If the results of your bat surveys were negative; reliably proving their absence, you have nothing further to worry about. While your local planning authority might try to seek some minor biodiversity enhancements from you, often times simple things like wildflower and native tree planting, or erecting bird boxes, are perfectly sufficient. However, if you have bats roosting at your property, you must provide mitigation for two reasons:
- to minimize the risk of killing or injury to protected species; and
- to compensate for the loss of habitat.
In the case of a building alteration, extension or renovation, you can provide mitigation proposals to your planning authority and obtain consent with conditions that bind you that mitigation – effectively safeguarding bats and their habitat at your site. Natural England, the licensing body for England, has confirmed this in their Standing Advice flow chart for dealing with protected species. In the case that you intend to destroy the roost at your site e.g. by demolishing your building, you have no option but to apply for a European protected species licence (or EPSL) to Natural England. The license is subject to your survey effort being deemed by Natural England to be sufficient—to have scientific integrity—and the mitigation proposed being appropriate to the species and population of bats present at your site. NB. The licencing body in Wales is Natural Resource Wales and in Scotland, it is Scottish Natural Heritage.
What is suitable mitigation?
Bat mitigation proposals are your way of demonstrating to the planning authority that your development does not result in risk of harm to species (injury or killing) or the loss of their habitat (disturbance.) For bats to be present yet unaffected, clearly some measures need to be in place to ensure this risk is diminished to an acceptable degree. For example, a single male common pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) using your site as an occasional summer roost, the mitigation required of you is unlikely to be extensive. A crevice dwelling species, the little chap will be perfectly happy with a couple or three bat boxes, or similar. Equally, a larger population or different species may require an entirely different approach to their mitigation.
An EPSL application is a completely separate issue to planning consent. In fact, contrary to common belief, the need for an EPSL cannot and will not have any detrimental effect on your application. Why? Because the two are separate. You actually need to have a planning consent in your hand, to even apply for a bat licence! It can take up to 30 working days for Natural England to process and issue your licence, which though free to apply for, does require a detailed method statement (prepared by your bat consultant) to support it. The EPSL is applied for by you, the licencee. Your surveyor will oversee things like the installation of your mitigation, the stripping of roof tiles and other operations that present a risk to bats. He or she will then come back to check this is in order and sign it off, before reporting formally back to Natural England.
Can’t we just get on with the development?
No matter what any (inexperienced) bat consultant tells you, there is no exceptions or defence for not applying for an EPSL if you have been told you need one. A roost is a roost; the legislation that protects bats (and importantly, the Police Wildlife Crime Unit) does not draw any distinction between the criminal act of destroying a roost – whether it is habitat for one bat, or 100 bats. Should you fall foul of the law, you will be lucky to escape without a hefty fine, massive negative PR about your development, and a criminal record to boot.
‘Good things come to those who wait’
It is worth remembering that Natural England will not answer questions about your planning application; they will not talk to you about the eligibility for EPSLs; and they don’t take kindly to ‘chasing’ calls or e-mails, trying to hurry them up. The fastest and easiest way to get your licence is to apply for it with the right information supporting your development from the outset (full surveys and mitigation proposals), and sit tight. Photo credit: Arbtech (Simon Pigeon, Arbtech Surveyor & Natural England Licenced Bat Worker)