Pillboxes for pipistrelles

With the loss and degradation of the UK’s natural habitats, canalside buildings such as pillbox structures provide safe havens for many vulnerable species, including the nathusius pipistrelle bat.

Pillbox at Saul Junction Pillbox at Saul Junction

Once serving as the last line of defence for Britain during World War II, these small structures may appear fairly unassuming. But, to the likes of nathusius pipistrellle bats, they’re the perfect place to call home.

Our ecologists and volunteers have been transforming pillboxes, like this one at Saul Junction, into safe spaces for bats to eat, sleep and breed.

A pipistrelle bat flying past trees Pipistrelle bat © Daniel Hargreaves

Home renovations

High levels of deforestation across the UK means bats now struggle to find suitable spaces to rest and roost. The pillbox provides plenty of dark, sheltered space and crevices, perfect for growing families.

After removing debris, litter and brambles, our teams fitted steel doors to the entrance and metal grilles to the small slot openings, to prevent bats from being disturbed.

Bat boxes were secured to the interior walls, and a rear hatch added to allow bats (and any bird species that might also benefit from these habitats) to safely come and go as they please.

A practical place in a prime location

But the pillbox isn’t just a safe roof over their heads. This relic of the war also provides the cover bats need in a prime location.

Like all 18 species of bat in the UK, nathusius pipistrelles eat insects. With their preferred habitat location close to water and surrounded by plant life, the pillbox boasts an ‘all you can eat’ diner option right on their doorstep.

Meanwhile, our linear canal network provides a unique, natural passage for these small mammals to bypass the perils of our roads and travel safely in an increasingly fragmented countryside.

Pillbox by water Pillbox by water

More renovations for more mammals

Many of our 200-year-old tunnels, bridges, buildings, and aqueducts are now home to a variety of bat species. We take extra care when working with any of our heritage structures or trees in case bats, which are protected by law, are present.

So far, our ecologists and volunteers have improved at least six pillboxes along our waterways and have plans to restore many more.

Our canals and their infrastructure are uniquely positioned to help tackle the UK’s biodiversity crisis. Repurposing these relics is just one action we’re taking in helping nature to thrive again.

Help protect canals for nature

Canals offer nature a sanctuary, with a wonderful mix of homes by the water.

But with 2,000 miles of potential habitat we can’t map it, improve it or connect it all up, all by ourselves.

That’s where you come in. Play our Tap that Habitat online game or take part in our Spot that Habitat survey and you can help nature find the homes it needs on our waterways. 

Together we can make sure canals are a buzzing, fluttering, croaking, corridor of life.

Last date edited: 28 March 2022