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Bat survey Kent

With its historic towns, coastline and large rural expanses, Kent offers a wide range of bat habitats which make it home to many of the 18 bat species native to the UK.

While finding bats on your development site does present a challenge, it is still possible to achieve planning consent. Development schemes must demonstrate that if bats are present, they will be managed according to the strict legislation that safeguards them as a protected species. A bat survey will prove to the local council that you have considered bats and carried out the appropriate bat mitigation strategies on-site to protect them.

Medieval half-timbered houses in Canterbury Old Town, Kent on the River Stour. Source: Shutterstock.

Kent and development

Kent is the largest English county with the largest population of all the English counties at 1.589m. It has seen rapid housebuilding in some areas which has resulted in overdevelopment, putting pressure on infrastructure. Kent County Council will support strategic opportunities for growth by delivering sites and premises and supporting new business and investment expansion that creates high-value jobs. It aims to regenerate town centres, promote economic development, and improve deprived coastal communities.

South east England is under increasing development pressure: homes, jobs and businesses are planned and Kent County Council and other local authorities such as Sevenoaks, Maidstone and Canterbury are potentially minded to approve suitable planning applications. However, developers must demonstrate in planning applications the measures they will take to protect the environment which could include bat habitat.

Habitat and environmental protection

Kent has a unique position as the gateway to Europe and its identity as the Garden of England means that it must protect the environment and biodiversity. Local authorities in Kent are keen to halt the decline in wildlife and have taken steps to expand the number and diversity of habitats. The Kent Biodiversity Action Plan sets targets for this which have implications for developers, and the Framing Kent’s Future strategy document 20220-2026 adopts an `infrastructure first’ approach to development, aiming to support rural areas and protect the natural environment.

One of the major developments in Kent is the Ebbsfleet Garden City: 20 minutes from central London, it’s set to become a regional centre in north Kent for growth, homes, offices and business areas. By 2035 it is projected to include 15,000 new properties and 32,000 new jobs for residents.

Bat habitat in Kent

There has been a dramatic decline in bat numbers and Kent County Council is keen to reverse this. Bat habitat can be found in cliffs and coastal areas, trees and older buildings with gaps in slate roofs and gable ends offer bat roosting opportunities: bats can often squeeze through tiny gaps to access dry loft spaces. Wooded areas also provide sites for roosting bats and hibernating bats, along with areas near water that attract insects for bats to feed on.

Native bat populations in Kent

The most abundant of this protected species are the Common Pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) and the Soprano Pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus pygmaeus), along with the Nathusius’ pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus nathusii), brown long-eared bat (Plecotus auritus) Brandt’s bat (Myotis brandti), whiskered bat (Myotis mystacinus), Alcathoe bat (Myotis alcathoe), Daubenton’s bat (Myotis daubentonii), Natterer’s bat (Myotis nattereri), Bechstein’s bat (Myotis bechsteinii), Noctule bat (Nyctalus noctula) and the Leisler’s bat (Nyctalus leisleri).

Protected species: Greater horseshoe bats.

Rare bat species

Kent also hosts the rare Greater horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum) and the Serotine bat (Eptesicus serotinus). Other rare bat sightings include a single Greater mouse-eared bat (Myotis myotis), a male Pond bat (Myotis dasycneme), Kuhl’s pipistrelle bats (Pipistrellus kuhlii), and a single Lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros) has been recorded hibernating in Dover each year since 2020. The rarer bat species are believed to have arrived from the continent, encouraged by climate change.

Bats and the law

A highly 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.

Anyone carrying out development that is detrimental to local bats, bat roosts or their habitat could face criminal prosecution, with penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment. The Kent Bat Group monitors the county’s bats and offers information to members of the public in the south east about bats. The Bat Conservation Trust provides national guidance about bats.

An ecological surveyor carries out bat survey work.

Phase 1 and 2 bat surveys to support planning applications

If you plan to develop a site known or suspected to house bats, a bat survey will be required. The presence of bats or bat roosts may have been identified in a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal/Extended Phase 1 Habitat Survey which would consider all protected species on the site. Finding evidence of bats such as a bat roost or potential roost sites would mean that a Preliminary Roost Assessment is required to investigate further before the local council can grant planning consent.

Preliminary Roost Assessment

Preliminary roost assessments (PRAs) or bat scoping surveys are the first step in the bat survey process. A bat surveyor will make a site visit and inspect it for evidence of bats, such as bat roosts, potential bat roost sites, or gaps in slate roof tiles or brickwork. Bat surveyors will also look for bat droppings, feeding remains and bat carcasses.

If there is evidence of bat activity, the bat consultant will assess how the development proposals would impact bats. If it is found that bats would be affected, further bat surveys may be required before mitigation strategies can be worked on. If there is no evidence of bats on the development site, or the ecological surveyor concludes that the scheme would not affect bats, the findings of this phase 1 survey should convince the local authority that planning consent can be granted. Preliminary bat roost surveys are carried out in daylight hours and at any time of the year.

Bat Emergence and Re-entry Survey (BERS)

This bat survey involves bat ecologists monitoring the development site on several occasions to establish potential entry and exit points for bats, along with potential bat roosts, possible maternity roosts, or signs of hibernation roosts. The bat surveys are carried out at dusk and dawn; ecological consultants use specialist equipment such as infrared cameras and bat detectors to identify bat species and assess population numbers.

Surveyors will recommend suitable bat mitigation measures for the site, such as installing bat boxes. The bat survey report will contain details of the survey methods and provide the local authority with all the information needed to approve a planning application. In some cases, it may be necessary to relocate bats, in which case consultants must hold European Protected Species Licences or Bat Mitigation Class Licences which are issued by Natural England and Natural Resources Wales. These bat surveys are also known as bat emergence surveys, nocturnal bat surveys, bat activity surveys, or dusk and dawn re entry surveys.

Timing your bat survey is important

Bat emergence and re entry surveys must be carried out during the bats’ active season in the summer months between May and September, whereas a preliminary roost assessment can be undertaken at any time of year. Bear in mind that the bat survey process may identify other protected species or sensitive habitats, leading to further surveys being needed such as a great crested newt survey, a badger survey, a barn owl survey, tree surveys or a protected habitat survey.

How to arrange a bat survey in Kent

The first step is to identify Kent bat surveyors with experience across a range of bat survey services. The firm you select must employ fully licensed ecological consultants who hold the correct bat licences for ecological surveys such as an epsm licence.

Finding the right ecological consultancy will mean that you can rely on the expert advice of bat consultants to guide you through the planning process; they will be able to recommend mitigation strategies that will achieve planning consent for your scheme. Remember that it’s vital to work out the timing of your bat surveys to avoid delays to your project: bat emergence and re entry surveys can only be carried out between April and October with the optimal timeframe being between May and September, while preliminary roost assessments can be carried out all year round.

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