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Special Areas of Conservation

1308 Barbastelle Barbastella barbastellus

Vertebrate species: mammals

Description and ecological characteristics

The barbastelle Barbastella barbastellus is a medium-sized bat that is easily identified because it is a very distinctive species, unlike any other in Europe. The fur is almost black, usually with very pale or golden brown tips to the hairs. The ears are very broad with the inner edges joined together across the forehead.

Barbastelle ecology is relatively poorly-known. In Europe it is believed to be mainly an upland and forest species; in the UK it seems to prefer wooded river valleys. The species forages in mixed habitats, usually over water. Barbastelles appear to select cracks and crevices in wood for breeding, mostly in old or damaged trees, but cracks and crevices in the timbers of old buildings may also be used. Maternity colonies may move between suitable crevices within a small area, such as a piece of woodland or a complex of buildings. Caves and underground structures may be used for hibernation. The species is very sensitive to disturbance, together with the loss of roost-sites and food resources.

Distribution of SACs/SCIs/cSACs with species 1308 Barbastella barbastellus. Click image for enlarged map.

European status and distribution

The barbastelle Barbastella barbastellus is distributed throughout Europe, except Iceland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, most of Scandinavia, Estonia and much of southern Europe. The highest population density is probably in central Europe. It is one of the rarest bats in western Europe, and is regarded as endangered in several countries. A population decrease has been reported over most of its European range.

UK status and distribution

The barbastelle Barbastella barbastellus is one of the UK’s rarest mammals. Few maternity roost sites are known in the UK. The great majority of other records come from caves or abandoned mines, which are important hibernation sites for a range of bat species. The barbastelle is widely distributed across southern England and across Wales but is likely to have been significantly under-recorded within its range. Individual bats are sometimes discovered in buildings during summer.

View UK distribution of this species.

Site selection rationale

There are few records to demonstrate the long-term viability of barbastelle Barbastella barbastellus populations in the UK. In recent years a small number of maternity sites for the species have been discovered and these have all been selected. In addition, one hibernation site with a long history of records of small numbers of barbastelles has also been included as an example of this sort of habitat. While the SAC series makes a contribution to securing favourable conservation status for this Annex II species, wider measures are also necessary to support its conservation in the UK. These include actions listed in the Species Action Plan.

Site accounts

  • Chilmark Quarries Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Bristol/Bath area
    This complex of abandoned mines in central-southern England is regularly used by small numbers of barbastelle Barbastella barbastellus as a hibernation site. The site also contains an important assemblage of other bat species, including 1323 Bechstein’s bat Myotis bechsteinii, for which this site has also been selected, indicating that conditions at this site are particularly favourable for the survival of these bat species.
  • Ebernoe Common Surrey, East and West Sussex
    A maternity colony of barbastelles Barbastella barbastellus utilises a range of tree roosts in this area of 91A0 Old sessile oak woods with Ilex and Blechnum in the British Isles, which has a dense understorey of holly Ilex aquifolium as well as open glades and open water. Maternity roost sites are usually in dead tee stumps, but the species appears to be present throughout the year, with individuals utilising a range of roost sites in tree holes and under bark.
  • Eversden and Wimpole Woods East Anglia
    The site comprises a mixture of ancient coppice woodland (Eversden Wood) and high forest woods likely to be of more recent origin (Wimpole Woods). A colony of barbastelle Barbastella barbastellus is associated with the trees in Wimpole Woods. These trees are used as a summer maternity roost where the female bats gather to give birth and rear their young. Most of the roost sites are within tree crevices. The bats also use the site as a foraging area. Some of the woodland is also used as a flight path when bats forage outside the site. 
  • Exmoor and Quantock Oakwoods Devon, Dorset and Somerset
    A maternity colony of barbastelles Barbastella barbastellus utilises a range of tree roosts in this area of predominantly oak Quercus spp. woodland.
  • Mottisfont Bats Hampshire and Isle of Wight
    The Mottisfont woodland supports an important population of the rare barbastelle Barbastella barbastellus. It is one of only six known maternity sites in the UK (2002 data) and the only one in Hampshire. Mottisfont contains a mix of woodland types including hazel coppice with standards, broadleaved plantation and coniferous plantation which the bats use for breeding, roosting, commuting and feeding.
  • North Pembrokeshire Woodlands/ Coedydd Gogledd Sir Benfro West Wales and The Valleys
    Species occurrence description not yet available.
  • Paston Great Barn East Anglia
    Paston Great Barn is the only known example of a maternity roost of barbastelles Barbastella barbastellus in a building. The Barn is a 16th century thatched barn with associated outbuildings. A maternity colony of barbastelles utilises a range of cracks and crevices in the roof timbers for roosting.

SACs where this Annex II species is a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for site selection

Many designated sites are on private land: the listing of a site in these pages does not imply any right of public access.

Please note that the map shows sites where the presence of a feature is classed as ‘grade d’, but these sites are not listed. This is because ‘grade d’ indicates a non-significant presence.