Protected species and your development?

Hibernating Doormouse

Why, how, and when to make that survey

In the UK a number of wildlife species are protected by legislation which makes it illegal to kill, injure, capture or disturb them and their habitat. For property developers and their contractors, ecological appraisals and protected species surveys are a requirement of the planning process and if evidence of the species is found when work is underway it could mean work must stop until an appropriate mitigation strategy and licence is obtained. Rosie Lodge, Ecologist and Sustainability Consultant at Eight Associates explains the reasons behind the legislation and the pitfalls to be avoided to stay on the right side of the law and the community …


Timing is critical; conducting surveys at the correct time of the year, when the species are active, can avoid delays in the planning process due to insufficient evidence, and the risk of hefty fines or criminal prosecution. From April the ecology survey season begins, as bats and great crested newt become more active after winter hibernation and breeding birds can be more easily identified.


There is a range of species that are protected; badgers, bats, birds, dormice, amphibians, reptiles, otters and water voles. Whilst the level of protection varies a little by species, the main legislation to note is the Wildlife & Countryside Act (1981) as amended, Countryside and Rights of Way Act (2000), the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations (2010) and for species of principle importance in England, the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act (NERC) 2006.


What are the penalties for getting it wrong? Breaking the law could mean up to six months in prison, a fine of £5,000 – and serious reputational damage. In January, a London-based housing development company was prosecuted by the Metropolitan Police Service for destroying a bat roost, fined £4,500, with £450 victim surcharge and costs. The company paid for an ecological survey to be carried out before demolition and building works started, but proceeded with the demolition even though the ecologists concluded that the buildings had a “high” probability of use by roosting bats and subsequent bat sightings.


Bats and breeding birds are arguably the most likely protected species to be encountered on a typical urban development project. There are 18 species living in the UK, and all are protected. It is 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. Changes made in 2007 makes incidental damage to the breeding site or resting place of any European bat species an offence too.


Bat roosts vary in size and for use (such as resting, breeding and hibernating). About half of all bat species use holes in trees for roosting. The other half use either caves or cavities, including those in buildings. A roost could be a crack in a tree, eaves of a house or railway tunnels. Both modern and traditional buildings provide crevice and tree-cavity spaces similar to those found in the natural environment. For example, these could include behind fascia, beneath roof tiles, chimneys, attics and cellars. And they don’t need to be large spaces; bats can crawl into openings of just 15mm x 20mm. So, even relatively small tasks, such as repairing a roof, converting a loft, or changing bats’ foraging habitat can harm bats.


If your project requires planning consent, the first step is for a suitably qualified ecologist to conduct a bat survey to assess the potential for or evidence of bats on site. If your project requires a site to be cleared, and there is a possibility that bats use a structure, then it should be surveyed by an ecologist prior to demolition.


Investigations could include internal and external building inspections, dusk bat emergence and dawn re-entry (detector) surveys, bat activity and bat hibernation surveys. The surveys identify whether bats are present on site, the type and number of bats, and how they are using the building or area. Inspections of trees and buildings, to determine the potential of the site to support bats, can occur at any time of year. However, bat detector surveys, used to confirm the presence or absence of bats, can only be conducted at certain times of the year, when bats are active. May to September is the timeframe within which to conduct detector surveys, with the best time to complete evening / dawn surveys being from May to late August when bats congregate in large maternity colonies. Missing the survey window can lead to insufficient evidence for, and significant delays in, the planning process.


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