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Conservation and integrated management of two bat species in the French Mediterranean region. (Life Chiro Med)
Start date: Jan 1, 2010, End date: Jun 30, 2014 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Background Bats are highly threatened in Europe. The greater horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum) and Geoffroy’s bat (Myotis emarginatus) are particularly affected, both being listed in Annex II of the Habitats Directive. With a total of 750 females, the reproductive population of the greater horseshoe bat in the Camargue is crucial to the maintenance of the species in the South of France. Most of the roosts used by the greater horseshoe bat are also occupied by Geoffroy’s bat. These two species have similar ecological requirements and any action involving one species also impacts on the other. Objectives The main objectives of the Life Chiro Med project were to strengthen, improve and monitor the conservation status of the greater horseshoe bat and Geoffroy’s bat in the Camargue. The project area was a network of six Natura 2000 sites, centring on the “geological” Camargue and including the nearby locations of Alpilles and Gorges du Gardon. There are known to be some 550 individuals of each of the two target bat species in this area, and larger numbers also use it for foraging. In particular, the project aimed to conserve and improve the quality of nursery colonies and hibernation roosts, through physical and/or regulatory protection. The project also planned to create nursery roosts in unoccupied buildings and to prospect buildings and caves to discover new colonies. Results The Life Chiro Med project increased the knowledge of the roosts and hunting habitats used by the greater horseshoe bat and Geoffroy's bat and, through its concrete actions, helped preserve these two species in Camargue, Alpilles and Gorges du Gardon. In cooperation with various stakeholders, the project addressed the main threats to bats in the region, namely, a lack of favourable roosts, road mortality, deterioration of hunting habitats and decreased food resources. Project partners included bat experts, organisations in charge of land management in the project area, two public authorities owning significant land areas, and the regional technical service in charge of road management issues. Habitat quality was improved in five existing roosts, while 15 favourable buildings were restored and 20 km of hedges were planted as additional foraging areas. At cave and building roost sites, for example, entrances were modified to benefit bats and prevent predator access. Food resources were also improved by changes in pastoral practices that were initiated in the Camargue; with a specification document being created and agreed among relevant stakeholders, including livestock farmers. Moreover, several reproduction and wintering roosts were discovered, which are now being monitored. Bat mortality was addressed at “black spots” by an experimental modification to the road surface at three crossing points, through cooperative work with DIRMED (Inter-Departmental Management of Mediterranean routes). The crossing device consisted of a road surface which emits a sound of a particular frequency as each vehicle passes to deter greater horseshoe bats. Project beneficiaries will continue advising the local authorities in charge of road management, especially Conseil Général 13 and CG 30, who are interested in the bat crossing device. The work done within the project is likely to be used in environmental impact studies linked to road infrastructure projects, such as the extension of the A54 motorway in the Camargue. Communication, dissemination and awareness-raising activities were developed by the beneficiaries and geared towards scientists and bat experts, natural area managers, the general public and school children. The project’s dissemination tools included technical guides, a documentary film, educational activities and events. Technical guides summarised the findings for the three experimental road crossings (technical guide no. 1), the experiments on pastoral practices to replace avermectin treatments with treatments that are less detrimental to bat food resources (no. 2), and the definitions of optimal conditions in the reproduction roosts for the two target bat species (no. 3). Further technical guides summarised the best use of tools to monitor bats and study their behaviour, using automatic ultrasound recording systems (AnaBat) to prospect winter roosts (technical guide no. 4), telemetry (no. 5) and night vision cameras (no. 6). The project has contributed to raising the awareness of local and regional authorities on the issue of bat preservation. The data collected within the project have also been used to argue in favour of the extension of three Natura 2000 sites to enhance bat foraging areas, in addition to the site "Petit Rhône". The actions implemented within the project not only benefit the two targeted species, but also other bat species. The project used the services of local economic operators and created a number of full-time contracts over its five years. Many trainees also benefitted from the project, which contributed to its educational objective. The training activities also helped develop the awareness and skills of decision-makers and economic operators. Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).
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