Your Guide to Bats and Development
This is a complete guidance page to bat surveys and contains everything a development professional or domestic clients will ever need to know about how to deal with a request for a bat survey, and what the downstream implications are for your application and project. Enjoy!
Why am I being asked for a bat survey?
The council’s planning office have asked you for a bat survey as a validation or determination requirement because PPS9 “Biodiversity and Geological Conservation” and updating it, ODPM Circular 05/2006, state that legally protected species and habitats that are present and affected by your proposed development should be a material consideration for the local planning authority. Since the planning officers do not have the resources to confirm whether or not legally protected species are present and affected, it becomes your responsibility to engage an ecologist and in doing so, provide a report with your planning application.
The Circular makes it very clear that local authorities should refuse consent where this information is absent or inadequate, and should not under any circumstances leaves protected species surveys to conditions of consent. In some cases e.g. Elmbridge Council in the county of Surrey, bat surveys are now a validation requirement.
What do you mean by ‘Protected’ Species?
The EC Habitats Directive protects bats, like other species e.g. great crested newts through their inclusion in Annex II. This European protected species and habitats legislation is transposed in the UK by the Habitats Regulations 2010, which prevents bats as well as their roosting habitat from being disturbed. Bats are also protected by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which criminalize deliberate killing, injury or sale.
Engaging the Directive is seriously hot water. Cheshire East council were criminally prosecuted and lost appeals all the way up to and including the Supreme Court for not properly enforcing legislation, let alone breaching it themselves. This has become known as the Woolley case. You can Internet search for it or read more about bats and the lawon our web site. Needless to say, the successful prosecution (and other Supreme Court cases, such as Morge v Hampshire C.C.) has left borough ecologists very nervous about leaving protected species issues to conditions, so addressing such matters up front and robustly is the only way to secure a consent.
Who can do a bat survey?
Only a licensed bat consultant; someone who is educated and trained to handle and disturb bats safely (and has received a rabies injection) can undertake roost visits. A license is issued to a surveyor by Natural England in England (Countryside Council for Wales in Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage in Scotland.) These organizations are executive agencies of the UK government, so-called Statutory Nature Conservation Organizations. The license essentially permits actions that would otherwise be unlawful e.g. disturbing bats.
Are bat surveys time-sensitive?
Bats hibernate throughout the winter as there are fewer invertebrates on which the predate to provide a food chain for them. In consequence, the need to maintain a low body temperature and manage down their metabolism by roosting in a very stable environment—stable in terms of temperature, humidity, light and noise levels, vibration and airflow—drives their need to roost in trees and. In their state of torpor, they are extremely vulnerable and waking a bat could easily kill it instantly (or use up valuable calories so depleting its fat reserves and literally starving it to death—not good!) The intense physiological change they must undergo to survive this is quite phenomenal, but equally, presents planning applicants with constraints: that is, some types of assessment cannot be conducted during the hibernation season.
So, while ‘scoping’ or ‘walkover’ bat surveys can be undertaken any time of the year, detailed ‘activity’ or ‘emergence’ bat surveys can only be undertaken when bats are active and can be observed without risk of disturbing them. In reality, this season of activity is determined by the climate. A cold, wet March or April may delay the bats coming out of hibernation. Conversely, a warm or mild October and November may prolong their activity. Generally however, it is accepted by most planning authorities that bat surveys should not be undertaken outside of May through September inclusive, without extenuating circumstances. Certainly, we would not advise undertaking bat surveys wherever the temperature is below seven degree Celsius. We are willing to execute instructions from clients to perform emergence surveys in April and October, though stress that this is associated with planning risk and the results are deemed to have less scientific validity, so more survey effort is required to satisfy both the planning office and e.g. Natural England.
Why are there two types of bat survey?
A scoping survey is simply an exercise to either confirm there is no likelihood of bats being present and affected by the development, or to inform the survey effort and design of bat emergence surveys. It involves a short report and costs from £329, inclusive of our expenses. This normally takes 4-7 working days from instruction to you receiving your report. It is important as it provides the opportunity to reduce your up front costs by potentially eliminating the need for further, more costly and intensive bat emergence surveys. If during the initial assessment we find bats, evidence of their activity e.g. droppings or dead bat carcasses, or ‘features suitable for roosting’ we will recommend that you undertake bat emergence surveys. The purpose of this is to provide scientific evidence to support your mitigation proposals.
Bats have evolved to take advantage of the night. Bats can predate using echolocation (handy!) and avoid their own predators, as well as avoiding competing with other predators such as birds. Emerging from roosts in the evening (dusk) and returning to roost at first light (dawn) is the reason of then bat emergence surveys are called ‘nocturnal or dusk and dawn bat surveys. Bat consultants use special devices called bat detectors in order to convert the bats’ calls—which are normally outside the range of human hearing—into a frequency we can not only hear, but also interpret. Bat detectors allow surveyors to discern between species and gather information about population numbers and the use of the site. Passing bats make a different sound to so-called feeding buzzes, for example.
What does a bat emergence survey entail and cost
Bat emergence surveys require all elevations of a building to be simultaneously visible to surveyors and so normally, even for small properties; the minimum number of surveyors is two. For ‘L’ shaped buildings it would be three surveyors. Standard practice is to undertake two dusk surveys and a single dawn survey, as a minimum, in order to provide a set of scientifically defensible results. If you have an unusual site or set of circumstances, do not be surprised if you have to do more survey effort than this, or even a bit less! In e.g. West Yorkshire and Hampshire, England, like Powys, Wales, the local planning authorities publish their own bats survey guidelines that ask for a minimum of three dusk surveys. Appreciably, it is not possible to provide a fixed cost for all eventualities, but we suggest you budget a minimum of £899. As it requires working at night and several visits, it is best to factor in up to 7-12 working days from instruction to receipt of your report.
I’ve had an emergence survey done, what next?
If the results were negative, confirming absence, you have nothing further to worry about and while PPS9 calls upon local planning authorities to seek biodiversity enhancements in planning applications, often times simple things like wildflower and native tree planting, or erecting bird boxes, is perfectly sufficient. However, if you have bats confirmed as roosting at your property, you must provide mitigation for two reasons:
- to minimize the risk of killing or injury to protected species; and
- to compensate for the loss of habitat.
In the case of a building alternation, extension or renovation, you can provide mitigation proposals to the council and obtain consent with conditions that bind you to mitigating any risk to species and the enhancement of habitats. Natural England, the licensing body for England, has confirmed this in their Standing Advice flow chart for dealing with protected species. Equally, in the case that you intend to destroy a roost, e.g. demolition of a building, you have no option whatever except for applying for a European protected species license (or EPSL) to Natural England; also been confirmed by Natural England wildlife licensing officers. The license is subject to your survey effort being deemed by Natural England to be sufficient—to have scientific integrity—and the mitigation proposed being appropriate to the species and population present at the site.
What is mitigation?
Mitigation proposals are your way of demonstrating to the planning authority that your development does not result in risk to species (injury or killing) or loss of habitat (disturbance.) For a species to be present yet unaffected, clearly some measures need to be in place to ensure this risk is minimized. In the case of a single male common pipistrelle bat using your site as an occasional summer roost, the mitigation is hardly likely to be extensive. A crevice dwelling species, the little pip will be perfectly happy with a couple or three bat tubes or boxes. Equally, a larger population or different species may require an altogether different approach to bat mitigation. That is not to say that mitigation can always be dealt with outside of a European protected species license (or EPSL), though. If you don’t require a license but do require a mitigation method statement, normally these are from £299 ex VAT and take around 5 working days to author.
An EPSL application is a completely separate issue to planning consent. In fact, contrary to common belief, the need for an EPSL cannot and will not have any detrimental effect on your application. Why? Because the two are separate. You actually need to have a planning consent in your hand, to even apply for a license!
It takes up to 30 working days for Natural England to process and issue the license, which though free to apply for, does require a very extensive method statement to be prepared. Normally, we ask you to produce the Reason Statement—why you need the license—and we produce Method Statement Documents A and B—how you intend to execute on the license. The EPSL is applied for by you, the licensee, with us as your appointed ecologist. We will oversee things like the installation of your mitigation, the stripping of roof tiles and other operations that present a risk to bats. We then come back to check this is in order and sign it off. The license is time limited, so you’re not bound to it forever. Our input for an EPSL application typically costs from £399 ex VAT and take around 5 working days to author. Additionally, we require you to procure and supply us with bat records data, which costs from as little as £40 and is generally supplied by local wildlife trusts or the council themselves.
It is worth remembering that Natural England will not answer questions about your planning application; they will not talk to you about the eligibility for EPSLs; and they will certainly not be hurried up by ‘chasing’ calls or e-mails. The easiest way to get your license is to apply for it with the right information supporting it (surveys and mitigation proposals) and sit tight.
What about the 5 bat rule?
There is a misconception among some ecological consultants that if you have less than 5 bats you don’t need an EPSL to destroy a roost (mostly, those whom have never successfully put to gather a license application.) This rumor was not helped by the Morge v Hampshire C.C. Supreme Court ruling in 2011. However, no matter what inexperienced ecological consultants tell you, there is no “5 bat rule.” A roost is a roost and the legislation (and importantly, the Police Wildlife Crime Unit) will not draw any distinction between the criminal act of destroying a roost that is habitat for one bat, or 100 bats. Either way, absent of an EPSL, you would be lucky to escape without a hefty fine, massive negative PR and a criminal record. Just in case that is not unambiguous enough: destroying a roost without an EPSL is a criminal offence.
So there you go. If you can digest most of that, or keep this page handy, you wont go far wrong.
When weighing up our quotation it is worth keeping in mind that we have never had a client refused planning consent or a license application to date. Ever.
To instruct us, just call 08450 176950 and quote your site address as the reference. Someone will ask you to complete our billing form and send payment. If you can confirm this is done when you call, it expedites the process and we can get a surveyor to you quicker, often same or next day.
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