Bat surveys to validate planning applications
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 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 and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017. 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. Anyone disturbing a bat or interfering with its resting place, such as a roost site, is likely to be committing an offence.
Local planning authorities are legally obliged to consider whether bats are likely to be affected by any proposed development before determining the planning application.
Bat surveys – what’s involved and who pays?
It is the responsibility of the person applying for planning permission to arrange and pay for the bat survey, and the survey must be carried out by an appropriately qualified and experienced ecologist.
The first step, a building inspection, involves a visit by an experienced ecologist to make a brief external and internal assessment of features of potential interest to bats. Based on the survey information, the building will then be categorised according to its potential to support roosting bats (high, medium, low) 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 watching for bats that may emerge from (at dusk) and re-enter the building (at dawn).
Timing is critical
Bats go into torpor (a sort of hibernation) 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.
Bat survey reporting
Once the survey is complete, a report is prepared to accompany the planning application. For a small scale and straightforward scheme this can be a simple letter report. For more complex schemes, or where significant bat interest has been found, a full technical report will be prepared.
The presence of bat roosts within your building will not result in planning permission being denied. 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. Roosting features for bats will be need to be incorporated into the design.
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
Bat planning conditions
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 (e.g. a Bat Monitoring Strategy document). Another common bat related planning condition is for a lighting plan to ensure important areas for bats are protected from light pollution. The bat conservation trust brought out new guidance in 2018 in relationship to bats and lighting.
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.
For development for which there is no way that works can be carried out that avoids impacts to bats a development licence must be sought from Natural England (also known as European Protected Species Licence EPSL). 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. We have several licenced bat workers within the Ecology team.
Bats and BREXIT
Whilst the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 are drawn down from EU legislation DEFRA has confirmed that these Regulations will remain in force without any of the amendments relating to BREXIT* from Exit day (31st January 2020) until Implementation Period Completion day (31st December 2020). This means that until 31 December 2020 the status quo for bats (as described above) and other European Protected Species will apply.
How to get help
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 the ecology team at The Landmark Practice on firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 0117 9230455.
*As a result of provisions in the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, any proposed amendments made by The Conservation of Habitats and Species (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 are suspended until Implementation Period Completion Day.