CHESHIRE Wildlife Trust says it’s ‘thrilled’ by the discovery of a bat not seen in the county for over half a century.

The lesser horseshoe bats were found during a routine ‘hibernation check’ by volunteers from the Cheshire Bat Group at English Heritage’s Beeston Castle.

The species was last recorded in Cheshire at the same site back in 1948. The bat gets its name from its horseshoe-shaped nose.

Like several species, including birds of prey such as the peregrine falcon, lesser horseshoe bats have previously suffered through the inappropriate use of certain pesticides, which culminated in the ground-breaking study ‘Silent Spring’ in the early 1960s.

Fragmentation of their favoured habitats and the use of timber treatments in their preferred roosting areas also led to a reduction in numbers.

Now, lesser horseshoe bats are restricted to Wales, the West Midlands and the South West.

The most recent record of the bats being in the North West came back in 2009 when they were discovered in East Lancashire.

Geed Ryan, one of Cheshire Bat Group’s longest-serving members, said: “We have always known that lesser horseshoe bats were across the border in Wales and that this area of Cheshire has suitable habitat and feeding grounds for them, so we had hoped to find them one day.

“Lesser horseshoe bats do not use boxes and these individuals were hanging freely in the caves, so although only the size of a plum they were quite easy to spot.”

Sarah Bennett, from Cheshire Wildlife Trust, added: “It’s often easy with familiar wildlife like otters and birds to understand when numbers are in decline, but with such a challenging group of species like bats it takes time and dedication to monitor their numbers.”

For more information call the National Bat Helpline on 0845 1300 228 or visit www.bats.