Bats and Buildings
By taking bats into account prior to starting work or purchasing a property, you will:
• Minimise any costs and delays
• Help to avoid disturbing bats or their roosts, which means you will be avoiding the risk of prosecution and helping to conserve an important protected species.
Protection and the law
In the UK, due to the decline in bat numbers in the last century, all species of bat are protected by the Wildlife & Countryside Act (1981) as amended, Countryside and Rights of Way Act (2000) and the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations (2010). This makes it illegal to deliberately or recklessly kill, injure, capture or disturb bats, obstruct access to bat roosts or damage or destroy bat roosts, whether occupied or not.
Why do bats roost in buildings?
There are 17 different species of bats that breed in England and Wales, some very rare, others still quite widespread. These fascinating mammals are heavily dependent on buildings as they often use them as roosts at different times of the year.
As natural roosting sites have become scarce due to development and land use change, so the number of artificial roost sites has increased in the form of houses, mines, barns, etc. These man-made roosts can provide stable micro-climates for the bats.
Loss of natural roosts has increased the importance of man-made structures for bats to the point that artificial roosts are becoming essential in the survival of many bat species.
However even these man-made roosts are now under threat; demolition of old buildings, renovations, changes in use, artificial lighting and the move towards air-tight buildings, all have implications for bat populations using buildings.
Where in the building?
In buildings a range of possible roosting opportunities exist that mimic those found in the natural environment. Crevice-like or tree cavity type spaces include those found in both modern and traditional houses such as behind fascia and barge boarding, spaces beneath roof tiles, wall coatings, hollow mortice joints, rain gutters and chimneys. Cave-like spaces include attics and cellars that are dark, exhibiting stable temperatures and humidity.
Maintenance, repairs and alterations
Having bats does not mean that building work, roof repairs, pest control or timber treatment cannot take place. However, you should consult your local Statutory Nature Conservation Organisation (SNCO) before work starts and follow their advice on how to proceed. In many cases they will send a trained licensed volunteer bat worker to inspect your roost and provide advice, free of charge.
It is important to allow sufficient time ahead of the work to allow the SNCO to comment.
Finding bats during building works
It is always important to keep in mind the possibility of finding bats when doing any work to buildings. If bats are found during works, the work should stop and your local SNCO should be consulted immediately.
Bats and Planning
If you’re planning application involves any of the following:
• Any building or structure with an existing Environmental Records Centre (ERC) bat record or subject to a report of bat activity
• Demolition of an existing house
• Conversion of house attic space – includes installation of roof lights or dormer windows
• House extensions that tie-in to an existing enclosed roof space
• Renovation or conversion of derelict building (structures with roofs)
• Conversion or demolition of agricultural barns / farm buildings (structures with roofs)
You will need to have a bat check carried out, by a licensed bat worker, prior to submission of the application to your Local Planning Authority. This will include the following stages:
• Undertake a bat survey (at the appropriate time of year)
• If bats are present, compile a mitigation plan/method statement to be shared with architects and/or building contractors
• Incorporate the bat survey report and mitigation plan/method statement into planning application
• Apply for planning permission
• Apply for an EPS license (if needed)
• If granted, carry out works with ecologist supervision
• Compliance check to ensure that mitigation is being properly implemented
• Monitor the site to check response of the bat population to the mitigation
What does a bat survey of a building or structure involve?
The first step is a thorough visual check. This is an exhaustive internal and external inspection of the building to look for evidence of bats; such as bat droppings and roost entrance/exit holes. It is important that the bat worker has access to the roof space and all parts of the building affected by the proposed development.
If no bats or evidence of bats are found, then a negative certificate will be issued to you by the consultant, this must be submitted with your planning application. This is valid for three years.
If bats or evidence of bats are found then this is deemed a positive check and the consultant will advise you on how best to proceed. In all instances a Bat Mitigation Plan will need to be completed by the consultant, alongside their bat survey and report to ensure there is adequate mitigation in place that can be secured through a planning condition.
There is no reason why the presence of bats should put you off buying or renovating a property. If you’re thinking of buying a property be sure to check for bats as this will have implications for the future management of the building. Protected species management and greater ecological awareness are simply a part of everyday life and the key to living with bats is awareness and forward planning.
Many thanks to the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) for providing the majority of the information and images detailed in this article. Further information on bats can be found on the BCT website. They can also provide you with details of your local bat group.
Bat Conservation Trust
National Bat Helpline: 0845 1300 228