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Bat survey Swindon

Development proposals in Swindon are likely to require bat surveys alongside planning applications to assure the local planning authority that the law relating to bats is being complied with. In many cases, if bats are found, the bat survey will recommend mitigation strategies for managing the bats allowing the local authority to grant planning consent.

The Tadpole Garden Village in North Swindon.

Development in Swindon

Swindon in south west England has expanded rapidly due to its proximity to London and its position at the heart of the M4 corridor linking it to the rest of the UK. Its strategic position makes it an ideal base for regional distribution centres, and it is home to many major companies. The borough comprises 230km2 or 89 sq. miles, and consists of Swindon, the market town of Highworth, the village of Wroughton and smaller villages.

The Swindon Borough Local Plan 2026 aims to regenerate the town centre, build more homes and create employment areas offering jobs. It has a sustainable development strategy and development sites are allocated to the urban area with strategic sites at Wichelstowe, Commonhead, Tadpole Farm and Kingsdown, with proposed sites for New Eastern Villages, Rowborough and South Marston village.

The central area of Swindon is the main focus for financial and business services, civic, further education, leisure, retail and offices, with specialist manufacturing allocated to east Swindon and distribution and logistics in the A419 corridor. Outside Swindon, rural development is mostly focused on Highworth and Wroughton. The plan’s vision is to see not less than 22,000 houses built between 2011 and 2026, along with the provision of 119.5 hectares of employment land.

The Plan aims to make Swindon the centre of a network of green spaces linking the town to the countryside. The area includes high-quality landscapes, notably parts of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Thames Vale. In line with the Plan’s aims of protecting and enhancing the natural environment, development must contribute towards the objectives of the Great Western Community Forest in Swindon, by tree planting and habitat enhancement. The forest covers the whole of the borough and its purpose is to create a multipurpose forest throughout Swindon and Wiltshire, stretching into neighbouring Oxfordshire and comprising diverse natural and built environments, hedgerows, ponds and rivers.

Bats and the law

As a highly protected species, it is a criminal offence to intentionally kill or deliberately capture bats, destroy a bat roost, recklessly disturb bats, obstruct their access or harm bats in any way. Bats are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and Schedule 2 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 protects all 17 European bat species breeding in the UK. If there is bat activity on your proposed development site, it is important to follow the guidance to avoid disturbing bats. Your scheme may well be able to achieve planning permission but only providing that the law is adhered to and all the recommended mitigation work is carried out to protect bats.

Bats in Wiltshire

The Wiltshire Bat Group, a partner to the Bat Conservation Trust, conducts underground winter surveys at underground stone mine sites in Bath and Bradford on Avon, monitoring hibernating greater horseshoe bats. These mines in the south west are also used by swarming species of bats, especially Myotis. Bechstein’s bats, Natterer’s bats and Daubenton’s bats are found in the disused Marlborough railway tunnel, while the Savernake Forest provides habitat for several bats, notably a maternity roost of barbastelle bats. Wiltshire’s rural areas are also home to soprano pipistrelle bats, Nathusius’ pipistrelle bats, lesser horseshoe bats and Serotine bats.

European protected species: Nathusius’ pipistrelle bats.

The bat survey process

The local authority’s requirement for a bat survey may have been prompted by a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal / Extended Phase 1 Habitat Survey, bat sightings, or a reasonable likelihood of the presence of bats. A bat survey must be conducted by a qualified ecological surveyor.

Preliminary Roost Assessment (PRA)

Also known as a Phase 1 Bat Survey or Scoping Bat Survey, this is the first stage in the bat survey process and often follows a preliminary ecological appraisal. It involves an ecological surveyor completing a desk-based study before visiting the proposed development site and making an internal and external inspection of trees and buildings searching for physical evidence of the presence of bats. The bat surveyor will look for signs of a bat roost, roosting bats, potential roosting sites, dead bat carcasses, bat droppings, urine stains and feeding remains.

The Preliminary Roost Assessment report will provide guidance about the next steps; while further surveys will be required if bat presence is detected on the site, if there is no evidence of bats, the local authority should allow the planning project to proceed.

Bat Emergence and Re-Entry Survey (BERS)

Also known as bat activity surveys, bat emergence surveys and dusk and dawn re-entry surveys, these second-stage bat surveys must be carried out in daylight hours and good weather: surveys can be disrupted by wind and rain. Bat Emergence and Re-entry Surveys involve ecological consultants carrying out internal and external inspections at the proposed development site on several occasions to monitor potential entry and exit points for bats on buildings. Surveyors use specialist equipment including bat detectors enabling them to identify bat species from echolocation calls and assess bat populations.

If this bat activity survey detects the presence of bats, mitigation strategies for dealing with the bats correctly in your application for planning permission will form part of the survey report. Suitable mitigation strategies may include installing bat boxes or relocating bats. Depending on the report findings, further bat surveys may be recommended. If bats are not found on the site, the bat report will clarify this to the local planning authority which should then be content to grant planning permission.

Depending on the site assessment, the ecological consultant may recommend further ecology surveys for European protected species such as a breeding birds survey, barn owl surveys, nesting birds surveys, reptile surveys, badger surveys, or surveys for great crested newts, grass snakes or slow worms. Tree surveys may also be recommended in some cases as part of the route to achieving a successful planning application.

Timing your bat survey

Preliminary Roost Assessments can be carried out year-round, but bat emergence and re-entry surveys can only be carried out in the summer months between May and September, so it’s important to factor this into your timeframes.

The Preliminary Roost Assessment and Bat Emergence and Re-entry Survey will enable you to secure planning permission, but as bats are a protected species, you will need a European Protected Species Licence (EPSL) if it is necessary to move or disturb bats or destroy a bat roost. Licences are issued by the statutory nature conservation organisations Natural England and Natural Resources Wales.

Need to arrange a bat survey in Swindon?

Engaging an ecological consultancy with a track record of completing preliminary ecological appraisals, preliminary roost assessments, and other ecology surveys for the local planning authority is a good place to start. The firm should employ fully licensed ecologists who work to best practice guidelines; this will ensure that you will receive expert advice about your planning application and help secure consent from the local council.

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