A bat survey is likely to be required by the relevant local authority if you are planning a development in Hampshire. If bats are present on your proposed site, you may need to implement mitigation measures to avoid disturbing bats which will enable your scheme to go ahead.
Suitable bat habitat in Hampshire
Situated in the south of England, Hampshire is home to two national parks, the South Downs National Park and the New Forest National Park. The South Downs National Park includes ancient woodland and heathland while the New Forest contains three areas of outstanding natural beauty and several designated wildlife sites including Holly Hill Woodland Park and Crabtree Plantation. Such areas provide suitable roosting and breeding sites for bats: the New Forest is home to 16 out of the 17 UK species of bat and all of the UK’s breeding species of bat have been sighted in Hampshire; these include common species such as the brown long-eared bat, soprano pipistrelle, common pipistrelle, Noctule bat, whiskered bat, Natterer’s bat, Daubenton’s bat, Nathusius’ pipistrelle bat, Leisler’s bat, along with rarer species such as the Bechstein’s bat, Brandt’s bat and the barbastelle bat.
Bat roosts can be found in trees, outbuildings and houses and species may move roosts several times a year. They feed on many insects including mosquitos, gnats, moths and butterflies. In summer, they need dry spaces in which to rear their young; holes in trees are perfect and are one reason why the New Forest is such a key site for bats: dead and rotten trees are ideal and forest policy is to retain such trees. The Hampshire Bat Group monitors bat activity in the county and collects data annually, while the Bat Conservation Trust oversees bat activity nationally.
European protected species
Bats are one of several European protected species; others include great crested newts, wild birds, badgers and otters. 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 protected under Schedule 2 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017, making it an offence to intentionally kill or deliberately capture bats, destroy a bat roost, obstruct access, harm or disturb bats in any way.
Bat surveys in Hampshire and planning permission
Hampshire County Council is made up of several local planning authorities that must balance the need for housing and jobs with that of conserving the natural beauty and habitat of their particular place. Of course, concerns about habitat loss are particularly high in the New Forest and South Downs areas.
If bats are present on your site, detailed guidance must be followed involving bat surveys to avoid disturbing bats. However, providing that the necessary mitigation work is carried out, your proposals may well be able to achieve full planning permission.
The bat survey process
If there is a reasonable likelihood that bats are present on a development site, or they are discovered following a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal/Extended Phase 1 Habitat Survey, further surveys will be needed. Bat surveys can only be carried out by licensed ecological consultants.
Preliminary Roost Assessment (PRA), Phase 1 Bat Survey or Scoping Bat Survey
During this first step, an ecological consultant will conduct a desk study and physically inspect trees and buildings to look for suitable habitat and evidence of bat activity. They will identify potential roosting sites in trees and buildings and look for dead bat carcasses, bat droppings, urine stains and feeding remains that indicate the presence of bats. The bat surveyor will outline the findings of the Preliminary Roost Assessment and provide detailed guidance about the next steps. If bat species are present on the site, mitigation measures and further survey work may be required by your local planning authority. If there is no evidence of bats, you should be able to proceed to obtain planning permission.
Bat Emergence and Re-Entry Survey (BERS), also known as a Bat Activity Survey
While a Preliminary Roost Assessment can be carried out at any time of the year, Bat Emergence Surveys have seasonal constraints and must be completed during the active season between the summer months of May to September. This second stage bat survey involves dusk emergence and dawn re-entry surveys carried out in daylight hours and in good weather conditions: bat surveys can be disrupted by high winds and heavy rain. Bat emergence and re-entry surveys involve ecologists monitoring potential entry and exit points for bats during an internal and external inspection at the site on several occasions. Using specialist equipment including infrared and thermal imaging cameras and automated bat detectors, surveyors assess the bat species present from echolocation calls and calculate bat populations.
If the surveys reveal evidence of bats, the bat survey report will contain mitigation measures for dealing with the bats correctly in your application for planning permission; measures might include installing bat boxes or relocating bats. If there is no evidence of bats, the bat report will satisfy the local planning authority.
While the Preliminary Roost Assessment and Bat Emergence and Re-entry surveys will enable you to secure planning permission, a European Protected Species Licence may be needed to move, disturb bats, or destroy roosts. If your development proposal will affect bats and you need a bat mitigation class licence as part of your planning application, these are issued by the statutory nature conservation organisations Natural England and Natural Resources Wales.
Arrange bat surveys in Hampshire
It’s important to identify a firm with fully licensed ecologists who are experienced in conducting bat surveys for the relevant local authority and work to good practice guidelines. As well as carrying out bat surveys, a qualified ecologist will be able to provide expert advice about any further surveys you may need to take to secure planning permission, such as great crested newt surveys or bird surveys.
It’s a good idea to arrange ecological appraisals or protected species surveys at an early stage in your project to avoid delays to your works schedule.