Royal palace, Linlithgow in West Lothian, built by King James I in 1425 and reputedly haunted by a lovelorn Queen.

Brown long-eared, pipistrelle and Daubenton’s bats have taken up roost in the ruins of the palace, emerging when the light fades to hunt for insects around the palace and over the nearby loch.

The palace was the birthplace of King James and Mary Queen of Scots and home to several other Stewart monarchs – and the bats are as protected as any royal within the palace’s walls.

At Linlithgow, Ajay met an all-female bat group to study the creatures.

“Recording bats in a spooky castle into the early hours of the morning is something I will never forget!” laughed Ajay, “it was a pretty magical Midsummer’s night.”

In the documentary Ajay also looks at how people can get involved with their local bat groups and looks at new bat-recording technology being developed to help naturalists learn more about these elusive night creatures.

At the Vincent Wildlife Trust-managed Greater Horseshoe Bat maternity roost, we learn how roost sites can be protected and why it is important to protect these ethereal creatures

“Seeing these bats emerge from their roost at dusk was such a magical experience – we stood there and as we watched, dozens of them flew right over our heads,” Ajay said, “it was such a privilege.”

There are 17 species of bats in the UK (“plus a lone Greater Mouse-eared bat in a tunnel in Sussex, poor thing!”) with species including barbastrelle, brown long-eared, common pipistrelle, Daubenton’s, Leisler’s, Nathusius’s Pipistrelle, Natterer’s, noctule, serotine, soprano pipistrelle and the whiskered bat all being recorded in Norfolk or Suffolk.

“It’s likely that wherever you live, there are bats,” said Ajay, “when I lived in Downham Market there were 10 species of bat there.

“They live in the countryside, in towns and in cities and are most active in the summer months when they come out of hibernation to hunt insects and raise their young – you’re most likely to see them at around sunrise or sunset in warm, dry weather.

“With Halloween around the corner it’s a great time to be talking about bats and I hope we can help people to be as enthusiastic about them as we are!”

Bats are not just for Halloween: they’re for life.

* Inside the Bat Cave is on BBC2 on Monday October 26 at 9pm and then on iPlayer.

Bat facts

* There are 1,100 species of bats worldwide – they make up a quarter of the world’s mammals

* Bats can live more than 30 years and can fly at speeds of up to 60mph (the Mexican free-tailed bat can fly as fast as 100mph, making it the fastest mammal on earth)

* The largest UK bat – the noctule - weighs as little as four £1 coins, the smallest – the pipistrelle – weighs as little as a 2p piece

* Bat droppings or guano are some of the richest fertilisers in the world – guano used to be bigger than oil in export terms in Texas!

* Bats can find their food in the dark using echo technology – they can eat up to 1,200 mosquitoes an hour

* Some bats hibernate in caves over the winter and can survive even if they are encased in ice

* Most bats only have one pup a year – bat Mums find bat babies by their unique voices and scents

* The world’s biggest bat is the Flying Fox of the South Pacific which has a wingspan of up to six feet – the smallest is the bumble bee bat of Thailand which is smaller than a thumbnail

* There are only three vampire bat species who consume blood and only blood – and humans are their last choice for a meal.

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