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Devon bat surveys

Devon offers a host of suitable habitats for bats, from historic buildings and woodland to coastal areas, and a bat survey is likely to be needed as part of your planning application if you are considering a property development there. The county supports many UK bat species due to its mild climate, diverse landscapes, and low levels of light pollution.

The cobbled streets and historic cottages of Clovelly in Devon.

The protection given to bats

Bat populations are in decline, and bats are highly protected by European legislation. Species regulations make it an offence to deliberately capture bats, obstruct access for them, or disturb them in any way without permission. Bats are protected by legislation in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, while Schedule 2 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 protects all 17 European species of bat breeding in the UK. While bats are the most common European protected species, others include water voles, great crested newts and barn owls.

Development in Devon

Balancing the need for development while conserving the unique character of Devon is a challenge for local planning authorities. The landscape includes Dartmoor and Exmoor moors, coastlines, bays and estuaries, traditional farmland, valleys, parks, and settlements of varying ages. Devon has five National Landscapes, two National Parks, two World Heritage Sites, and one International Dark Skies Reserve.

Devon’s landscape is a major factor in its economy in terms of tourism and agriculture, and new development must take account of landscape character and aim to strengthen it. Devon County Council’s planning policies include conserving biodiversity across whole landscapes as this is more beneficial for threatened species rather than on individual, fragmented sites.

Devon’s Landscape Character Assessment (DCLA) details the different landscapes and works as an evidence base for the local development framework and plans. It sets out strategies for landscape protection, management, and planning. The DCLA divides Devon into geographical areas: 7 national character areas such as Dartmoor, as identified by Natural England; 68 Devon character areas, such as `Southern Dartmoor and fringes’; 37 landscape character types such as `sparsely settled farmed valley floors’ along with several regional areas.

Bat species present in Devon

16 out of a potential 18 species of bat have been recorded here, and roosting bats can be found in agricultural buildings, lofts and roofs in older houses as well as in hedgerows and trees. Species include the long grey-eared bat (Plecotus austriacus), Nathusius’ pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus nathusii), Barbastelle bat (Barbastella barbastellus), Bechstein’s bat (Myotis bechsteinii), Brandt’s bat (Myotis brandtii), Leisler’s bat (Nyctalus leisleri), soprano pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus pygmaeus), serotine bat (Eptesicus serotinus), lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros), brown long-eared bat (Plecotus auritus), whiskered bat (Myotis mystacinus), Natter’s bat (Myotis nattereri), Daubenton’s bat (Myotis daubentonii), common pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus pipistrellus), Noctule bat (Nyctalus noctule) and the greater horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum).

The Devon Bat Group

Dedicated to studying and conserving the bat species present in the county, licensed members of the Devon Bat Group care for injured bats, hold bat walks and conduct bat roost visit work. The group is also a Bat Conservation Trust partner group and works closely with Devon Wildlife Trust.

Bat surveys

If there’s a chance that bats are present on your proposed development site, a bat survey will be needed. The need for bat surveys may be triggered by an ecological survey such as a preliminary ecological appraisal or an ecological impact assessment that indicated the possibility of bats on your site.

The first stage: a preliminary roost assessment

A preliminary roost assessment bat survey provides a fuller understanding of a proposed development site seeking planning consent. A bat surveyor will inspect, looking for evidence of bat activity, making an internal and external inspection of buildings and trees, and searching for suitable bat habitats, bat roosts, feeding remains, bat droppings, and dead bat carcasses. If there is no evidence of the presence of bats, the statutory authority should be happy to let the application proceed; if bat activity cannot be ruled out, further surveys will be needed: second-stage bat surveys are known as bat emergence and re-entry surveys.

Bat emergence and re-entry surveys

Bat emergence surveys, also known as bat activity surveys or dusk entry and dawn re-entry surveys, involve ecological surveyors inspecting the proposed development site on several occasions at different times of the day. They will carry out internal and external inspections, looking for evidence of bat activity, and monitor buildings that could offer entry and exit points for bats. Using specialist equipment including bat detectors which record bat calls, ecologists can identify different bat species and calculate population numbers.

If the bat survey finds bats, mitigation measures, including installing bat boxes, will be included in the survey report. Depending on conditions set by the local planning authority, mitigation strategies could allow development proposals to go ahead without disturbing bats. Bat emergence surveys can only be carried out at certain times of the year, specifically from May to September, so it’s important to factor that into your scheme’s timeframes.

A European Protected Species Licence

While preliminary roost assessments and bat emergence surveys will allow a local council to grant planning permission, a European Protected Species Licence may be needed to move bats or destroy a bat roost. The statutory nature conservation organisation Natural England deals with mitigation class licence applications.

Do you need a Devon bat survey?

The first stage is to identify a consultancy that employs qualified ecologists who can undertake bat surveys for the relevant planning authority. As well as advising you on the bat survey process, an ecological consultant can help with licence applications. Ecological surveyors can also give further information about any further surveys you might need, such as a great crested newt survey, a nesting bird survey, or a barn owl survey.

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