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Bat survey Southampton

Property development schemes in Southampton are likely to need bat surveys alongside planning applications to satisfy the local authority that bats have been correctly considered. Discovering bats on your site does not mean that development cannot proceed; however, mitigation measures may be needed to ensure that bats are not impacted.

Southampton Town Quay waterfront viewed from Southampton Water.

Southampton and development

Southampton on the south coast of England has a rich maritime history and today it’s one of the UK’s largest container ports, with over 1m cruise liner passengers travelling through each year. This fast-growing city’s strengths also lie in the banking, finance, education and health sectors.

The Southampton City Centre Master Plan aims to increase the amount of family housing and apartments in the centre, promote a concentrated business district, and improve shopping and leisure facilities. The vision is to make Southampton an international maritime city by 2026, with new offices, houses, shops and cultural attractions across the city.

City centre plans

Notable projects include a new Royal Pier waterfront scheme including a new marina, shopping, offices and homes. New residential areas are planned in the city centre, comprising distinctive new buildings, open spaces, and improvements to the waterfronts, parks and the medieval old town. The Itchen Riverside and town depot site is earmarked for residential and leisure development while seven major development projects are planned for the city centre. The central site of the fruit and vegetable market is also designated for new homes and business uses. 

The Southampton City Vision is currently being developed and aims to establish Southampton City Council’s plans for new housing development, employment areas and infrastructure over the next 20 years. While looking ahead to ensure development meets the city’s needs, a key aim is to protect and improve the city’s green areas.

Bats and the law

As a highly protected species, it is a criminal offence to disturb bats without permission. Bats are 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. All 17 European bat species breeding in the UK are protected under Schedule 2 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017, which make it an offence to intentionally kill or deliberately capture bats, destroy a bat roost, recklessly disturb bats, obstruct their access or harm bats in any way.

Protected species: a rare grey long-eared bat.

Bats in Southampton

All of the UK’s 17 species of breeding bats can be found in Hampshire including the rare small mouse-eared bats (Myotis) and Alcathoe bats (Myotis alcathoe), while Bechstein’s bats (Myotis bechsteinii) and barbastelle bats (Barbastella barbastellus), two of the rarest bats in Europe, are found in the New Forest.

Hibernation surveys and swarming surveys are regularly carried out at the disused Greywell Tunnel on the Basingstoke Canal in Hampshire where barbastelle and Bechstein’s bats have been identified. The very rare grey long eared bat (Plecotus austriacus) has a stronghold on the nearby Isle of Wight and there have been infrequent sightings on the south coast and in the New Forest. Hampshire Bat Group, a partner group to the Bat Conservation Trust, gathers information about bat sightings in the county.

Bat habitat

Dry loft spaces offer roosting bats ideal conditions, and they can squeeze through tiny gaps under weather boarding, hanging slates or loose roof tiles to gain access. Woodland areas also offer bat roost opportunities, and their foraging areas include parks and green space.

Bat surveys

Bat surveys are required following either sightings of bats on a development site, or when a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal / Extended Phase 1 Habitat Survey has raised the possibility of bat presence. Bat surveys and ecological surveys must be conducted by qualified ecological consultants to be accepted by local authorities.

Preliminary Roost Assessment (PRA), Phase 1 Bat Survey or Scoping Bat Survey

This is the first step in the bat survey process. It involves an ecological consultant carrying out a desk study followed by a site visit to make an internal and external inspection of buildings and trees looking for evidence of bats. The bat surveyor will search for bat roosts and suitable habitat for roosting bats in close proximity to the proposed development site. Searches will also be made for dead bat carcasses, bat droppings, urine stains and feeding remains.

If the ecological survey finds that bats are present on the site, local planning authorities will likely require a full bat survey. However, if there are no signs of bat activity, the bat survey report should satisfy the local authority and allow development to proceed.

Bat Emergence and Re-Entry Survey (BERS)

These second-stage bat surveys are also known as bat activity surveys, dawn surveys, dawn re-entry surveys or dusk emergence surveys. BERS must be conducted by licensed ecological consultants who survey the site on several occasions to monitor potential entry and exit points for bats on buildings. Using specialist equipment including infrared cameras and bat detectors, surveyors can identify bat species from echolocation calls and calculate bat numbers.

If there is evidence of bats, the relevant mitigation measures needed to protect bats and their habitat correctly will be recommended in the bat survey report. Mitigation strategies may include installing bat boxes or relocating bats. If there is no evidence of bats, the report will enable the local authority to grant planning permission. Further survey work may also be recommended if there is evidence of habitat loss or other protected species on the site. Protected species surveys including great crested newt surveys, bird surveys or reptile surveys may be needed before planning permission will be granted.

Next steps

The Preliminary Roost Assessment and Bat Emergence and Re-entry Survey enable local authorities to grant planning permission. If it is necessary to move or disturb bats, this must be carried out by consultants who hold European Protected Species Licences, or a Natural England bat licence.

Do you need to arrange bat surveys in Southampton?

If surveys are required to support your planning application, the first step is to identify a firm that employs fully licensed ecological consultants. They should be used to working according to good practice guidelines, and be experienced in completing bat surveys for the local planning authority.

Bear in mind timescales: while a preliminary ecological appraisal and a preliminary roost assessment can be carried out year-round, there are seasonal restrictions for bat emergence and re-entry surveys which can only take place in bats’ active season, the summer months between May and September. A professional and timely bat survey will help your planning application secure planning permission from the relevant local authorities.

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