People and bats: Russia’s first community-led Bat Conservation movement, Western Russia

Dr Igor Prokofyev is Founder and Director of the Grassroots Alliance PERESVET, an NGO based in Bryansk, Western Russia which is leading new efforts to conserve Russia’s hitherto overlooked bat species. Threatened by deforestation, pollution and loss of roosting sites, many of Russia’s bat species are in decline, along with their natural ancient forest habitat. Of the some 41 species of bat that occur in Russia, 17 are threatened with extinction.

A biologist by training, Igor turned his attention to bats in 2008 when he realised that despite being particularly important for bats, with many species migrating here from across Europe in summer, Bryansk had no programme for their conservation or study.

Bats are frequently misunderstood but their conservation is of great importance to people because of the free pollination and other ecosystem services they provide. “Bats are very useful animals because they kill so many insect pests. This is crucial for agriculture and very important for local farmers”. Despite their importance, little is known about Russia’s bat populations and their protection is rarely taken into consideration.

Igor is the Coordinator of iBats Russia, the county’s first large-scale monitoring program for bats. Together with his team, he is working with local volunteers, conducting surveys to identify and record the presence of different species by their unique calls using ultrasound technology. Following high initial interest, PERESVET plans to scale up the programme throughout Western Russia, increasing the number of monitoring sites from 20 to 100 and significantly expanding the network of volunteers. The data collected will help make recommendations for the future management of bats and conservation guidelines for landowners where bats are present.

Central to this expansion is the creation of Bat Conservation Russia, the country’s first bat-focussed charity. An alliance of scientists, community groups and NGOs, BCR will strengthen cooperation and resource sharing for bat conservation across Russia.
A Bat Conservation Centre is also being developed as a hub for education.

Igor feels that successfully changing attitudes is one of his most important goals, as many bats have become synanthropic, forced to roost in buildings as their natural habitat is lost. “One village has been very successful in such changes. Local people were against plans for cutting the unique old growing forest near their village and the local school organised a “Bat’s Friends Club”. The children started a program for the protection of old trees, organising bat surveys in the village and gaining protection of roosts in peoples’ homes”.

Igor Prokofyev speech at Whitley Awards 2011

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