Bats about biodiversity in Elephant Park

Meet urban ecologist Morgan Taylor

Morgan Taylor is an ecologist and associate at Greengage – a London-based sustainability consultancy – which has been advising on how the new two-acre park at the heart of Elephant and Castle can make the most of, and support, its urban wildlife.

From a young age, Morgan Taylor knew he wanted to be an ecologist. He grew up in rural Wiltshire, surrounded by beautiful countryside, which fed his appetite for nature.

“I was really engaged with wildlife and that made me want to do something with the natural sciences,” he says.

After studying Marine Biology at University of Southampton, Morgan was about to begin a PhD when he was offered a job at Greengage.

“I decided to stick with consultancy rather than pursue a career in academia,” he says. “I could see that this was an opportunity with a really focused team to influence biodiversity gain in a meaningful way; and now I’ve been here eight years.”

Morgan works on biodiversity projects all over the country, although 75 per cent of his work is based in the south-east and London. Some of his recent projects have included work to help protect peregrine falcons in Kent, and surveys of hibernating bats and otters in Oxfordshire. “My job is nice and varied,” he says, “although the urban ecology projects have become a nice niche to work in.”

Specialising in urban biodiversity and green infrastructure, Morgan regularly works on large-scale urban regeneration projects, including Elephant Park, where he advised on the implementation of green infrastructure.

Morgan and his team are continuously monitoring the biodiversity associated with this new green infrastructure across Elephant Park, including the park itself. All of this work provides habitats for birds and insects, as well as contributing towards the improvement of air quality, particularly in urban environments.

According to Morgan, this data collection is unique in the development industry. “A big problem we have as ecologists is that we’re largely lacking evidence to show how important and effective the interventions that we design actually are,” he says. “We’re now implementing a long-term ecological study to assess how well the green infrastructure that’s being delivered at Elephant Park is working in real terms. So, what does it mean for bats, birds or invertebrates that might be using living roofs? It’s quite an exciting opportunity, because what we learn from Elephant Park can be applied to other schemes.”

Morgan and his team have installed static detectors on some of the living roofs at Elephant Park to monitor bats in the area – an animal he finds fascinating. “They’re the only group of true flying mammals,” says Morgan. “To help achieve this, they are incredibly light – a typical pipistrelle bat weights the same as a 20-pence piece.

“They’re extremely important animals for humans and play a crucial role in ecosystems. Each bat may eat thousands of insects a night, meaning they’re a really important ally in pest control and food-web stability. They’re also incredibly charismatic and surprisingly long-lived for such small mammals; some species have been known to live for more than 20 years.”

The detector units at Elephant Park have a microphone attached, which have been programmed to record specific frequencies. So far, four bat species have been detected at Elephant Park: common, soprano and Nathusius’ pipistrelles and noctule. These are species known to be more tolerant of urban conditions with associated high levels of light disturbance.

“From the recordings, we can work out what species are there but also what behaviour they’re showing, he says. “We can tell if they’re socialising, foraging or ‘commuting’ – just flying over the roofs.

“Bit by bit, we’re getting a real picture about how bats are using the site and, more importantly, as construction continues and the park matures, we’ll see how it affects their abundance, diversity and behaviours.”

Early results show the bats are socialising in Elephant Park. “It’s late summer socialisation,” says Morgan. “We’re picking up calls that are indicative of male bats calling female bats to show off, which is positive as it means they must be living nearby. With time, we hope to encourage them to roost at the site and provide better quality habitats for them to feed and socialise over”

Morgan is as much a fan of living roofs as he is of bats, so much so that he created one on his garden shed at his south London home. “I figured I should practise what I preach,” he laughs. “Living roofs can have wild flowers and other plants that encourage birds and invertebrates to visit. I’ve got about 30 species growing on it now and bees and butterflies regularly visit during the summer, which is quite satisfying.”


If you would like to read more about Elephant Park’s green vision, try this blog from Ewan Oliver, who is in charge of ensuring that trees remain a crucial part of the area.