There are 65 species of horseshoe or Rhinolophus bats worldwide. 2 of these are found in the UK and both are threatened– the lesser horseshoe (R. hipposideros) and greater horseshoe (R. ferrumequinum). The greater horseshoe has two sub-species divided by the Himalayas – R. f. nippon to the east and R. f. ferrumequinum in the west. At the western end of its range it has suffered over 90% decline in the past 100 years.
Greater horseshoes are only found in south west Britain, with three key ‘hubs’ of population:
Pembrokeshire (West Wales)
Mendips / Southern Cotswolds (near Bristol and Bath)
Greater horseshoes are found only in Southwest Britain, with three key ‘hubs’ of population: Pembrokeshire (West Wales), the Mendips and Southern Cotswolds (near Bristol and Bath), and Devon.
Devon has the largest maternity roost in northern Europe with numbers exceeding 2000 bats. The county is home to a third of the UK population – the lumpy agricultural landscape between the moors and the sea are a perfect home for this little mammal with complex needs.
Importance of Habitat
Packed with wildflowers, these greater horseshoe supermarkets are fully-stocked with all their favourite insect food – cockchafers, moths and craneflies.
Cows mean cow pats, and cow pats mean dung beetles, a vital part of the greater horseshoe’s diet. Dung beetles are the perfect meal for young bats and their mothers. Dung beetles help farmers too, recycling cow pats into fertiliser for the field.
Motorways for greater horseshoes, linking their homes with the fields and helping them find their way around. Hedges are also great places for a bat to hang about wait to pounce on nearby insects. A hedgerow service-station for bats!
These bats love native woodland edges and rides, where they can hunt moths, beetles and wasps even on wet and windy nights. A shopping mall out of the weather!
Greater horseshoes hibernate in winter to survive the cold months when there is little food. They like to do this underground in caves and mines where the air is cool and damp. Devon’s history of mining has given them lots of hidey holes, perfect for a winter nap!
In summer greater horseshoe mums return to a favourite south-facing old barn, where they use the warm roof-space to give birth and rear their pups. These old barns are found all over Devon, but the bats must now compete with us to live in them.
Meadows, dung, hedges, woods, mines and barns all in one local area – lose any feature and greater horseshoes can’t survive. These bats need Devon and its historic landscape.