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Bat survey Plymouth

Plymouth’s range of commercial and residential property, from historical naval buildings to pre-war terraced houses, offers potential opportunities for bat occupancy. If you are planning a development scheme in Plymouth and bats are known or suspected to inhabit your site, a bat survey will be needed to gauge the next steps.

Plymouth Barbican and Plymouth Hoe.

Development in Plymouth

Plymouth’s naval heritage was a major factor in its growth and early prosperity, and the Devonport dockyard and defence sector still provides significant employment. Plymouth is also a centre of excellence for marine science and manufacturing and benefits from a major science park and three universities. The city is surrounded by valuable natural environment including Dartmoor National Park, the Tamar Valley, the South Devon and Cornwall Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and several European protected wildlife sites designated under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations.

Growth and regeneration are priorities for the city in the Plymouth & South West Devon Joint Local Plan 2014-2034: a successful Plymouth will benefit rural Devon and the plan wants to strengthen its role as the major regional city for commerce and employment in the south west. The Joint Local Plan vision is for Plymouth to be one of Europe’s most vibrant waterfront cities, offering a great quality of life and being an economic driver for the wider area. While the city centre has environmental, geographical and topographical constraints, the city council wants more development there and schemes include regeneration and replacement of poor-quality housing stock in Devonport, North Prospect and Barne Barton.

It also aims to deliver growth in the waterfront area, the Derriford and Northern Corridor Growth Area, and the Eastern Corridor Growth Area. There is a need for new homes, jobs and services: 71% of the overall housing requirement is directed at the Plymouth Policy Area, with regeneration of previously developed sites a key focus, including a large urban extension at Woolwell and a new community at Sherford. The Joint Local Plan includes 69 allocations for housing development in the Plymouth local planning authority areas.

Bats present in Devon

Bats roost in trees, barn conversions, older residential houses and industrial buildings. They like to access warm, dry loft spaces via tiny gaps in slate roofs, lifted tiles and gable ends. Due to its mild climate, diverse landscape and low levels of light pollution, Devon hosts a large number of Britain’s breeding bat species. Rare bats found here include lesser and greater horseshoe bats, Nathusius’ pipistrelle bats, brown long-eared bats and grey long-eared bats.

The Devon Bat Group, a Bat Conservation Trust partner, looks after bats in the county, while bats nationally are monitored by Natural England and the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management.

European protected species: a grey long-eared bat, one of many species of roosting bats found in Devon.

UK legislation and bats

It is a criminal offence to disturb bats and bat roosts without permission. Schedule 2 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 protects all 17 European bat species breeding in the UK, making it an offence to intentionally kill or deliberately capture bats, destroy a bat roost, recklessly disturb bats, obstruct access or harm bats in any way. Bats are also protected by legislation in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, and the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006.

If bats are suspected to inhabit your development site, there is a strict procedure to follow to avoid harming bats. If bats are discovered, bat surveys will clarify the best steps to take: providing that the law is observed and recommended mitigation measures are carried out, the proposed development work may be able to proceed.

Bat surveys

The requirement for bat surveys often follows bat sightings or evidence of bats may be detected during a preliminary ecological appraisal (pea survey), an extended phase 1 habitat survey, an ecological impact assessment, or other ecological surveys.

Preliminary Roost Assessment (PRA)

The first step in the bat survey process is the preliminary roost assessment or phase 1 bat survey. After a desk study, an ecological consultant will make a site visit to inspect trees and buildings and look for evidence of bats, such as bat roosts, dead bat carcasses, bat droppings, urine stains and feeding remains. If the consultant finds bat roosts or other evidence of bats, full bat surveys may be required, but if there is no evidence of roosting bats, it should be possible to secure planning consent and proceed with development work.

Bat Emergence and Re-Entry Survey (BERS)

The second stage bat surveys are also called bat activity surveys, bat scoping surveys, emergence surveys and dusk emergence and dawn re-entry surveys. A team of ecological consultants will make a site visit on several occasions to monitor potential entry and exit points for bats on buildings suspected to contain bat roosts. Using specialist equipment including bat detectors, consultants can calculate bat species and populations.

If bats are discovered, the bat report will contain mitigation measures to ensure that they will not be impacted by the proposed development. Suitable mitigation strategies may include installing bat boxes or relocating bats. When the mitigation strategies are carried out, a planning application is likely to succeed. If the outcome is a likely absence of bats, the local planning authority should be able to grant planning permission. BERS can only be carried out in the bat season between May and September.

While preliminary roost assessments and bat emergence and surveys can result in a local authority approving planning applications, in some cases it is necessary to move or disturb bats, or even destroy bat roosts. In such cases, a European Protected Species Licence will be required as bats are a protected species. The statutory nature conservation organisations Natural England and Natural Resources Wales issue bat mitigation licences.

Further ecological surveys

Depending on the characteristics of an individual site, a local planning authority may require further information from ecological surveys or European protected species surveys before approving a planning application. These can include hibernating bat surveys, great crested newt surveys, habitat surveys, reptile surveys or barn owl surveys.

Arranging a bat survey Plymouth

If you need bat surveys, identifying a firm that offers ecology services and employs fully licensed ecologists is the first step. The ecological consultancy should undertake bat surveys and ecology surveys according to good practice guidelines, giving you confidence that you can rely on their expert advice to help you progress your planning application.

Bear in mind your timeframes: preliminary ecological appraisals and preliminary roost assessments can be carried out at any time, but there are seasonal restrictions for bat emergence and re-entry surveys.

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