I thank Joan McAlpine for bringing this important subject to the chamber, and I recognise the work that Trees for Life and the Woodland Trust Scotland are doing to preserve the Caledonian pine forest.
I am pleased to be taking part in the debate, with particular relevance to my role as the natural environment spokesperson for the Scottish Conservatives. Barely a day goes by now when we are not hearing through the media, or indeed working in this Parliament, that we need to do more to protect our environment and stunning landscapes. That is one of the reasons why I am an enthusiastic supporter of a Galloway national park, as I am sure that the minister will find out now that she is in the role. It is also why debates such as this are so important in raising awareness of issues facing our natural environment and the amazingly diverse species that we have in Scotland.
I am particularly delighted to be taking part in the debate, because I cannot resist the opportunity to speak about an animal that lives in the Caledonian pine forest and other native woodlands. Tonight of all nights, Halloween, I am pleased to say that I am the bat champion. More specifically, I am the species champion for the Leisler’s bat. The Leisler’s bat flies fast and high near the tops of the trees, and toonies might also spot it flying around lamp posts looking for insects attracted to the light. The Leisler’s bat forages for flies, moths and beetles, locating its prey using echolocation. Sometimes it can even be heard by the human ear if one listens out for it just before it emerges at sunset.
Most importantly for this debate, it roosts in holes in trees, as well as in buildings, and you might be lucky enough to attract one to live in your bat box. They are sweet wee animals. During the summer, the females form maternity colonies and usually have a single pup. During the winter, Leisler’s bats mainly hibernate in tree holes, but occasionally they will hibernate in buildings or underground. The Leisler’s bat has golden-tipped or reddish-brown fur, which is darker at the base and longer over its shoulders and upper back, giving it a lion’s mane appearance, so it is very cute.
Although the Leisler’s bat does not specifically reside in pinewood forests, it does thrive in habitats of native woodland. You will be delighted to know, Presiding Officer, that one of the biggest colonies is just up the road from your former home in Minnigaff at the Wood of Cree. In the United Kingdom, bats and their roosts are protected by law, meaning that it is illegal to damage, destroy or disturb bats or their roost sites. A roost is defined as any place, including a tree, that wild bats use for shelter or protection.
All bats in the UK feed on insects, and because trees can support a large variety and abundance of insects they are really important for foraging bats. Native trees such as those in the Caledonian pine forest support the greatest abundance of insects, with veteran or ancient trees being of particular value.
Bats not only feed in woodland but live within trees in sheltered locations that are known as roosts, and all UK bats utilise those natural features to roost in trees.
While researching for tonight’s debate, I was astonished to discover that the native pinewoods, which formed the westernmost outpost of the forest in Europe, are estimated to have once covered 1.5 million hectares as a vast primeval wilderness of Scotland with pine, birch, rowan, aspen, juniper and other trees. The deforestation has been so extensive that the Trees for Life group, which helps to plant trees in order to restore the Caledonian forest to some of its former glory, says that our generation is the last with the opportunity to save it. We do not want to be accused of not seeing the wood for the trees, but it is not just about trees; it is about the plethora of species that rely on the forest to provide the homes and food that they need to thrive.
I am hugely grateful to Liz Ferrell of the Bat Conservation Trust for providing me with the information for tonight’s debate, which supplements a recent, excellent bat walk with bat detectors in Holyrood park. I thoroughly recommend the bat walk to anybody who wants to give it a shot.
Once again, I thank Joan McAlpine for bringing the subject to the chamber and the Trees for Life group and the Woodland Trust for their hard work. We must continue to protect our species and champion them at every opportunity. I am pleased to have had the opportunity on Halloween to do that for the bat.