If you are considering a property development scheme in Cambridgeshire, a bat survey report will likely be needed to accompany your application for planning permission.
Your development proposals may well be able to proceed if bats are present on your site, with appropriate mitigation measures put in place that satisfy the local planning authority.
The legal protection given to bats
A raft of legislation exists to safeguard bats, which are one of the most highly protected of all the European protected species. Bat populations are in decline, and it is a criminal offence to disturb bats or obstruct access for bats without permission. Legislation in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 clarifies the protection given to bats. All 17 European species of bat breeding in the UK are fully protected under Schedule 2 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017, preventing them from harm or disturbance or the destruction of bat roosts. While bats are the most common European protected species, other protected species include water voles, great crested newts and badgers.
Bat surveys and the planning process
Any development proposals that impact bat species will be scrutinised by local authorities and detailed information in bat surveys will need to accompany applications for planning consent.
Cambridgeshire’s development strategy
Cambridgeshire City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council are working on the Greater Cambridgeshire Local Plan. Its vision is to reduce climate change impacts and increase the quality of life for residents. The Plan aims to create thriving neighbourhoods, jobs and houses while increasing the number of green spaces.
While 19 new sites are identified for development up to 2041, they will not receive planning status until the new Local Plan is adopted which could be in 2024 -2025. Sites for further development and green infrastructure are under consideration.
Bat species in Cambridgeshire
Bats roost and breed in urban and rural areas of the county, finding spaces to shelter under hanging tiles, damaged bargeboards and loose tiles as well as in trees and hedgerows. Roosting bats can make their homes in different building types, from barn conversions to agricultural buildings. Many species of bat are found in Cambridgeshire including Barbastelle bats (Barbastella barbastellus), Brandt’s bats (Myotis brandtii), brown long-eared bats (Plecotus auritus), common pipistrelle bats (Pipistrellus pipistrellus), Daubenton’s bats (Myotis daubentonii), Leisler’s bats (Nyctalus leisleri), Nathusius’ pipistrelle bats (Pipistrellus nathusii), Natter’s bats (Myotis nattereri), Noctule bats (Nyctalus noctule), soprano pipistrelle bats (Pipistrellus pygmaeus), serotine bats (Eptesicus serotinus), and whiskered bats (Myotis mystacinus).
Bat groups in Cambridgeshire
The Cambridgeshire Bat Group carries out research and conservation in the county relating to bats. Detailed information about bat species in the county can be found on their website. The Cambridgeshire Bat Group is a partner group of the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) and works to rescue, rehabilitate and release bats in the local area.
If it’s likely that bats are present on your development site, a bat survey will be required. The requirement for a bat survey may have been triggered by an earlier ecological survey such as a preliminary ecological appraisal or an ecological impact assessment. Bat surveys can only be conducted by qualified ecological consultants who will complete reports containing detailed information that local authorities can rely on when deciding whether to grant planning permission. Tree surveys may also be required if trees are in close proximity to your proposed development site; trees and hedgerows provide natural habitats and roost sites for many species of bats.
Preliminary roost assessments
The first stage in the bat survey process, a preliminary roost assessment involves an ecological consultant making a site visit to look for signs of bat activity. They will investigate buildings and trees, look for suitable habitats that would support roosting bats, and search for bat roosts, feeding remains, bat droppings and dead bat carcasses. If the assessment finds no evidence of the presence of bats, this will be made clear in the bat survey report which should satisfy the planning authority. However, if the preliminary roost assessment cannot rule out the presence of bats, a second-stage bat survey will be needed, known as a bat emergence and re-entry survey.
Bat emergence and re-entry survey
This second stage bat survey is also known as a bat activity survey or dusk entry and dawn re-entry survey. Ecological consultants will visit the proposed development site on several occasions at different times of the day to look for evidence of bat activity, making an internal and external inspection, and monitoring potential entry and exit locations for bats on buildings. Bat emergence and re-entry surveys can only be carried out during the bat season which extends between May and September.
Bat surveyors will use specialist equipment including bat detectors which record bat calls, enabling consultants to identify different bat species. If bats are discovered near the development site, the survey report will include bat mitigation measures such as installing bat boxes which should enable the scheme to proceed without disturbing bats if it meets the local planning authority’s conditions.
The preliminary roost assessment and bat emergence and re-entry bat surveys will allow you to obtain planning permission. However, if you need to move bats or destroy a bat roost, a European Protected Species Licence may be needed. These are issued by the statutory nature conservation organisation Natural England, and a professional ecological consultant will be able to assist with this application.
If you need Cambridgeshire bat surveys
The first step is to identify an ecological consultancy that employs qualified ecologists who are experienced in completing bat surveys for the relevant local planning authorities. A professional consultant can also advise on any further surveys you might need relating to your development proposals, such as great crested newt surveys, tree surveys, or environmental management work to help your application through the planning process.