The greater horseshoe bat Rhinolophus ferrumequinum is one of the largest bats in the UK. During the summer, they form maternity colonies, generally in large old buildings, and forage in pasture, edges of mixed deciduous woodland and hedgerows. Such mixed land-use, especially on south-facing slopes, favours the beetles, moths and other insects on which the bats feed. In winter they depend on caves, abandoned mines and other underground sites for undisturbed hibernation. A system or series of sites is required, offering a range of temperatures and air-flow patterns. Summer and winter roosts are usually less than 20-30 km apart. The bats are vulnerable to the loss of insect food supplies due to insecticide use, changing farming practices and the loss of broad-leaved tree-cover, and to the loss or disturbance of underground roost sites.
European status and distribution
The greater horseshoe bat Rhinolophus ferrumequinum occurs throughout central and southern Europe and extends eastwards across Asia as far as Japan. However, it is a rare species in Europe, and has suffered a considerable decline in central Europe.
The greater horseshoe bat Rhinolophus ferrumequinum has suffered a loss of over half its range in the UK. In the UK populations are close to the climatic limits for this species. The total UK population of approximately 4,000 individuals can be divided into about twelve discrete populations, based on maternity (summer) roosts and their associated hibernation sites (hibernacula) (Mitchell-Jones 1995). Populations range in size from about 80 to 600 breeding females and there is relatively little interchange between populations. Until the early 20th century, the species occurred as far east as Kent, and the bats benefited from abandoned mine workings, but the sealing of old mines is likely to have seriously reduced its population.
This site in southern England includes the hibernation sites associated with 15% of the UK greater horseshoe bat Rhinolophus ferrumequinum population and is selected on the basis of the importance of this exceptionally large overwintering population.
This site in south-west Wales contains the main hibernation site for the population associated with Pembrokeshire Bat Sites cSAC. It may thus be used by up to 5.5% of the UK population of greater horseshoe bat Rhinolophus ferrumequinum.
Mells Valley in southern England is selected on the basis of the size of its exceptional breeding population. It contains the maternity site associated with a population comprising about 12% of the UK greater horseshoe bat Rhinolophus ferrumequinum population. A proportion of the population also hibernates at the site, though other hibernation sites remain unknown.
Dorset and Somerset, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Bristol/Bath area
This site in south-west England is selected on the basis of the size of population represented (3% of the UK greater horseshoe bat Rhinolophus ferrumequinum population) and its good conservation of structure and function, having both maternity and hibernation sites. This site contains an exceptionally good range of the sites used by the population, comprising two maternity sites in lowland north Somerset and a variety of cave and mine hibernation sites in the Mendip Hills.
This site in south-west Wales supports approximately 9.5% of the UK greater horseshoe bat Rhinolophus ferrumequinum population. It represents the species at the north-western extremity of its range. The site contains a mixture of maternity, transitory and hibernation sites and so demonstrates good conservation of features required for survival.
South Hams in south-west England is thought to hold the largest population of greater horseshoe bat Rhinolophus ferrumequinum in the UK, and is the only one containing more than 1,000 adult bats (31% of the UK species population). It contains the largest known maternity roost in the UK and possibly in Europe. As the site contains both maternity and hibernation sites it demonstrates good conservation of the features required for survival.
Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Bristol/Bath area, West Wales and The Valleys
This complex of sites on the border between England and Wales represents greater horseshoe bat Rhinolophus ferrumequinum in the northern part of its range, with about 6% of the UK population. The site contains the main maternity roost for bats in this area, which are believed to hibernate in the many disused mines in the Forest.
SACs where this Annex II species is a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for site selection