Planning applications face delay if bat surveys not completed promptly

A key window of opportunity for planning applications is about to close as the bat survey season draws to an end – meaning potential delays of up to a year for construction projects.

Syntegra prides itself on a quick turnaround for all ecological surveys but we are bound by law to leave bats in peace between the end of September and early May – so our team can’t help you gather the required evidence for a successful planning application.

If you need a bat survey on your site, it’s not too late to get in touch – or if you know you’re going to be seeking approval for a planning application next year, get in touch early to kickstart the process at the earliest possible opportunity.

But given the fact no work can be carried out on sites where bats might be roosting, builders would do well to get in touch for a bat assessment ASAP to avoid unnecessary delays – or hefty fines if they go ahead with their work without the relevant surveys being conducted.


Our Director of Ecology Services, Trish Holden, answers a few critical questions about the presence of bats on potential building sites:

Which structures need a bat survey?
• It should be assumed that all structures require a bat survey to rule out the presence of a bat roost. Any proposed development which involves building works, such as demolition, building extension or refurbishment, barn conversions etc.

What does a bat survey involve?
• Initial Survey: Daytime bat inspection (aka preliminary roost assessment) consists of both an interior / exterior inspection
• However a daytime bat survey can’t always determine presence or absence (crevice bats are hard to detect!).

How do you grade a bat survey?
• Buildings/trees given potential rating: low, moderate, high or confirmed (ie droppings found, bats seen)

When are echolocation surveys carried out?
• If echolocation surveys are necessary, they must be carried out between May to August but depending on roost type it could be carried out in April and September.

How many visits are required by ecology experts?

• Bat Conservation Trust Survey Guidelines say a minimum of three surveys (2 dusks, 1 dawn, about two hours duration) are required to indicate absence from a suitable structure – this is for buildings with high potential and or confirmed presence

• Hedgerows, woodland, fields might also require an activity survey to show how the development might impact foraging / commuting bats

What does a species survey reveal?

• Phase II or Species Surveys are aimed at identifying the presence of a protected or priority species on a site and to provide evidence of: the population size, how the species uses the site, what time of year it is present and how the proposed development will impact on the protected species.

Who says a bat survey is necessary?

• The LPA has a statutory duty to consider the conservation, protection and enhancement of biodiversity when determining a planning application. The presence of European Protected Species, UK Protected Species, internationally, nationally or locally designated sites and priority habitats and species on or adjacent to a development site are material considerations within the planning process. The LPA must also consider the development in relation to its positive or negative impacts on environmental networks and priority landscape-scale areas for biodiversity.
• ODPM Government Circular 06/2005: Biodiversity and Geological Conservation –Statutory Obligations and their Impact within the Planning System which states that: ‘It is essential that the presence or otherwise of protected species, and the extent that they may be affected by the proposed development, is established before the planning permission is granted, otherwise all relevant material considerations may not have been addressed in making the decision. The need to ensure ecological surveys are carried out should therefore only be left to coverage under planning conditions in exceptional circumstances, with the result that the surveys are carried out after planning permission has been granted.’

Which legislation is relevant for bats and roosts?

• In England and Wales, the relevant legislation is the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) (as amended); the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, 2000; the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act (NERC, 2006); and by the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations (2017).

How does the law protect bats?

• You’re committing a criminal offence if you do any of the following:

1. Deliberately capture, injure or kill a bat
2. Intentionally or recklessly disturb a bat in its roost or deliberately disturb a group of bats
3. Damage or destroy a bat roosting place (even if bats are not occupying the roost at the time)
4. Possess or advertise/sell/exchange a bat (dead or alive) or any part of a bat
5. Intentionally or recklessly obstruct access to a bat roost

Who do you carry out surveys for?

So far this season, we’ve carried out surveys for schools, care homes, factories, hotels, industrial estates, farms, garages and private addresses up and down the country.

What happens if bats are roosting on a potential construction site?

If roosts are identified, the ecologist will work with the developer to provide alternative roosting sites nearby or within the new building project for example leaving cement out under ridge tiles providing a route to a void within roof spaces.
European Protected Species Licenses are often required if the works will damage/destroy the roost. The EPSL is applied for after planning permission is granted. Natural England will grant EPSL as long as it meets the 3 tests under the Habitats Regulations. The EPSL will work with the developer and architect to design a alternative roosting space.
If a roost has to be destroyed, it can only happen from September 1st when the bats should have left, and a replacement one has to be ready for bats to use by the following April when they might return.

Why do bats matter?

Bats play an important role in many environments controlling pests by eating insects. Pipistrelles, for example, can eat upwards of 3,000 insects in a night – including mayflies, lacewings, small moths, midges, caddis flies and mosquitoes.
While bats can provide a valuable service for agriculture, some agricultural practices can have a detrimental impact on bats. Increased use of pesticides may mean that bats go hungry from the lack of insect prey. The destruction of hedgerows and woods in farmland is also concerning, as bats rely on these features for roosting, traversing grounds/commuting and foraging grounds and getting around.
Table detailing the legal and conservation status of all UK bats (BCT)

Having bats roosting within a building does not necessarily mean that work cannot be carried out but attention will need to be paid to the project timescales and types of materials used so the site can be used by humans and bats alike. A suitable outcome working to find the best solution for the bats utilising the site, and the proposals, is always sought by planners – with the ecological survey input – liaising with developers.
For details on the assistance our ecological team can provide at Syntegra for a bat survey, please get in touch today or visit https://syntegragroup.com/m-and-e/services/specialist-planning-reports/ecology-habitat-survey-report/ for more information about our service and the cost of a bat survey.

* In 2015, world leaders agreed to 17 goals for a better world by 2030. https://www.globalgoals.org/ These goals have the power to end poverty, fight inequality and stop climate change. Guided by the goals, it is now up to all of us, governments, businesses, civil society and the general public to work together to build a better future for everyone. Syntegra’s work is underpinned by many of the goals.


Goal 15 states: A flourishing life on land is the foundation for our life on this planet. We are all part of the planet’s ecosystem and we have caused severe damage to it through deforestation, loss of natural habitats and land degradation. Promoting a sustainable use of our ecosystems and preserving biodiversity is not a cause. It is the key to our own survival.


15.5: PROTECT BIODIVERSITY AND NATURAL HABITATS
Take urgent and significant action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity and, by 2020, protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species.