Forest & Bird honours bat protectors

27 Jun 2011

 Forest & Bird has awarded its 2011 Pestbusters award to a project aimed at protecting a rare population of long-tailed bats at Pelorus Bridge at the top of the South Island.

The award to honour pest control projects run or led by Forest & Bird branches was won by the Te Hoiere Bat Recovery Project at Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve on the main road between Blenheim and Nelson. The team has caught 610 pests – including possums, rats and stoats – since starting in November last year.

Predators have been decimating populations of bats – our only native mammal – and the status of the South Island long-tailed bat is “nationally critical”. The project aims to give the long-tailed bats at the reserve a fighting chance.

One New Zealand species, the greater short-tailed bat, is already extinct and the lesser short-tailed bat and the long-tailed bat have been in rapid decline.

The population at Pelorus Bridge is unusual in providing one of the best opportunities for people to view them. The bats are sometimes seen at dusk flying along the river and later in the evening they can be seen on the wing around the bridge’s street lights, which attract large numbers of moths and other flying insects.

The Pestbusters award was presented by Forest & Bird President Barry Wards to Nelson-Tasman branch member Julie McLintock, the leader of the pest control programme, at the organisation’s annual conference in Wellington at the weekend.

The trigger for the project was a sighting in 2005 by Forest & Bird Top of the South Field Officer Debs Martin of a bat flying at dusk at Pelorus Bridge. Julie McLintock has been involved in the bat project from the beginning, working with bat scientist Brian Lloyd to research the population at Pelorus Bridge and she now heads the team of 14 people clearing and maintaining the trap lines at the reserve.

“Bats are our only terrestrial mammal, the only thing we have got in New Zealand. People used to see them much more often and many people don’t realise the rate they are disappearing,” Julie said.

“It’s alarming, how few are left, so I hope we can build the numbers up.”
The continued presence of long-tailed bats at Pelorus Bridge is likely to be due to the existence of a remnant of unlogged lowland podocarp forest and street lights around the bridge.

The stand of mature trees with smooth trunks and no branches for the first 20 to 30 metres provides relatively safe bat roosts and the street lights attract moths and other flying insects when the bats are foraging at night.

The project has been supported by Lottery Environment and Heritage, the Stout Trust and the Department of Conservation.