Project of the Month: Old Slovakian Mines to Become Safe Roosts for Bats

© Denisa Löbbová, SBCSBonn,
3 July 2013
- Bats migrate, some of them over distances
of thousands of miles, travelling from Latvia, Lithuania,
Estonia or Finland to Northern Spain or Italy. Many European
bats are under threat and some have even become extinct
in certain countries. Some of the main reasons for this
are the loss of their roosts and of feeding areas. This
is the case in Slovakia, where there is a high density of
old mines which are used by bats as wintering roosts but
also threatened with destruction: an issue that the Slovak
Bat Conservation Society is addressing through a conservation
project which is partly funded by the CMS Small Grants Programme.

Most of the underground mines of Slovakia
are not safe, endangering both humans and bats, the latter
also at risk of disturbance from the increasing number of
people visiting the sites. Among the major threats identified
to bats in Slovakia are the unsuitable methods of blocking
– and in some cases even destroying - the caves and
old abandoned mines. Because the old mines have a negative
impact on the economic development of the region, there
have recently been plans to blow them up. They are perceived
as a danger by the local communities, and people often do
not know that there are bats there, and are certainly unaware
of their importance in ecosystems. In most cases, inhabitants
of the villages near the existing old mines request their
demolition, on the grounds of public safety.

© Denisa Löbbová, SBCSAgainst
this background, the Slovak Bat Conservation Society (SBCS)
last year successfully submitted its project on the conservation
of bats in the old mines to the CMS Small Grants Programme.
The project focuses on four key species occurring in the
country: Miniopterus schreibersii, Rhinolophus euryale,
Rhinolophus ferrumequinum, Rhinolophus hipposideros, the
first two of them being listed as Near Threatened under
the IUCN Red List. The goal of the project is to identify
the significant underground roosts and ensure their protection,
as required under national legislation. This is a response
to EUROBATS priorities for the Implementation of a Conservation
and Management Plan and Guidelines for the Protection and
Management of Important Underground Habitats for Bats (Resolutions
2.2, 4.3, 4.9, 5.4 and 6.16 and to CMS Resolution 9.1.

The greatest challenge for bat conservation
in Slovakia is the lack of information on the occurrence
of bats in the old mines: data are only collected randomly
and in insufficient quantities. Moreover, the issue is currently
being dealt with more by the State Geological Institute
and old mines societies than by the State Nature Conservancy
and Bat Protection Society, bat populations are possibly
not being targeted properly. The database of the State Geological
Institute contains a list of several thousand sites of old
mines in Slovakia and currently serves as the basis for
the further treatment of the old mines (proposals for demolition
for instance). Organizing research through the establishment
of an expert working group helps centralize the information
and allows close cooperation between the different actors
(Geological Institute, mining companies, local communities
and conservationists).

© Denisa Löbbová, SBCSThe
project started in October 2012. The main project area -
Revúcka highland - has an area of 970 square kilometres
and includes several hundred old mines. Thanks to the information
contained in the database of the State Geological Institute,
a team led by Denisa Löbbová, the SBCS project
manager, could obtain the coordinates of the old mines and
start field research, undertaking a systematic field survey
to identify all current entrances to old mines and monitor
the bat population. Ms Löbbová comments: “Most
underground mining systems are connected with the surface,
and altogether we have found about 150 entrances to the
old mines so far. The entrances are different sizes and
mostly have vertical shafts with many horizontal galleries.
Most of them are used by bats in the winter; in accessible
parts of some underground systems we were able to count
about 700 individuals of 11 different species hibernating
in the old mines.”

In May this year, the project team could
start the monitoring of bat population occurrence at the
known entrances to old mines. “We found that some
underground roost sites are used by bats only temporarily
(bats gather together from surrounding areas) and in the
other shelters they create breeding colonies. Using these
methods we can find out how important the underground mining
systems are for bats, in respect of bat species and season”,
comments Ms Löbbová.

In August 2013 the telemetry method of
research is to be implemented for two bat species in the
project area, with the expectation that the individuals
will reveal more about their time-space activity and how
they alternate between their underground roost sites.

Once some old mine have been identified
as significant roosts (with a high number of bats, periodically
inhabiting the spaces), the SBCS will contact the relevant
authorities to ensure the sites’ protection. In collaboration
with old mine societies, project documentation is to be
produced to secure the safety of these sites. Furthermore,
the results and methods of these activities will be used
as a pilot study with recommendations on procedure and approach
in other mining areas in Slovakia. The protection of the
bat roosts in the old mines is an international concern,
and the SBCS plans to share the results internationally,
hoping the ways and means they applied to ensure the protection
of the old mine roosts can be a good example for other countries.

In fact, the project is already enjoying
large media coverage; journalists are showing interest in
the research activities of the SBCS, they come to the sites
to observe and photograph the flying activity of bats around
the entrances.

THE PROJECT OF
THE MONTH

During the 2012 round
of the Small Grant Programme a total of 75 applications
was received and 12 projects were selected for funding.
In the coming months each of these projects will be featured
on the CMS website in a new “Project of the Month”
series that will show the activities that are taking place
within each project and the conservation impact on the species
concerned.

The Small Grant Programme
supports projects that are implemented on the ground with
a strong focus on the conservation of species listed in
the CMS Appendixes. It shows that CMS can really make a
difference when it comes to improving the status of the
species concerned working in close contact with the local
communities.

During the period 2012-2014
the Programme is being generously funded by UNEP.

 

Last updated on 16 June 2014

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