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Bat survey Essex

If you have plans to develop a site or demolish a building in Essex, you will likely need a bat survey as part of the path to securing planning permission.

While local authorities are pro-development as Essex has an acute housing shortage and a rapidly rising population, planning consent will not be granted at the expense of legally protected species, including bats.

Old timber-framed buildings like these in Colchester’s Dutch Quarter, offer opportunities for roosting bats.

Essex and development

Essex enjoys an excellent strategic location and plays a key role in the UK economy. Growth predictions mean that Essex needs new development in terms of jobs and housing. The north and central parts of Essex – Chelmsford, Colchester, Braintree and Tendring – are forecast to see significant new growth over the coming decades and the upcoming local plan will allocate areas to accommodate new garden communities and strategic growth locations.

Chelmsford, Essex’s largest city, is forecast to be the major location for new homes and jobs. There has been a major expansion at the Bond Street centre to create 27,900 sqm of retail and leisure floorspace and the local plan aims to improve the West End quarter of the city to maximise city centre opportunities. Chelmsford has 700 hectares of recreational space, parks, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and nature reserves, which include a range of habitats, high biodiversity levels and sites of local national and European significance.

There is a scheme for a new garden community on the Tendring and Colchester border to meet housing needs for the next 40 years: the Tendring Colchester Borders Garden Community will comprise high-quality homes, employment land and green spaces, and will reduce pressure on existing towns to expand across north Essex. Braintree is set to see 4,000 new homes, with over 2,000 planned for around the town of Witham and its service villages in the District Local Plan to 2033. Harlow district council has identified several sites for housing development including new garden communities to the south and west of the town.

Bat habitat in Essex

Many of Essex’s towns include medieval and listed buildings which provide ideal roosting habitats for bats. Bats can squeeze under slate roofs and gable ends to access dry loft spaces. Rural areas close to Epping Forest also offer suitable bat habitats as bats roost in trees; tree lines aid foraging bats as they navigate, and woodland provides a wealth of insects for them to feed on. Bats are also found in coastal areas and have been sighted near the cliff face at The Naze Nature Reserve, and it is believed that Essex may lie on a bat migration route between the UK and Europe.

Bat species in Essex

Of the 18 UK bat species, there are 10 bat species found in this southern England county, the most widespread being the common pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) and the soprano pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus pygmaeus). Other species sighted in Essex are the Nathusius’ pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus nathusii), brown long-eared bat (Plecotus auritus), Daubenton’s bat (Myotis daubentonii), Natterer’s bat (Myotis nattereri), Serotine bat (Eptesicus serotinus) Leisler’s bat (Nyctalus leisleri), Noctule bat (Nyctalus noctula) and the Barbastelle bat (Barbastella barbastellus). Whiskered bats and parti-coloured bats have been recorded just once, according to Essex Bat Group which monitors local bat activity.

Protection for bats

UK bats are one of several listed protected species under 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 deliberately kill or deliberately capture bats, destroy a bat roost, obstruct access or harm bats. The Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) protects all UK bat species and enforces Natural England guidelines on dealing correctly with bats.

A bat survey in progress.

Bat surveys

If bats have been sighted on a proposed development site, or a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA) or an Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA) have identified potential roost sites, a bat survey will be required. A Preliminary Roost Assessment is the first step in the planning process.

Preliminary Roost Assessments (PRAs)

These bat surveys involve a desktop study by a professional ecologist, followed by a physical inspection of the proposed development site. Experienced ecologists will search for evidence of the presence of bats, including potentially suitable roosting features, bat roosts, bat droppings, feeding remains, urine stains and bat carcasses. If the conclusion is a likely absence of bats, or that the proposed scheme would not impact bats, this will be explained in the bat survey report as a recommendation to the local planning authority that planning permission can be granted.

Further ecological surveys

If bats are found or the presence of bats cannot be eliminated, further survey work is needed, usually a bat emergence and re-entry survey. If the PRA identified suitable habitats for other protected species such as great crested newts, barn owls or water voles, habitat management plans may be needed and could result in habitat creation recommendations. Likewise, further protected species surveys, ecology surveys or ecological impact assessments may be required.

Bat Emergence and Re-entry Survey (BERS)

Also known as a bat activity survey or a bat emergence survey, BERS can only be carried out between the summer months of May and September. Bat surveyors will monitor the site at dusk and dawn on several occasions to check potential entry and exit points on buildings for roosting bats. Experienced ecologists will use bat detectors to listen to bat calls, enabling species identification and an assessment of population numbers.

Mitigation measures

If the bat survey finds evidence of bats, consultants will recommend suitable mitigation strategies in the bat survey report such as relocating bats or installing bat boxes. When implemented, these mitigation schemes will enable the local council to grant planning permission. If there is no evidence of bats, the bat report will clarify this.

Preliminary roost assessments and bat activity surveys will provide all the information that a local planning authority will need to approve an application for planning permission, however, it may be necessary to move or disturb bats on some sites. If so, a European Protected Species License will be required and a bat consultant can apply to Natural England for a bat licence.

Need a bat survey in Essex?

Engage an ecology consultancy with a proven track record in conducting bat survey work for the local planning authority you are dealing with. Ensure that they employ fully qualified bat surveyors with extensive experience in ecology surveys so that you can benefit from their expert advice, helping you secure success with your planning application and get your proposed works off the ground.

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