When the new M17/M18 Gort to Tuam motorway opens in 2018, motorists won’t be the only ones travelling along the route—bats will be flying overhead on a bridge built specially for them.
Early work to enable the area’s bat population to navigate their way across the new road structure has recently been completed along the route, which is currently under construction.
Works will see a special green bridge allow the bats to navigate over and back across the motorway to their roosting and feeding sites, located on both sides of the road.
The building of the bridge is one of the environmental requirements of the multi-million euro construction project and it’s a feature that has been used at a number of motorway sites in Europe.
All bat species in Ireland are protected under national and European legislation. There is additional protection for lesser horseshoe bats. The Habitats Directive provides protection for the habitats and roosts of all bat species as well as the bats themselves.
Bats avail of minor roads and country lanes as feeding sites and as commuting routes between roosts and feeding areas, according to the Best Practice Guidelines for the Conservation of Bats in the Planning of National Road Scheme. Roads with hedgerows on either side that form a closed canopy are particularly favoured. All species of Irish bat have been noted to feed along minor roads and lanes.
The construction of a road can destroy vegetation cover that was previously used by bats as they move between roosts and feeding areas.
Since the new M17/M18 acts as a barrier, preventing movement across the road, the bat population could decline as they will be prevented from accessing a formerly used habitat. Hence the new bridge, with bat flight paths, feeding areas and roosts all considered during the planning phase of the motorway.
The construction project, which employs 330 people, has been making steady progress over the last number of months, with the construction of new under and over bridges and underpasses are now beginning across the project. The road is expected to open in early 2018.
- 12 species of bats have been identified in Ireland. They are a protected species under EU legislation.
- Bats travel on minor roads and country lanes and use them as feeding and roosting sites.
- While bats are active at intervals throughout the night, they are most active at dusk, and before dawn. A number of foraging bats are active throughout the night.
- Bats rarely roost in open spaces and are most commonly present in tight spaces within woodwork, stonework, rock crevices, between slate and felt, in damaged tree limbs.
- The most effective period to detect bat behaviour are in the months June, July and August.