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Sussex professor calls for sticky fly traps to be regulated, in effort to protect rare bats

© Martyn Cooke

A potential fix? © Daniel Hargreaves

Bats, nature’s own insect controllers, are being killed by sticky fly traps, according to a University of Sussex professor.

Sticky traps for flies are freely available in the UK and cost less than 25p each. Promoted as safe alternatives to pesticides, they can pose a severe hazard to bats, as well as other wildlife which become trapped in the glue.

Professor of Environmental Biology, Fiona Mathews, explained: “I have had the unpleasant experience of trying to release the delicate wings and ears of a dying bat from the horrendously sticky glue on these traps before.

“I had thought it was a freak accident until I heard about Lucy the long-eared bat, rescued by local bat workers Martyn Cooke and Jenny Clark from a similar situation in Surrey last week.

“A quick question on social media revealed just how widespread this problem is. It’s ironic that one of nature’s best pest controllers was almost killed by an insect trap far less efficient than she is.”

Most sticky traps carry no warning of the hazard posed to bats. Even where warnings are given, these are unlikely to be sufficiently effective on their own since many casualties occur in locations where bats were not previously known (e.g. stables, lofts and greenhouses).

Prof Mathews said: “Bats are inquisitive and have excellent hearing. The first bat that was caught on the sticky trap last week was likely to have been following the sound of the trapped insect.

“Lucy would have then heard the distress calls of the frantic bat, whose delicate wings were completely stuck. Being a very social animal, Lucy would have flown in to see what the problem was and got stuck herself. 

“Sadly, although Lucy has survived, the other bats died from dehydration and exhaustion - a truly horrible way to go.”

Prof Mathews, who is working with experts from across Europe to understand the impacts of climate change on the pest-controlling services offered by bats, is now calling on the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, to ban the general sale of sticky traps unless they are enclosed in a guard. 

Prof Mathews says: “This is a simple and effective solution that will help protect bats and other wildlife from harm.”

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By: Stephanie Allen
Last updated: Thursday, 21 March 2019