Station to track bats and birds on epic North Sea flights

A Nathusius' pipistrelle in flight, and, inset, Jane Harris from the Norwich Bat Group.

A Nathusius' pipistrelle in flight, and, inset, Jane Harris from the Norwich Bat Group. - Credit: Rory Tallack / Archant

Tracking bats and birds winging their way across the North Sea is the goal of a partnership project which is aiming to put up four tracking antennas at a station on the north Norfolk coast. 

The Norwich Bat Group has applied to North Norfolk District Council for the green light to install the 'Motus' receivers at the Weybourne Atmospheric Observatory, near the Muckleburgh Collection.

Jane Harris of the Norwich Bat Project. 

Jane Harris of the Norwich Bat Project. - Credit: Denise Bradley

Jane Harris, a bat group volunteer, said the station would allow the group and their partners at Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands to better understand why and where species migrate. 

Ms Harris said: "It works by picking up radio signals from little tags we put on bats and birds, and they can now even be small enough to put on bumble bees. 

"They're particularly good for tracking migratory species that travel a long distance."

A Nathusius' pipistrelle in fligh. Picture: Rory Tallack

A Nathusius' pipistrelle in flight. - Credit: Rory Tallack

Motus - which is Latin for movement - is an international wildlife tracking system that uses radio technology to track animals for research and conservation. 

One species the system has been tracking is the Nathusius' pipistrelle, a migratory bat which wings its way from north-eastern Europe, often via Britain, to the Iberian Peninsular in autumn, and returns in spring. 

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In May, one of the the stations tracked a female Nathusius’ pipistrelle fly from Minsmere in Suffolk directly to Wijk aan Zee in the Netherlands. The bat was named Lady Minsmere in honour of her epic flight. 

Sander Lagerveld, from the university, said: "This year, for the first time, we are also tagging animals in spring. The bat that made this crossing is actually the first animal to be tagged in England for this research."

The species is related to other varieties of pipistrelle which are more commonly seen around Norfolk. 

Over the past three years the bat group has helped the Dutch university find locations for and set up receivers around the coast of south-east England, including at Benacre and Lowestoft in Suffolk, in Kent and at Caistor. 

Ms Harris said: "They approached us in January 2019 to ask for our help, as they didn't have any receivers on this side of the North Sea."

"With Weybourne, we'll have gone from zero to 10 receivers in three years."