An application for planning permission in Oxfordshire may well need to include a bat survey. If bats are found on your development site, you might have to carry out mitigation and compensation measures before your scheme can get the go-ahead from the local authority.
Bat habitat in Oxfordshire
Due to the varied habitats across Oxfordshire, it’s not unlikely that European-protected species such as bats will be impacted by many planning applications. Location is important for bats: suburban or semi-suburban settings provide a supply of food while natural features such as hedgerows help them navigate and caves make ideal roost sites.
However, bats can also be found in city centres, and Oxford provides many historic buildings offering roosting spaces. Older buildings are especially attractive to bats as they have lots of access and egress points; bats only need a 20mm space and they can squeeze through gaps provided by loose hanging tiles, window frames, and deteriorating bargeboards. Bats can also find a plentiful supply of insects in areas close to the many rivers such as the River Thames which flow through the county.
Oxfordshire and development
Local authorities in Oxfordshire are willing to grant planning permission for good development schemes. House prices are among the highest in the country here, and there is a shortage of housing stock. Oxford City Council has demonstrated that it supports more residential housing and other planning projects. Of course, all planning proposals must adhere to the law regarding bats and other protected species. Any scheme that will have a material impact on bats will need mitigation or compensation measures to allow it to proceed: these can include installing features such as bat boxes.
Bats in Oxfordshire
Of the 18 bat species that are native to the UK, 13 are found in Oxfordshire. These include the barbastelle bat (Barbastella barbastellus), Bechstein’s bat (Myotis bechsteinii), Brandt’s bat (Myotis brandtii), brown long-eared bat (Plecotus auritus), Daubenton’s bat (Myotis daubentonii), Leisler’s bat (Nyctalus leisleri), lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros), Nathusius’s pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus nathusii), Natterer’s bat (Myotis nattereri), Noctule bat (Nyctalus noctula), common pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus pipistrellus), serotine bat (Eptesicus serotinus), soprano pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmaeus) and whiskered bat (Myotis mystacinus).
Protection for bats
Bats are a European protected species and disturbing bats without permission is a criminal offence. Legislation in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 protects bats and all 17 European species of bat breeding in the UK are fully protected under Schedule 2 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017, preventing them from harm or disturbance or the destruction of bat roosts.
Local planning authorities, environmental groups, the Bat Conservation Trust, and the Oxfordshire Bat Group are all focused on protecting bats and ensuring the law is observed when it comes to planning and development. However, the discovery of bats on your development site does not mean the end for your project, but it does mean that a protocol must be followed.
If the presence of bats is indicated at your development site, possibly following a previous ecological survey such as a preliminary ecological appraisal or ecological impact assessment, a bat survey will be required.
Preliminary roost assessment
A preliminary roost assessment is the first stage in the bat surveying process and it involves an ecological consultant carrying out a desk study followed by a site visit to look for signs of bats such as bat carcasses, bat droppings, remains of prey or features that could support bat roosts.
If the bat surveyor detects the presence of bats, they will assess whether the proposed development could disturb bats. If the answer is yes, a bat emergence and re entry survey will be needed as the next step. If there is no evidence of bats, the development scheme should be able to proceed.
Bat emergence and re entry surveys
Also known as bat activity surveys, a bat emergence and re entry survey involves ecologists attending the site on several occasions at dusk and dawn to assess entry and exit points for bats and record bat calls to calculate bat species and population numbers. Using specialist equipment such as bat detectors they will assess the species of bat from echolocation calls and calculate bat populations. If no bats are found, the report will assure the local authority; if bats are present on the site, the report will contain mitigation measures for correctly dealing with the bats in your planning application. Mitigation measures might include installing bat boxes or relocating bats. It’s important to note that bat emergence and re entry surveys have a strict survey window between May and September.
European Protected Species Licence
While the two reports above will enable you to secure planning permission, if you need to move bats or destroy a roost you will need a European Protected Species Licence. These are issued by the statutory nature conservation organisations Natural England and Natural Resources Wales.
When both bat surveys are complete, the ecologist will complete a bat report detailing their findings. It will include mitigation or compensation measures that will protect bats and allow the scheme to proceed and support the planning application. The comprehensive nature of the bat survey report should enable the planning authority to make a decision.
Find a suitable ecological consultancy
It’s important to select a firm that employs fully licenced ecologists with extensive experience in conducting bat surveys for the relevant local authority.