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Bat survey Bristol

As Bristol’s wealth of historic buildings and abundant green spaces offer a range of bat habitats, any development proposals in the city are likely to involve a bat survey to satisfy the local authority that the law surrounding bats is being complied with.

Terraced houses in Clifton Village overlooking Bristol harbour in the south west of England.

About Bristol

Situated in the valleys of four rivers and the Severn estuary flood plain, Bristol has a rich maritime heritage stemming from its historic floating harbour which today is one of the city’s focal points. Bristol comprises a medieval section in the city centre, along with Georgian areas in Clifton and St Paul’s, Victorian neighbourhoods close to the city centre, and inter-war and post-war housing estates on its outskirts. It also boasts historic squares, 33 conservation areas, 73 historic parks and gardens, over 4,000 listed buildings, and over 80 designated wildlife sites. Bristol is a rapidly growing city in the south west, estimated to reach 550,000 inhabitants by 2050, and today it’s a centre for banking, professional services and insurance.

Bristol and development

Bristol’s Core Strategy aims to promote well-designed, high-density housing in the city centre, along with commercial buildings and leisure space. Regeneration schemes are targeted at the Northern Arc and Inner East areas, while Avonmouth remains an important industrial and warehousing location.

A new local plan will be in place by 2025, guiding growth to 2040. It aims to see 2,000 homes a year being built across the city, along with regeneration projects. By 2030, the plan aims to see a further 15,000+ new and affordable homes built since 2022, and at least 34,650 new homes built by 2040, alongside new neighbourhoods created across the city comprising housing, workplaces and leisure facilities.

Promoting urban living is a priority, with a focus on developing brownfield land to create vibrant centres across Bristol. A greater mix of land use in the city centre is planned and there are proposals for new development at the Western harbour, Bristol Temple Quarter, St Philip’s Marsh and Frome Gateway and Broadmead area, and expansion and redevelopment on the University of Bristol and Bristol Royal Infirmary sites. While planning applications for these sites are encouraged, there is a commitment to protecting Bristol’s historic environment and architectural heritage.

European protected species: a brown long eared bat, one of many species of bat common to Bristol.

Many species of bat are found in Bristol

Bristol’s older residential buildings offer opportunities for roosting bats in loft spaces which they access via gaps in gable ends, slate roofs or lifted tiles. Bat surveys may reveal some of the rarer bats found locally including greater horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum), lesser horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus hipposideros), Natterer’s bats (Myotis nattereri), noctule bats (Nyctalus noctula), Bechstein’s bats (Myotis bechsteinii), brown long-eared bats (Plecotus auritus), soprano pipistrelle bats (Pipistrellus pygmaeus) as well as the more common pipistrelle bats (Pipistrellus pipistrellus). Bats in Bristol are monitored by The Avon Bat Group which is affiliated with The Bat Conservation Trust.

European legislation

As a European protected species, bats are safeguarded by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, and the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017. It is a criminal offence to intentionally kill or deliberately capture bats, destroy a bat roost, recklessly disturb bats, obstruct their access or harm bats in any way and there are severe penalties for breaching the law surrounding bats and bat roosts.

Bat surveys

If there is a reasonable likelihood of roosting bats in a development site, or they are discovered following Preliminary Ecological Appraisals or Extended Phase 1 Habitat Surveys, bat surveys are likely to be required by local planning authorities before planning permission can be granted. Bat surveys involve licensed ecologists conducting a site assessment and completing a bat survey report which can be used to support a planning application. As well as bat roosts, a preliminary ecological appraisal may also reveal the presence of other European protected species such as great crested newts, barn owls and otters.

Preliminary Roost Assessments (PRAs)

Also known as a Phase 1 Bat Survey or Scoping Survey, this first stage bat survey involves an ecological consultant carrying out a desk study and a site visit to look for evidence of bats. The consultant will look for bat roosts, potential roosting sites in trees and buildings, dead bat carcasses, bat droppings, urine stains, feeding remains and suitable bat habitat.

A preliminary roost assessment will guide the next steps: if bat species are discovered, a second stage bat survey known as a bat emergence and re-entry survey will be needed. If there is no evidence of bats, the planning application should be able to proceed through the local planning authority’s planning process. This bat survey can be carried out at any time of the year.

Bat Emergence and Re-entry Surveys (BERS)

These surveys are also known as bat activity surveys, dawn re-entry surveys or dusk emergence surveys, and involve ecological consultants experienced in undertaking bat surveys visiting the site on several occasions. They will monitor potential entry and exit points for bats on buildings and use specialist equipment such as infrared and thermal imaging cameras and advanced bat detectors that record bat calls, enabling ecologists to calculate bat species and population numbers.

If your plans will impact bats, the bat survey report will include bat mitigation strategies to protect bats from being disturbed by the proposed scheme. Often installing bat boxes forms part of the mitigation measures which should satisfy local planning authorities and allow schemes to progress through the planning process.

These bat surveys can only be carried out in the bat season between mid-May and September. If it is necessary to move bats or destroy bat roosts, a European Protected Species Licence may be needed and can be obtained from Natural England and Natural Resources Wales.

Further surveys

In some cases, preliminary ecological appraisals, preliminary roost assessments, or bat emergence surveys may identify other protected species or habitats on the proposed development site. If habitats and species regulations are relevant, it will trigger the need for further protected species surveys such as habitat surveys, great crested newt surveys or reptile surveys.

Do you need bat surveys in Bristol?

The first step is to engage an ecological consultancy that employs fully licensed ecologists. They should regularly undertake bat surveys for local authorities and work to good practice guidelines. A professional consultant can provide expert advice about protected species regulations, and the steps to take to secure consent for planning applications.

If your plans will impact bats, it’s important to think about bat survey timings to avoid delays with your development timeframes: while a preliminary roost assessment can be carried out year-round, bat emergence surveys can only take place between May and September.

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