In December 2020 a housing developer, Bellway Homes, was fined £600,000 – a record fine in the UK for wildlife crime – for destroying the roost of a protected bat species. In addition to the fine, Bellway was ordered to pay £31,000 in legal costs and agreed to make a voluntary charitable donation of £20,000.

This case demonstrates the importance for landowners, developers and other organisations involved in construction projects of carefully considering the environmental and wildlife impacts of works. Failure to do so risks a significant financial penalty, adverse publicity and damage to reputation.

All bats are protected species in the UK. Other species are also protected and, for instance, offences can be committed in relation to:

  • the destruction of badger setts
  • the destruction of certain birds and their nests
  • damage to certain animals living underground such as voles
  • damage to certain animals living in water

Increased enforcement and penalties

The record fine for Bellway comes at a time of increasing focus on wildlife crime across the UK.

In our experience, specialist regulatory authorities such as wildlife crime police officers are becoming increasingly robust in investigating suspected breaches. In addition, in Scotland the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020 is in the course of being implemented. One of the key purposes of that Act is to increase the maximum sentences available in respect of a range of wildlife offences.

Takeaways for construction organisations

The Bellway fine demonstrates the severe consequences of failing to identify and properly manage the risks posed to wildlife during construction works.

Against the backdrop of increasingly robust regulatory enforcement, and given the significant risks associated with falling to comply with wildlife legislation, construction sector organisations should take steps to mitigate the risk of impact on wildlife.

That may include seeking expert advice before works commence and engaging with NatureScot (formerly known as Scottish Natural Heritage) and local authorities around licences for certain projects. Senior individuals on site should also be tasked with monitoring the manner in which works are carried out ensuring they are done so in way that doesn't risk a wildlife offence.

Contributors

Ramsay Hall

Legal Director

Tony Convery

Associate