If you are considering a property development in Norfolk, there’s a good chance that you will need to submit a bat survey with your planning application.
Your scheme may well be able to go ahead if bats are present on your site, but mitigation and compensation measures may need to be carried out first to satisfy the local planning authority.
Development in Norfolk
Population growth means that there’s a demand for housing and jobs in Norfolk, but development must be balanced with protecting the county’s diverse natural environment. There are numerous sensitive sites across the county such as the Waveney River Catchment and areas of ancient woodland, which provide habitat for bat roosts.
In north Norfolk the population is expected to grow to 112,078 by 2036. The key challenge is to provide the required housing, jobs, and infrastructure while conserving the natural environment. The draft North Norfolk Local Plan 2016-2036 aims to see climate-resilient sustainable development in line with the National Planning Policy Framework, that will meet today’s needs without compromising future generations. It wants to ensure that the right amount of land, of the right type and in the right local area, is available to build a strong economy, good quality homes and jobs.
The focus of the adopted South Norfolk and Broadland Joint Core Strategy is to enhance the environment, identify land for providing 37,000 additional homes, secure 27,000 new jobs of all types and maintain essential infrastructure. It also aims to renovate buildings so they are more energy efficient, promote biodiversity and prevent flooding. To achieve these aims, development must be located to mimimise its impact on the environment and a range of energy-efficient housing must be built, alongside improvements to nature. A particularly sensitive area is the Suffolk Brecks, an area of heathland running across South Norfolk.
Norwich is the focus for new homes due to the availability of jobs and services. While the priority is developing brownfield sites where possible, greenfield development in Broadland and South Norfolk is unavoidable. Developing market towns and larger villages to an appropriate scale is a key part of the strategy.
Bat habitat in Norfolk
North Norfolk is known for its coastal habitats including beaches, salt marsh, reedbed and grazing marsh. There are also woodlands: a mix of coniferous, deciduous woods and ancient woodlands at Foxley and Swanton Novers, as well as heathland, ponds, historic parkland, chalk rivers and a range of building types all providing ideal bat habitat.
The south of the county sees more arable farming, and there are also ancient woodlands, grassland, veteran trees, and hedgerows that support several European Protected Species such as bats, barn owls and great crested newts. Legislation makes it an offence to harm or disturb protected species of animals or plants, and if your proposed development site has the potential to host such species, a protected species survey may be required.
Bat species in Norfolk
Bat distribution is widespread across Norfolk: species include the common pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus pipistrellus), soprano pipistrelle bat (pipistrellus pygmaeus), Nathusius’ pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus nathusii), brown long-eared bat (Plecotus auratus), Noctule bat (Nyctalus noctule), Serotine bat (Eptesicus serotinus), Leisler’s bat (Nyctalus leisleri), Daubenton’s bat (Myotis daudentonii), and the barbastelle bat (Barbastella barbastellus).
Bat groups in Norfolk
The Norfolk and Norwich Bat Group, which is affiliated with the Bat Conservation Trust, works to protect and raise awareness of bats in the local area and assesses bat distribution across the county via bat monitoring centres. There are approximately 17 resident species of bat in Britain and at least 12 species have been recorded by the Norwich Bat Group in Norfolk in recent years.
Guidance on bats is available from organisations including the Bat Conservation Trust, the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) and Natural England.
Arranging a Norfolk bat survey
If there is a likelihood of the presence of bats on your proposed development site, or your plans could potentially impact bats, a bat survey will be required. An earlier ecological survey such as a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal or an Ecological Impact Assessment may have triggered the need for further surveys to provide more information.
Stage 1: the Preliminary Roost Assessment.
The stage one bat survey involves a bat surveyor inspecting a site for signs of bat activity. This survey often follows a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal. The surveyor will make a thorough inspection of the local area, looking for bat roosts, feeding remains, bat droppings, dead bat carcasses and suitable habitat for supporting roosting bats. If no evidence of the presence of bats is detected on the site, a recommendation that planning permission be granted will be sent to the local authority. If the presence of bats cannot be eliminated, ecological consultants will need to carry out further bat surveys known as Bat Emergence and Re-entry surveys.
Stage 2: Bat Emergence and Re-entry Surveys.
These surveys are also known as bat activity surveys or dusk entry and dawn re-entry surveys. This survey requires that the proposed development site is surveyed ideally on consecutive nights by ecologists at three different points to monitor potential entry and exit locations. Bat Emergence and Re-entry surveys have a strict timeframe: the survey season runs from mid-May to September. There have been recent advances in the equipment used by consultants when conducting bat surveys: advanced bat detectors are used to record bat calls, enabling surveyors to assess bat species and population numbers in the local area.
Detailed information from the bat survey will be logged into a report including bat mitigation measures designed to ensure that the proposed scheme will not disturb bats. The information provided should comply with the local authority’s conditions, enabling the application to be approved.
Further bat surveys
While the two bat surveys above will enable you to secure planning permission, a European Protected Species Licence may be needed to move or disturb bats or destroy roosts. If you need a bat mitigation class licence as part of your planning application because your scheme will affect bats, these are issued by the statutory nature conservation organisation Natural England. In some cases, bat hibernation surveys will be required by the local authority.
Find a Norfolk bat survey firm
The first step is to identify an ecological consultancy with experience in conducting bat surveys. They should employ fully licensed bat surveyors who are experienced in completing bat surveys for the relevant local planning authority.
To avoid delays in the planning process, it’s important to remember that while Preliminary Roost Assessments and Preliminary Ecological Appraisal can be carried out at any time of year, the bat survey season means that Bat Emergence and Re-entry Surveys can only be carried out between May and September.