Bats have long been associated with Halloween. One theory is that bonfires built to celebrate the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain on 31 October attracted bugs which in turn attracted bats looking for food ahead of their winter hibernation.
Bonfires are one thing; but bats on a development site can be a decidedly more haunting experience.
Legal protection for Scottish Bats
All species of bats occurring in Scotland are classed as European Protected Species under the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 (as amended). This strictly regulates the protection of bats, meaning if your proposed development might result in the disturbance, capture, harm or destruction of bats and/or their roosts, an offence may be committed.
Preliminary Bat Surveys
If the presence of bats is identified during site investigations before or during the planning application stage, you are going to need Batman/woman as the planning authority will require a bat survey to be undertaken by a person with appropriate knowledge and practical experience of bat survey work. This might impact on your project timetable as while initial roost inspection surveys on buildings can be carried out at any time of year, surveys that require bats to be active, such as detection of maternity roosts, can only be carried out during the summer.
If there are bats in your particular belfry, various measures can be taken to protect the bats and allow development to proceed. NatureScot advises a hierarchy of avoidance, mitigation and compensation measures.
- Avoidance: redesign the development to avoid damage or disturbance to bat roosts, or timing the works so to avoid the breeding season i.e. when the roosts are primarily in use.
- Mitigation: where preservation of the bat habitat is difficult, mitigation measures might include temporarily excluding bats from a roost during works or minimising new lighting around roosts.
- Compensation: although retaining the original roost location is always preferable, bats can be re-housed by creating alternative roosting sites, such as putting up bat boxes.
Licensing development works
The destruction of a roost, or exclusion of bats from a roost (whether temporary or permanent) will require a licence from Nature Scot.
A licence to permit development will only be granted if it can be demonstrated that:
- the development will achieve a significant social, economic or environmental benefit;
- there is no satisfactory solution or alternative that would avoid or significantly reduce the impact on the protected species; and.
- the development will not be detrimental to maintaining the species at a favourable conservation status.
Non-compliance with the regulatory requirements
The cost of not complying with the rules around protected species is highlighted in the recent case involving a Derby-based property developer.
The developer had obtained a licence which permitted the capture, disturbance and transport of bat resting sites subject to conditions. The developer was prosecuted for breaching conditions, including failing to install compensation and mitigation measures, namely specific ridge cervices and access tiles to allow bats to roost within the roof, and failing to carry out post-development monitoring.
These breaches left the bats with no suitable maternity roosting sites, resulting in a fine of almost £14,500.
There have been similar cases in the past with Bellway Homes proceeding with the demolition of buildings with neither mitigation measures or a licence in place, resulting in a record fine of £600,000.
Bats can be a developer's nightmare. Make sure you avoid any horror stories by following the proper procedures.