If you are planning a development in Reading, you’ll probably need to provide a bat survey with your planning application.
If bats are present on your site, it doesn’t mean your scheme can’t go ahead, but you may need to follow guidance and carry out bat mitigation and compensation measures first.
Bats and the law
Bats are a highly protected species and disturbing them 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 a bat roost, obstruct access or harm bats in any way.
If bats are present on your site, detailed guidance must be followed involving bat surveys to avoid disturbing bats. Providing that the necessary mitigation work is carried out, your proposals may well be able to achieve planning permission.
Reading and development
While primarily an urban area, Reading has natural landscape features including two areas of ancient woodland that offer bat habitats. Bats roost in lofts, in buildings under weather boarding or loose roof tiles, and their foraging areas include parks and green space.
While sustainability and protecting green space are priorities, the Reading Borough Local Plan takes a positive approach to development and the council wants to work proactively with applicants to find solutions so that proposals can be approved where possible. The Plan, which extends to 2036, wants to see sustainable development of housing and businesses, with new housing built to adapt to climate change, using renewable technologies and with trees and planting to connect habitat. Proposals should protect and enhance historical features, areas of environmental and historic importance, listed buildings, conservation areas, historic parks, and gardens.
Reading is a hub for the ICT industry, professional services, and pharmaceuticals which has led to a demand for improved infrastructure, employment space, and housing. The Plan includes provision for at least 15,847 houses in Reading Borough between 2013-2036, averaging 689 per year. However, development sites are limited due to the amount of floodplain and public space, so opportunities are restricted to previously developed land.
Bat survey guidelines
Bat surveys can only be conducted by a licensed ecologist. If there is a reasonable likelihood that there are bats present on a development site, or they are discovered following a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal/Extended Phase 1 Habitat Survey, a bat survey will be needed.
Preliminary Roost Assessment (PRA), Phase 1 Bat Survey or Scoping Bat Survey
During this initial assessment in the bat survey process, a surveyor will carry out a desk study and an on-site inspection of trees and buildings to look for physical evidence of bat activity. They will identify potential roosting sites 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 a full bat survey may be required by your local planning authority. If no evidence of bats is found, development works should be able to proceed.
Bat Emergence and Re-Entry Survey (BERS), also known as bat activity surveys
Unlike the Preliminary Roost Assessment which can be carried out at any time of the year, BERS has a strict survey season restricted to the summer months between May and September. This second stage bat survey involves dusk emergence and dawn re-entry surveys carried out in daylight hours and in good weather conditions: surveys can be disrupted by high winds and heavy rain. Bat Emergence Surveys involve licensed ecologists conducting two or three internal and external inspections at the site to monitor potential entry and exit points for bats. With the use of specialist equipment including bat detectors, surveyors assess the bat species from echolocation calls and calculate bat populations.
If there is evidence of bats, the bat survey report will contain mitigation measures for dealing with the bats correctly in your planning application; measures might include installing bat boxes or relocating bats. If bats are not found, the survey report will satisfy the planning authority.
While the PRA and BERS surveys will enable you to secure planning permission, a European Protected Species Licence (EPSL) 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.
Find an experienced ecological consultancy
Identify a firm with fully licensed ecologists who are experienced in conducting bat surveys according to best practice for the relevant local authorities. Remember that a PRA can be carried out at any time of year but there are seasonal restrictions for BERS surveys which could disrupt your time frame.
As well as compiling a bat report, a professional consultant will be able to provide advice about the necessary steps you may need to take to secure planning consent. They will also be able to advise on the bat survey cost.