The pond bat (Myotis dasycneme), a species listed in Annex II of the EU Habitats Directive, is a rare and threatened species in Europe. During the 20th century the population of M. dasycneme declined considerably across the EU, especially in the boreal part of its distribution range. One of the main reasons for this drastic decline has been the decrease in safe winter roosts, which occur in relatively warm and damp underground spaces, such as cave systems and abandoned mines and tunnels. Underground habitats have either been destroyed, or the disturbance level has risen due to high visitor flows. Due to the species’ small size and long hibernation period, waking during hibernation and the resulting loss of energy often proves fatal for the bats. The most significant wintering sites of the pond bat in the whole boreal region are located in Estonia; therefore conservation activities in Estonia play a crucial role for the whole EU population of this species.
The objectives of the EstBatLIFE project focus on the improvement and protection of the species’ hibernation sites. Specific objectives are to: Secure the most important hibernation sites from uncontrolled visits; Reduce visitor flows during the hibernation period in the most vulnerable habitats of the pond bat; Stop degradation of habitats caused by low temperatures, draughts and roof collapse; Involve volunteers, private companies and local communities in cleaning the caves and their surroundings, especially the swarming areas; Make policy recommendations for management plans for the pond bat and its protected areas; Raise public awareness internationally, nationally and locally – to influence local inhabitants’ attitudes towards safeguarding bat populations, as well as to improve the understanding of current nature conservation issues, species of EU importance and the Natura 2000 network; Promote the replication of project results at national and international scales and share and gain knowledge regarding habitat requirements and the ecology of boreal pond bat population; and Use high-resolution online bat cameras and 3D images, and organise attractive exhibitions for the general public.
Expected results: Closure and safeguarding of most important hibernacula (overwintering shelters) in four project sites, covering approximately 40 underground site entrances; Reduced visitor numbers during the hibernation period, with a drop of 75% compared to the project start in the most vulnerable areas for the pond bat; Significantly reduced temperature fluctuations and draughts in the species’ overwintering shelters; Involvement of volunteers in management actions to create a better understanding and commitment for nature conservation efforts in Estonia: six volunteer camps with approximately 100 participants organised; Suggestions and directions for the conservation management authorities to improve the conservation of pond bat habitats; At least 20 local tourist guides and grass-root organisations are trained for raising awareness of bat issues; Reaching 50 000 persons by public exhibitions, information materials, guidelines for dealing with the ‘bats-in-houses’ issue, public events, and online bat-watching forums with Q/A support, to raise awareness about the values and protection needs of bat species in Estonia; and Sharing experience and lessons learned at the international scale in EUROBATS meetings and work groups.
A considerable rise in bat numbers, as a result of the project activities, is expected to become clearly observable in no less than 10 years. A 10% increase in the numbers of hibernating bats in all the project sites is expected five years after the project.