Last weekend I attended my second class at Woodberry Wetlands in London. After such a wonderful experience at their Wildlife Photography day course at the start of the summer, I couldn’t have signed up quicker when my inbox pinged with word of Woodberry’s BatFest 2016.
The thing that most caught my attention was a two-hour art workshop, to uncover the unique anatomy of bats through observational drawing, working from taxidermy, skeletons and reference imagery.
The class, led by visual artist Jennie Webber formed part of an entire weekend of bat-themed activities, including a photography exhibition by ‘in-house photographer’ Penny Dixie, an evening bat walk around the 17 hectare nature reserve and bat-themed cocktails!
Jennie, an illustrator who cites that she is passionate about bringing wildlife and conservation back into the lives of Londoners who may have lost touch with such things – or who may have never really encountered wildlife at all! – runs life drawing classes in the city, with a twist! Working with local rescue charities and sanctuaries, she usually conducts her classes around real-life wild ‘models’, focusing on educating her pupils about the animals they are observing.
Although there were no live bats present during this particular class, we were treated to some videos and a presentation about bats, with the Bat Conservation Trust (the umbrella group for all local bat groups across the UK) on hand to answer any questions about the animals and the trust’s work.
There are apparently 1,300 different bat species in the world today(!) with 18 of these residing in the UK. Woodberry Wetlands is home to six of these species, including the UK’s most common species, the common pipistrelle.
The bat species currently found in the UK are:
brown long-eared bat
greater horseshoe bat
grey long-eared bat
lesser horseshoe bat
greater mouse-eared bat
A very poignant moment of the session was learning that some organisations say we have 17 and half bat species as – on UK shores – there is only one known greater mouse-earred bat, so this doesn’t count as a breeding species.All of these species are micro bats (bats are divided into the categories ‘mega bats’ and ‘micro bats’), and their diet consists of insects – but worldwide, bats (including mega bats) eat fish, frogs, fruit, insects, livestock blood and even other bats!
I was amazed to learn of the huge diversity among the characteristics of different bat species (ranging in body size from a pound coin, to a small dog!) and the huge number of different species there are in the world. One of the facts the Bat Conservation Trust passed on, which emphasises this, is that bats account for every 1 in 4 mammals.
Sadly, however, over the last few years, bat numbers in the UK have been in decline, owing to humans destroying their habitats. Although the Bat Conservation Trust are working to find out exactly why / how some bat boxes work and others don’t, there is much still to learn about these fascinating nocturnal creatures.
It was a great pleasure to learn about them and see specimens, photographs and videos to draw from during the two hour workshop. It was also great to meet the mix of people attending the class, from those interested in art, to those planning to embark on ‘bat training’ (to learn to rescue, feed and care for bats) and even a visiting bat expert, with plenty of experience raising and hand-rearing.
At the end of the class, our final sketches were cut out, to be hung with fish wire in the exhibition room, creating a colony (or crowd) of bats flying over the heads of visitors. These were the two sketches that I completed: