Finding rare bats with DNA testing

The National Bats in Churches Study is a major citizen science survey covering over 1000 churches between 2019 and 2022. The survey included a questionnaire, collection of droppings for DNA analysis and the placing of bat detectors. 

The aim of the study was to understand more about which species of bats use churches and why, to help them remain living there without causing a burden or damage to the church. Researchers are currently analysing the data of this particular survey to share their findings next year.

An exciting outcome from the study so far is that one of the UK’s rarest bats, the grey long-eared bat (Plecotus austriacus), was found to be roosting in a church in Somerset. This was all thanks to the DNA analysis of bat droppings.

It is thought that there are only around 1000 grey long-eared bats in England with very few confirmed records. In comparison to the grey long-eared bat, brown long-eared (Plecotus auritus) bats although visually very similar, are relatively common. This leads to question whether the similarity in appearance may have led to under recording of grey long-eared bats, highlighting the importance of DNA analysis in such research projects and species identification.

So how does the DNA analysis work?

Bat DNA Species ID

Why is DNA analysis important?

  • With a species considered to be very rare in the UK it is useful to be able to know where the remaining bats of that species are located so that they can be protected.
  • As the grey long-eared bat is so similar to the brown long-eared bat, DNA analysis can help to ascertain whether the species has been under recorded due to misidentification in the past.
  • Bats can be surveyed quickly and reliably with very little disturbance and samples can be collected by volunteer citizen scientists with a little training.


The chXout® Bat Species Identification DNA testing service can complement traditional surveying methods and ecological studies. We should note that chXout® did not carry out this particular testing for the project, however, we are currently optimising our service ready for the 2023 survey season, to then be available year-round. We would be very excited to take contribute in projects such as this so if you have any ideas or suggestions, please do get in touch.

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