National Trust acquires Dorset ‘speed-dating’ caves for bats

National Trust acquires Dorset ‘speed-dating’ caves for bats
Thousands of Britain’s native bats flock to 350-acre farmland on Jurassic Coast every autumn to mate

The National Trust has bought a 350-acre farm on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast that includes a set of “speed dating” caves, which attract thousands of bats every year.

The 4.4-mile stretch of coastline is home to the Winspit caves, where 15 of Britain’s native bat species flock each autumn for a night of mating.

For rare species, such as the serotine and barbastelle bats, this is critical to the health of their populations. Some bats come from as far as 40 miles away.

The caves are also used for winter hibernation for some of the UK’s rarest bats such as the greater horseshoe.

The trust said Weston Farm, in South Purbeck, is Dorset’s “most important swarming site for bats and a site of national significance”.

The land forms the eastern half of St Aldhem’s Head and will extend the existing trust-owned “Purbeck Wares”, famous for being some of Britain’s best grasslands for orchids and other rare wildflowers.

<p>Winspit Quarry, in South Purbeck</p>

Winspit Quarry, in South Purbeck

The coastal strip of Weston Farm also includes ancient “strip lynchet” terraced field systems.

The trust plans to let the farmland “rest and recover” before transforming it over the coming years in a bid to boost wildlife in the area.

It is hoped the site will become a network of species-rich grasslands, wildflower meadows, scrub and woodlands, creating a much wider coastal corridor for nature.

<p>Greater Horseshoe bat hibernating in cave</p>

Greater Horseshoe bat hibernating in cave

Hedgerows, scrub and small woodland patches should once more give refuge to voles and other mammals, along with breeding sites for yellowhammers, linnets and other birds.

The South West Coastal Path, which runs along the edge of the farm, will also be moved inland.

David Brown, National Trust ecologist for Purbeck, said: “In the future people will enjoy fantastic uninterrupted access along a seven-kilometre stretch of some of the UK’s best coastline, and be free to explore some its most diverse and ecologically rich grasslands.

“We aim to create a landscape that is richer in nature, so there’ll be no chemical inputs or regular ploughing on any of the land and life will be restored to the soil using natural regenerative farming methods.

<p>View out to sea from Winspit Quarry</p>

View out to sea from Winspit Quarry

“As the land is given time to rest and recover, the ground will store more carbon and streams flowing off the land will be cleaner and healthier.”

Tracey Churcher, National Trust general manager for Purbeck, added: “Nature recovery is at the heart of what we do, but so is connecting people with nature and the outdoors.

“The South West Coastal Path runs along the edge of the farm and we’ll be able to move the current field fences much further back, giving walkers room to spread out, savour the remarkable coastal views and take in the nature-rich landscape.”

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