Business Clinic: What you need to know about bat surveys

Whether it’s a legal, tax, insurance, management or land issue, Farmers Weekly’s experts can help.

Here, Charlene Sussums-Lewis of Carter Jonas advises on a planning issue.

Q: I’m looking into converting some redundant barns into holiday cottages.

I’ve had experience of doing similar projects, so I’m used to going through the planning process, but we may have a bat issue. How might this affect things?

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A: Cavities in barns (as well as trees and other buildings such as warehouses, historical buildings and churches) make ideal roosting sites, and so have long been the preferred residence of the UK bat population.

When it comes to the demolition or conversion of barns, bats and bat roosts can cause additional costs and delays.

In fact, it’s not just major conversions; even roof repairs and reroofing works, repointing, loft conversions, external lighting in proximity to a roost, and works to mature trees can require consideration of bats.

Crucially, bats are an endangered species in the UK and bat species, their breeding sites and resting places are fully protected by law.

They play an integral role in preserving the balance of our eco-system since they are the primary predators of night-flying insects.

If the works you propose impact on bats, you will need to obtain a mitigation licence – depending on your exact location, you’ll need to get this from either Natural England or Natural Resources Wales.

You’re breaking the law if you:

  • deliberately capture, injure or kill bats
  • damage or destroy a breeding or resting place
  • obstruct access to their resting or sheltering places
  • possess, sell, control or transport live or dead bats, or parts of them
  • intentionally or recklessly disturb a bat while it’s in a structure or place of shelter or protection.

The punishment for being found guilty of an offence can include an unlimited fine and/or imprisonment for up to six months – so it’s extremely important that you follow the appropriate processes and acquire the right licences.

Now is actually a perfect time to get organised for the upcoming bat season, in advance of spring.

The first step is to get a full bat survey conducted, which is actually a pre-requisite for most planning applications, especially for barn conversions.

This may establish that there is no evidence of bats, in which case you can continue as normal with the planning process.

If there is evidence of bats, your ecologist can liaise with Natural England or Natural Resources Wales to apply for a mitigation licence prior to works commencing on site.

They may need to undertake more than one emergence survey, which needs to take place between April and September, so this has the potential to delay a project.

I would recommend that you get your bat survey done as soon as possible and get your ecologist booked and ready for the start of the season.

If you miss the season, you will have to wait for the next year. From a planning perspective, it is absolutely key that the surveys are undertaken to the appropriate standard and that any required mitigation is designed into the scheme at an early stage.

There are a few key steps which can reduce the impact that bats can have on your project. Know the window of opportunity; get organised and ensure you have an ecologist booked.

I would recommend seeking professional advice – surveyors and ecologists will guide you on the best strategy, particularly if the works form part of a planning application.

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