15 January 2024
Protecting the Brown Long-eared Bats at Fota House
A roofing project is a major undertaking in any house, so imagine what might be involved in reroofing a large heritage house. Balancing the functional needs of the house with the preservation of its historical authenticity takes some planning. And the focus is not only on flashing, slates and insulation. There are also environmental sustainability considerations which can include some interesting house inhabitants!
Enter the Brown Long-eared Bat.
Fota House, Arboretum and Gardens is not only a cultural gem and visitor attraction in Cork but also a haven for biodiversity on Fota Island. As owners of the property, the Irish Heritage Trust are committed to preserving not only its rich built heritage, but also the delicate ecosystems that coexist within and around it.
Fota House Roof Residents
Environmental sustainability and maintaining the ecological balance at our properties is considered in all Trust activities. Our roof residents and their roosting sites are strictly protected under both national and international law. Where human activities have the potential to compromise this, measures to compensate and mitigate need to be put in place.
The Wildlife Act makes it unlawful to intentionally disturb a bat or its resting place without a licence to derogate from the Habitats Regulations and the EU Habitats Directive requires that appropriate monitoring of populations be undertaken.
Conservation and Biodiversity
And so, prior to initiating any work on the roof, the Irish Heritage Trust commissioned O’Donnell Environmental to undertake a bat survey at Fota House. This would determine if bats were roosting in the building and help us get to know our lodgers a little better.
The Brown Long-eared Bats (Plecotus auritus) are nocturnal mammals known for their distinctive long ears and intricate flight patterns. They are the most frequent species of Irish bats and can be found in attics and cracks in buildings. Their preferred habitats are sheltered woodland, parkland, and well-wooded gardens.
They play a crucial role in maintaining ecological balance and need careful consideration around any proposed works involving their habitats.
Did you know!
Various surveys of the house were undertaken to assess and evaluate the likely importance of the roof to the bats. These included visual assessments of the building structures along with emergence surveys and bat activity surveys using thermal imaging.
And it turned out the bats had found a home here! A maternity roost was identified with their main roosting location within the attic and upper floor of the main house.
As the roof works necessite the replacement of parts of the roof, the potential for impact needed to be considered. Avoidance and mitigation measures to address any potential effects on the bats during the works were detailed and a derogation license sought. Working with architects and contractors, the works were planned outside the maternity season to minimise impacts on the maternity roost.
Alternative Accommodation – Bat Boxes
The rehousing of the bats was carried out successfully over several nights in October 2023 before the start of the bats hibernation period. Six artificial bat boxes were erected in the treeline south of Fota House to provide temporary accommodation for the colony.
Roof construction will be completed in early 2024 and the maternity colony rehoused for the next breeding season. O’Donnell Environmental will continue to monitor the bats throughout the project and repeat surveys will be carried out following the completion of works.
A Sustainable Future for Our Past and Our Planet
By taking proactive steps to protect the Brown long-eared Bats during the roof project, Fota House is a model for harmonising heritage preservation and ecological conservation. Our dedication to safeguarding the ecosystems at the properties in our care goes hand-in-hand with our commitment to preserving their historical legacy.
The success of this project to date proves that with careful planning and stakeholder involvement, we can build a sustainable future that honours both our past and our planet.
We acknowledge all those who are playing a part in this important work and look forward to sharing further updates.
Environmental Consultants O’Donnell Environmental
Roof Project Architects JCA Architects
Project Funding Department of Housing, Local Government & Heritage
Construction Summerhill Construction