We often take calls at The Landmark Practice from homeowners who have been told by their local planning authority that a bat survey must be submitted as part of a domestic planning application, such as for a small-scale development involving house improvement, extension or roof works. This can be unwelcome news and can cause delay to what is, essentially, relatively minor development work.
All British bats are fully protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010. This legislation makes it an offence to destroy, damage or block access to a bat roost, or to deliberately or recklessly disturb, injure or kill any UK bat.
Local planning authorities are therefore legally obliged to consider whether bats are likely to be affected by any proposed development. As such, in instances where the planning authority has reason to think that development may impact on bats it should always ask for the information that is needed to inform decide the extent of any impact, and fully consider that information before determining the planning application.
There are 18 species of bat found in the UK, and all are species which have declined over the years and are protected by UK and EU legislation. Anyone disturbing a bat or interfering with its resting place, such as a roost site, is likely to be committing an offence. This is why if there is a possibility of a bat roost being present, a survey will be needed to inform the planning authority how the development is likely to affect any bats, the number of bats involved and the species.
Bats are nocturnal so it is easy for a non-specialist to overlook their presence. Different species will utilise a structure to roost in different ways. Some roost in small crevices, so may be found under tiles or small gaps, whilst others need flying space in which to ‘warm up’ so may be found in the loft itself.
Survey scope and who pays?
It is the responsibility of the person applying for planning permission to pay for the bat survey, and the survey must be carried out by an appropriately qualified ecologist who is experienced in site assessment for bats.
As well as the bat survey, the planning authority usually asks for information from the local Records Centre to establish if there are any known roosts within proximity of the site that could be impacted by the development. This information adds important context to the report of survey and helps the planning authority to make an informed decision whether to grant planning permission. If a mitigation strategy is required to ensure that bats and bat habitat are not damaged by the proposed development, a separate Natural England licence may also be needed, and the information from the Records Centre will be required to support the licencing process.
The first step, a building inspection, involves a brief external and internal assessment of features of potential interest to bats. This normally means that the ecologist must be able to access the loft space. Any evidence of bats, such as actual bat sightings, droppings, grease marks, urine stains and feeding remains will be recorded. Standard equipment used for building inspections includes an endoscope, bat detector, high-powered torch, ladder and inspection mirrors.
Based on the survey information, the building will then be categorised according to its potential to support roosting bats, and an assessment will also be made of the potential for surrounding habitats to support bats.
In some cases the building inspection may highlight the need for further surveys, for example if evidence of bats is found or if the potential for certain features to support bats cannot be ruled out. These further surveys usually involve a number of dusk emergence and dawn re-entry surveys, designed to check whether, what type and how many bats are using the building. In practical terms, the further survey involves an ecologist standing outside the building with a bat detector and observing the structure during the periods when which bats may emerge (at dusk) from and re-enter the building (at dawn). Several surveyors may be needed to check more larger buildings and those that have a number of possible exit and entrance points.
Bats hibernate during winter and are only fully active for part of each year, so dusk emergence and dawn re-entry surveys can only be done during their active period, from May to September, with the peak period being from May to August. The surveys are also weather dependent, as bats tend to avoid flight if conditions are too cold or wet.
Information to support the planning application
Once the survey is complete, a report should be prepared to accompany the planning application. For a small scale and straightforward scheme this can be a simple letter report, describing the work undertaken and evidence gathered, with any advice needed to guide bat mitigation and enhancement measures. For more complex schemes, or where significant bat interest has been found, a full technical report should be provided, and it should discuss how the scheme design and approach will ensure that legal and planning policy requirements will be met by the development.
There is no reason to assume that the presence of features used by roosting bats will prevent the grant of planning permission. The project ecologist, working alongside the client, architect and other technical advisers, is normally able to suggest ways to avoid development impacts on bats, such as careful timing of works or adapting the scheme design to avoid unacceptable impacts, which will allow the development to proceed. All of this means that it makes good sense to commission and complete bat surveys with time to spare before submission of a planning application.
Once planning permission is granted
When planning permission is granted it is likely that conditions will be attached to the Decision Notice. Any conditions relating to bats which deal with how the development will be implemented should normally be discharged before any works begin. Other conditions, usually for more complex sites, may include measures to monitor bat activity once development is completed. In this situation, the planning authority may ask for details of how the monitoring will be done before the development can be started or occupied. Any planning conditions should reflect recommendations made in the bat report submitted with the planning application.
Such planning conditions can enable development which would otherwise disturb or harm bats. Another route to development for which there is no way that works can be carried out that avoids impacts, is to seek a development licence from Natural England. The licence application can only be submitted once planning permission is granted and must be prepared by a qualified ecologist. The licence itself must be issued prior to any development activities taking place, so this route can cause delays to development.
How to get help
The planning process required to ensure that bat legislation is satisfied can be confusing for homeowners, who do not commonly have detailed experience of the planning and wildlife licencing system and may not have access to an architect or planner with experience of bat issues.
If you need technical and professional support on bats and planning, or any other aspect of how to steer a cost effective route through planning, please contact Alison Pike (Alison.Pike@thelandmarkpractice.com) or telephone 0117 9230455