The UK Is Getting Its First Bat Highway!

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©. Bat-friendly lights like these in The Netherlands are coming to the UK. (Photo courtesy of Worcestershire County Council)

The red glowing street lights allow light-shy bats to cross the road.

One of the sad facts of the modern world is that humans are a nightmare for non-human animals. This is manifested in many ways, but one of the most devastating is how voraciously we gobble up wildlife habitat to suit our own needs.

When not all-out paving over wilderness, we often inadvertently divy it up in ways that make it hard for a species to thrive. In "habitat fragmentation," large and contiguous habitats get divided into smaller, isolated patches of habitats. Worldatlas explains it as such:

"Habitat fragmentation is not only responsible for change in the characteristics of a fragment but also causes extinction of many species. To make it simple for you to understand, imagine you woke up on a Sunday and decided to go get your weekly groceries from the supermarket. However, on your way to the market, you found out that a wall has been erected between your home and supermarket. The erection of this wall is going to affect you and your life completely. Next, imagine the same thing happened in many areas of your city, and your city’s population has been divided into smaller and disconnected areas – the obstruction would make survival very difficult, right?"

Highways are particularly brutal in this regard because there is no way to get around them, and the dodging of giant steel projectiles comes with its own set of risks. For this reason, many places have created wildlife bridges and tunnels to provide a means of crossing for animals.

Now you wouldn't think that flying animals would have a problem with roads, but as it turns out, some bats do. Not with the roads themselves, but with the street lights. Which is why certain areas are erecting "bat highways," in which white lights are replaced with bat-friendly red ones.

And now, the U.K. is getting their first, according to the Worcestershire County Council. The council writes, "The LED lights, which emit a red light, provide a bat friendly crossing of approximately 60m in width across the A4440, near to Warndon Wood nature reserve and are due to be fully active in September."

Not only do white lights prevent bats from reaping the benefits of a broader range, but they also attract the insects bats feed on, reducing the food available in typical feeding areas. But the bats don't seem to mind the red lights and the insects stay away as well.

"With the red lights, the bats behave normally, feeding and moving through their habitats, just as they would in the dark. This helps to balance the local ecosystem," writes the council.

As shown in the photo above, similar lighting is being used in the Netherlands where it is proving to help bat species and other nocturnal creatures.

If you're wondering what it's like for drivers and pedestrians, the council assures that they will not be affected by the bat lights, and that the plan is fully compliant with the required standards. The light "recipe" has been created to meet the need of road users and residents as well.

Councillor Ken Pollock, Worcestershire County Council’s Cabinet Member with Responsibility for Economy and Infrastructure says, "The adapted lighting being used may look a little different at first, but we’d like to assure those using the area at night that the colour of the lights has been through stringent testing and adheres to all safety checks."

It's such a simple thing, but one that could make a big difference in the survival of local bat populations. As the world's animals are facing hard times, it's innovations like this that could make or break a species. It's a shame that we need these workarounds in the first place, but until we get rid of roads in delicate places, we have to find ways to accommodate the wildlife.

"These ground-breaking lights are a great example where we have been able to adapt the usual standards to better suit the local environment," says Pollock.