Bats of Britain, Europe and Northwest Africa

Authors Christian Dietz, Otto von Helversen, Dietmar Nill, A & C Black, 2009, ISBN 978-1-4081-0531-3, HB


When birders start to extend their interest in wildlife into other areas, it’s usually dragonflies, butterflies and moths they start with. Bats seem to get a little bit overlooked, no doubt because of the relative difficulty of observing them due to their nocturnal lifestyle as much as any negative connotations from all those old horror films.

This glossy, comprehensive guide to the continent’s 51 bat species, though, gives you no excuse not to get familiar with the only true flying mammals. It arrived at a good time for me. Last spring, a chance sighting of a Pipistrelle hawking insects in broad daylight set me thinking about bats generally, and more recently I’ve been trying, in the style of Coronation Street’s Roy Cropper, to find out more about the bats at a site close to home threatened by developers. One of the great appeals of bats, I think, is precisely that they are often so close to home – wildlife literally right outside our back doors – and this makes them far easier to get to grips with.

For the curious beginner like me, then, this volume is hard to beat. The ‘field guide’ section of the book is as thorough as you could possibly want, well illustrated with more than 400 colour photographs, and comes complete with good clear distribution maps and plenty of measurements. It includes recent taxonomic changes and new species descriptions, too, making it bang up to date.

Each species account includes a lengthy bibliography, a nice touch if you do get completely hooked and want to learn more. Better still, though, there’s a good 120 pages of material at the front of the book on bat behaviour, movements, roosts, habitats and their conservation status in Europe, complete with some excellent drawings and graphics.

Not only does it help put any one species in a wider context (and of course most of us will only regularly be seeing a small proportion of the species detailed here), but it’s a really good read in its own right. Quite apart from anything else, it starts you thinking about the bats’ prey species, and that’s a whole new area of study again. It hits a fine balance between not assuming any prior knowledge, and being comprehensive and even academic enough to be of interest to the real expert.

One slight problem, I suppose, is that it is rather too large and heavy to actually take around with you in the field, so perhaps you’d want a smaller companion volume as well, but then it’s not intended to be anything other than a mine of information to refer to in between your bat-watching expeditions. It does that job quite superbly.

So, if you want to supplement your birding reading by looking at the wider wildlife picture, there aren’t many better places to start. This exemplary handbook opens up the night-time world and places bats in their ecological context – buy it and find yourself hooked immediately.

MATT MERRITT, JANUARY 2010

Handbook of the Bats of Europe and Northwest Africa
By Christian Dietz, Dietmar Nill, Otto Von Helversen