October 4th, 2017
Ireland’s first-ever “bat bridge” has been constructed over Galway’s new motorway in a bid to conserve an internationally important colony of Lesser Horseshoe Bats.
The M17 stretches 53km between Gort and Tuam and forms part of the Government’s Atlantic Corridor project. The €550 million motorway has been completed six months in advance of the scheduled deadline and is now open to motorists and to bats.
A number of wildlife-friendly features have been incorporated into the structure including underpasses and wildlife fencing. However, the most interesting aspect of the project from a conservation perspective is the addition of a bat bridge into the structure. The purpose-built bridge, located near Coole Park Nature Reserve, is the first of its kind in Ireland.
All of Ireland’s 12 bat species are protected under the EU Habitats Directive and require “strict protection” as they are listed in Annex IV of the directive.
The Lesser Horseshoe Bat has additional legal protection as they are listed in Annex II, which ensures that important areas for this species are designated as special areas of conservation.
The project engineer for the motorway, Tony Collins, “green overpass” has been specifically designed as a flight corridor to channel bats across the bridge.
It will allow lesser horseshoe bats to safely cross the motorway to feeding grounds at Coole Park and a roosting site at Kiltartan Cave which were separated by the motorway.
The bridge has been planted with hedgerow vegetation to “guide bats to and from the bat bridge,” Mr Collins added.
Kieran Flood, Conservation Officer for the Irish Wildlife Trust, welcomed the construction of the bridge and the incorporation of wildlife crossings into infrastructure designs in Ireland.
“Any measures to reduce the degree of habitat fragmentation caused by motorway construction is a welcome step in the right direction,” he added.
Wildlife crossings have become increasingly popular in mainland Europe and North America over the past few decades. Wildlife-vehicle collisions incur significant costs, with the US Government dishing out billions of dollars every year because of these incidents.
In recent years, Ireland has embraced this form of wildlife conservation practice with an otter crossing in Kildare and the bat bridge in Co Galway.