Meet the Real-Life Irish ‘Batwoman’ Championing Bat education

"They are an essential cog in our ecology; the environment does not work if they are not there”


In a picturesque corner of Co Limerick, Bat Rehabilitation Ireland (BRI) stands as a beacon of hope for Ireland's wildlife, particularly bats. The tireless efforts of this rescue, rehabilitation, and educational charity have been further propelled by the transformative support of National Lottery Good Causes funding. 

This financial boost has empowered BRI to embark on an innovative project, not only benefitting the local community but also dispelling myths surrounding the often-misunderstood world of bats. 

Susan Kerwin, the founder of BRI, outlines a personal journey that adds a poignant layer to BRI's story. Diagnosed with cancer at 27 in 2008, she sought solace in her back garden in Southill Limerick, during insomnia-laden nights. There, she discovered the proliferation of bats and became captivated by their habits and the fascinating method of communication using echolocation. 

Driven by curiosity, Susan immersed herself in learning to identify bats and their species by their flight patterns. Ireland hosts nine different species, totalling between 12,000 and 14,000 including three species of the mouse-eared bat (Myotis); three pipistrelle species, one species of the long-eared bat (Plecotus auritus); the Leislers bat (Nycatalus leisleri) and the lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros). Living in colonies, these bats play a pivotal role in ecological balance, offering a natural form of pest control. 

"They are an essential cog in our ecology and environment; the environment does not work if they are not there," emphasises Susan, whose background as a trained falconer provides a unique perspective on these creatures. Threats to bats are habitat loss, use of pesticides and human disturbance. 

BRI, now a conservation partner with Dublin Zoo and contributor to the Darwin Tree of Life project, has evolved into a crucial resource for understanding and safeguarding these enigmatic creatures. However, bats face threats, primarily from tree felling and the use of pesticides and chemicals. Despite their nocturnal nature, often associated with darkness and shadows, bats are, as Susan notes, ‘timid creatures’. “They avoid people. But among themselves, they are extremely social and very gentle."

BRI's impact extends beyond its rehabilitation centre in Buree. Managing a hotline that receives over 3000 calls annually, the organization handles bat sightings and inquiries about injured bats and their habitats. A dedicated transport group brings injured bats from across Ireland to Susan's rehab centre in specially adapted boxes. Here, they undergo nursing and rehabilitation in BRI’s purpose-built, enclosed flight tunnels before being released back into the wild by a group member. 

"Bats, like people, need to return home to their familiar surroundings – they are released at the same place they were found. That's very important for them," adds Susan. 

Bat Hospital Bruree County Limerick 

Different Bats at the Bat Hospital Bruree County Limerick 
Picture Brendan Gleeson

Photo Caption: Susan Kirwin, Founder of Bat Rehabilitation Ireland pictured caring for a bat in her Bat Conservation in Co Limerick where projects are supported by National Lottery funding. 

As Bat Rehabilitation Ireland continues to thrive, funding has ensured that their crucial work in conservation and education remains a shining light for Ireland's wildlife.  

Last year, BRI received funding to acquire a night vision camera, a critical tool that has revolutionised their outreach. This technology has enabled the organisation to invite members of the surrounding communities of all ages to witness the enchanting world of bats as they forage for insects during the night.  

Susan explains: "The night vision camera gives a magical view into the lives of these nocturnal creatures. It allows us to teach attendees how to identify species by their flight patterns during our bat walks." The funding has not only facilitated community engagement but has also enhanced BRI's ability to identify and protect bat roosts. "Night vision also allows us to identify exit and entrance points of bat roosts, vital when needing to reunite bat pups with their colony. The funding has been a game-changer for us. It allowed us to elevate our educational efforts and make a tangible impact on the community.”

A standout moment underscores the profound impact of BRI's work. In late December 2022, the organization received 104 bats into care, part of a colony discovered during a dwelling renovation. Susan recounts, "As the site became unsafe for the bats, we were contacted for assistance and provided the resources and expertise needed to care for these bats over the following weeks."

A meticulous process of ringing and recording the biometrics of each bat ensued, contributing valuable data to BRI's ongoing project studying the longevity and movement of bats in Ireland. 

Susan reflects, "All of this work was done by volunteers who give our time freely to the conservation and protection of Ireland's wildlife. The National Lottery Good Causes funding has helped make it possible for us to provide the very best care for this colony of bats, and we are immensely proud of the positive impact our efforts have had on the community and the preservation of Ireland's unique wildlife."

Nearly 30 cent in every €1 spent on all National Lottery games goes back to Good Causes in the areas of sport, youth, health, welfare, education, arts, heritage, and the Irish Language. In total more than €6 Billion has been raised for Good Causes since the National Lottery was established 36 years ago. In 2022 alone, €259.5 Million was raised for local Good Causes in communities across Ireland.               

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