Somerset’s wide expanses of countryside are home to many protected species including bats. As well as finding roosting environments in woodlands, barns and outhouses, bats are often found in urban areas where they live in lofts and forage in green spaces. If you have a development site in mind, your local planning authority is likely to require a bat report.
Bats in Somerset
This county in the southwest of England boasts areas of rural countryside, beaches and woodlands along with major cities including Bristol and Bath. Somerset features important natural environments including the Blackdown Hills, the Somerset Levels wetland area, the Mendip and Quantock Hills which are designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and a large part of west Somerset is occupied by Exmoor National Park.
Somerset hosts 16 of the 17 breeding species of bat in the UK: bats commonly found there include pipistrelle bats, brown long-eared bats and Daubenton’s bats, while less common species include lesser horseshoe bats, greater horseshoe bats, grey long-eared bats and Natterer’s bats. Bats roost and shelter in woodland as well as agricultural buildings and traditional brick buildings where they find refuge under hanging tiles or gable ends.
The Somerset Bat Group monitors bats across the county and conducts the National Bat Monitoring Programme which the Bat Conservation Trust runs. The group also conducts regular field surveys including the British Bat Survey between July and August and the National Bat Monitoring Programme Waterway Survey.
Bats and planning applications
If you have a development scheme in Somerset that requires planning consent, the local planning authority including Somerset County Council is likely to ask for a bat survey. 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 planning permission.
Guidance aimed at developers, consultants and planners involved in development proposals is given in the North Somerset & Mendip Hills Special Area of Conservation document, which emphasises retaining and enhancing key habitat for bats and effective mitigation where required. The Mendip bats special area measures are aimed specifically at protecting greater and lesser horseshoe bats; maternity and hibernation roosts for both species are present in Somerset.
European protected species
Bats are among several European protected species living in the UK; others include badgers, great crested newts, barn owls and otters. Disturbing bats without permission is a criminal offence. Legislation in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 protects bats, and all 17 European bat species 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 bat roosts, obstruct access or harm bats in any way.
If there is a reasonable likelihood that bats are using a development site for roosting or hibernating, or they are discovered following Preliminary Ecological Appraisals or Extended Phase 1 Habitat Surveys, the local council is likely to require a bat survey as part of an application for planning permission.
Preliminary Roost Assessment (PRA)
Also known as a Phase 1 Bat Survey or Scoping Survey, this is an initial assessment that involves an ecological consultant carrying out a desk study and a physical inspection of trees and buildings to look for evidence of bat activity. They will look for potential roosting sites in trees and buildings, dead bat carcasses, bat droppings, urine stains and feeding remains that indicate the presence of bats. The PRA will include detailed guidance about the next steps to take: if bat species are present on the site, mitigation measures and a full bat survey may be required, while if there is no evidence of bats, the development works should be able to go ahead. A PRA can be carried out at any time of the year.
Bat Emergence and Re-Entry Survey
Bat Emergence and Re-entry Surveys or bat activity surveys can only be carried out between the summer months of May to September. This second stage bat survey involves dusk emergence and dawn re-entry surveys being undertaken in daylight hours and in good weather conditions to monitor bat activity. During a bat emergence survey, ecologists monitor potential entry and exit points for bats during internal and external inspections at the site on several occasions. Bat surveyors use specialist equipment including infrared and thermal imaging cameras and bat detectors enabling them to identify bat species present from echolocation calls and assess bat populations.
If these surveys reveal evidence of the presence of bats, the survey report will contain mitigation measures for appropriately dealing with the bats in your planning application: this might involve installing bat boxes or relocating bats. If there is no evidence of bats, the report should be sufficient to satisfy the local planning authority.
The Preliminary Roost Assessment and Bat Emergence and Re-entry surveys will enable you to secure planning permission, but a European Protected Species Licence may be needed if you want to move bats, destroy bat roosts or otherwise disturb them. If you need a bat mitigation class licence as part of your planning application, they can be obtained from the statutory nature conservation organisations Natural England and Natural Resources Wales.
Find an experienced ecological consultancy in Somerset
As bat surveys can only be carried out by a licensed ecologist, the first step is to identify a firm that employs fully licensed ecologists. They should have experience in conducting bat surveys for the relevant local planning authority, be aware of the planning process and work to good practice guidelines. A professional consultant can provide expert advice about any other protected species surveys you might need such as great crested newt surveys or reptile surveys, and the steps to take to obtain planning consent.