Vertebrate species: mammals


1303 Lesser horseshoe bat    Rhinolophus hipposideros   
   Follow link for UK biodiversity information on this species.

Background to selection

Distribution of SACs with species 1303 Rhinolophus hipposideros.  Click image for enlarged map.
Distribution of SACs with species 1303 Rhinolophus hipposideros. Click image for enlarged map.

Description and ecological characteristics

 

The lesser horseshoe bat Rhinolophus hipposideros is one of the smallest bats in the UK. During the summer they form maternity colonies in old buildings and emerge to hunt in nearby woodland. The species prefers sheltered valleys with extensive deciduous woods or dense scrub, close to roost sites. Where habitat is fragmented, linear features such as hedgerows are important corridors between roosts and foraging areas. Ideally, roost sites offer a range of temperature conditions in different parts of a single site, allowing the bats to change location; otherwise breeding females are likely to change site during the summer. In winter they hibernate in caves, mines and other cave-like places. Summer and winter roosts are usually less than 5-10 km apart. The bats are vulnerable to the loss or disturbance of both summer and winter roost sites and the removal of linear habitat corridors.

European status and distribution

 

The lesser horseshoe bat Rhinolophus hipposideros is a widespread but rare species in central and southern Europe, extending as far eastwards as the Middle East. It has suffered widespread population declines, especially in the more northern parts of its range. The UK supports one of the largest populations of this species in western Europe.

UK status and distribution Click to view UK distribution of this species

 

The total UK population of about 17,000 individuals is dispersed, occurring in over 170 maternity roosts and over 300 hibernation sites (hibernacula) in south-west England and Wales. Until the early 20th century, the species benefited from abandoned mine workings, but the sealing of old mines is likely to have reduced the population and range. Recent monitoring suggests that populations are increasing, particularly in Wales, with increased densities in wooded areas.

Site selection rationale

 

Sites have been selected to include large populations of lesser horseshoe bat Rhinolophus hipposideros, covering the geographical range of the species. In order to maintain populations, both maternity and hibernation sites must be protected, and so sites have been selected, where possible, as composites of maternity and hibernation sites considered to belong to a single population or group of closely-associated populations.

 

While the SAC series makes a contribution to securing favourable conservation status for this Annex II species, wider measures (e.g. those specified under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan) are also necessary to support its conservation in the UK.


Site accounts

Coedydd Derw a Safleoedd Ystlumod Meirion/ Meirionnydd Oakwoods and Bat Sites West Wales and The Valleys
This large composite site includes most of the known maternity roosts in Meirionnydd and some hibernacula, and comprises the centre of distribution for lesser horseshoe bats Rhinolophus hipposideros in Wales. The sheltered river valleys provide excellent tree cover and numerous suitable maternity roosts.
Glynllifon West Wales and The Valleys
This single site in north Wales is both a maternity and hibernation site for a large population of lesser horseshoe bat Rhinolophus hipposideros, comprising about 6% of the UK population.
Hestercombe House Dorset and Somerset
A large lesser horseshoe bat Rhinolophus hipposideros maternity site in the vale of Taunton Deane. The bats roost in the roof void of part of a large building. Although only a small proportion of the UK population, this site has been included as representative of the species in south-west England.
North Somerset and Mendip Bats Dorset and Somerset, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Bristol/Bath area
The limestone caves of the Mendips provide a range of important hibernation sites for lesser horseshoe bat Rhinolophus hipposideros and 1304 greater horseshoe bat Rhinolophus ferrumequinum.
Tanat and Vyrnwy Bat Sites/ Safleoedd Ystlumod Tanat ac Efyrnwy East Wales, West Wales and The Valleys
This area in central Wales contains a good mixture of lesser horseshoe bat Rhinolophus hipposideros maternity and hibernation sites, thought to support about 4% of the UK species population, though counts in hibernation sites suggest this may be an underestimate.
Usk Bat Sites/ Safleoedd Ystlumod Wysg East Wales, West Wales and The Valleys
The Usk Valley area in south-east Wales contains one of the largest maternity roosts for lesser horseshoe bat Rhinolophus hipposideros as well as a number of important hibernacula in caves in the area. The area contains up to 5% of the UK population, though counts in hibernation sites suggest this may be an underestimate.
Wye Valley and Forest of Dean Bat Sites/ Safleoedd Ystlumod Dyffryn Gwy a Fforest y Ddena Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Bristol/Bath area, West Wales and The Valleys
This complex of sites on the border between England and Wales contains by far the greatest concentration of lesser horseshoe bat Rhinolophus hipposideros in the UK, totalling about 26% of the national population. It has been selected on the grounds of the exceptional breeding population, and the majority of sites within the complex are maternity roosts. The bats are believed to hibernate in the many disused mines in the area.

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

Bath and Bradford-on-Avon Bats Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Bristol/Bath area
Beer Quarry and Caves Devon
Chilmark Quarries Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Bristol/Bath area
Mwyngloddiau Fforest Gwydir/ Gwydyr Forest Mines West Wales and The Valleys
Pembrokeshire Bat Sites and Bosherston Lakes/ Safleoedd Ystlum Sir Benfro a Llynnoedd Bosherston West Wales and The Valleys
Wye Valley Woodlands/ Coetiroedd Dyffryn Gwy Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Bristol/Bath area, Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire, West Wales and The Valleys
 

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