How to Apply for a Bat Licence?
If you require planning permission to make alterations to your home or property, the Local Planning Authority (LPA) may require you to undertake bat surveys on your property before being able to grant planning permission. This is a statutory obligation placed upon local authorities.
Once the bat surveys have been undertaken, including any dusk emergence and dawn re-entry surveys that are required at sites with bat roosting potential, it is possible to say with confidence whether or not bats are using the property. If no evidence of bats is found during the surveys, the developer or homeowner will not need to apply for a European Protected Species Licence (also known as a Habitats Regulations licence or a mitigation licence). However, if bats are confirmed to be using the building as a roost, it is likely that a mitigation licence will be required before works can start. This licence enables works which will disturb bats, which would usually be illegal, to be done at certain times of year under specialist ecological supervision.
This article aims to summarise the key elements of the licensing process and to act as a guide for the unfamiliar developer.
Elements of a Mitigation Licence Application
In Wales, mitigation licences are issued by Natural Resources Wales (NRW). In England, licences are issued by Natural England (NE). Licences are issued under the Habitats Regulations to allow developers to work within the law. The licence application and planning consent are dealt with by separate institutions (NRW/NE and the local planning authority). The licence application can only be made once planning consent has been granted (if required) and any other planning conditions have been discharged. It can take 30 working days for NRW/NE to process the licence and issue it to you (the developer) so we recommend commissioning an ecologist to complete the licence application as soon as possible after planning permission is granted to minimise unnecessary delays to projects.
Where planning consent is required, the following elements make up the licence application:
- A completed and signed licence application form;
- A copy of the planning consent or listed building consent (if applicable) and supplementary planning reports (for example, planning officer delegated reports or committee meeting minutes);
- A completed and signed Local Authority Planning Consultation form;
- A completed method statement which sets out the timetable for the development and details the provision for new or continued roosting opportunities for bats (usually referred to as mitigation);
- Any bat survey reports associated with the development; and
- Confirmation that any relevant associated planning conditions have been discharged by the Local Authority.
- A completed and signed bat mitigation licence application form;
- A completed method statement setting out the process and timetable of the development and details of the provision for new or continued roosting opportunities for bats;
- A completed work schedule for a bat mitigation licence;
- A reasoned statement to show that the proposed activity fits the criteria and that there is no satisfactory alternative; and
- The bat survey report/s.
Who Can Apply for a Mitigation Licence?
In theory it is possible for anyone to apply for a licence. The licence is issued to the developer (not the consultant or ecologist) but there will be a named ecologist on the licence who will need to be present to supervise works completed under it. However, preparing of the licence application and navigating the process associated with it is often daunting and not achievable for those without a background in ecology or protected species licensing.
The applicant must demonstrate that:
- Suitable survey effort has been undertaken by appropriately qualified persons and that sufficiently robust survey data has been acquired;
- The detailed method statement will suitably avoid injuring or killing bats, or causing them disturbance;
- The mitigation strategy must be demonstrably proportionate to the number of bats and diversity of species affected, as well as being appropriate for the level of disturbance or damage that will be caused to the bat roost as a result of the development; and
- Furthermore, a final report must be submitted to NRW detailing the works that have been undertaken, justifying any alterations to the original method statement and mitigation strategy and confirming that works have been completed to an appropriate standard.
Achieving these outcomes is very difficult for a non-specialist without a background in bat ecology. This is why specialist ecological consultants are usually contracted to carry out this work.
What if I Don’t Want to Apply for a Licence?
Carrying out a licensable activity without a licence, or failing to comply with conditions set out in a licence which has been granted, are criminal acts. Penalties for non-compliance are therefore potentially severe, with prison time and unlimited fines being real possibilities.
Being prepared at the outset of your project is the key to avoiding frustration and delay. Most obstacles encountered by developers are the result of insufficient planning and a lack of understanding of the procedures that must be followed to ensure their project runs smoothly.
What Should I Do Now?
Get prepared! In order to avoid unnecessary delays, it is important to understand the time constraints involved. A scoping survey or preliminary roost inspection can be undertaken at any time of year in order to assess the potential of a building or structure to be used by bats. If the survey determines that the structure has potential to be used by bats, dusk emergence and/or dawn re-entry surveys will then be required to assess the nature and extent of bat activity there. These dusk emergence and dawn re-entry surveys can only be undertaken from May to August (inclusive) when bats occupy summer roosts . Add to this the time taken to apply for and receive a licence, then it becomes clear that the best approach is to consider bats (and other protected species) at the outset of any project. Our survey calendar explains the timing constraints associated with various protected species surveys.
Fees for Natural England?
If you think that bats or other protected species could be a concern on a potential development, don’t wait until applying for full planning permission to find out. Approaching your local planning authority and seeking pre-application advice can help you to understand planning policies and other material considerations associated with a proposed development. This can be done at any time and will identify any information required to accompany a formal planning application. This will reduce the likelihood of delays when submitting a full planning application later on.
There are no fees payable to Natural England for the following types of application:
- Applications with Householder Planning Consent (i.e. not full planning consent) covering householder home improvement project such as a loft conversion, extension, conservatory, garage, car ports and outbuildings;
- Preserving public health or public safety;
- Preventing the spread of disease;
- Preventing serious damage (to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber, fisheries or inland waters, or any other form of property;
- Historic building conservation; and
- Where none of the above apply, there is no charge when the roost is conserved in situ, and is either a maternity, swarming or hibernation roost, or a day roost containing three or more bats.
You can find the charging form for Natural England here.
Natural England (NE) have recently introduced guidelines which aim to balance proportionality of survey effort with cost and time delays to development projects affecting European Protected Species (EPS) including bats.
Their Policy 4 wording states: Natural England will be expected to ensure that licensing decisions are properly supported by survey information, taking into account industry standards and guidelines. It may, however, accept a lower than standard survey effort where: the costs or delays associated with carrying out standard survey requirements would be disproportionate to the additional certainty that it would bring; the ecological impacts of development can be predicted with sufficient certainty; and mitigation or compensation will ensure that the licensed activity does not detrimentally affect the conservation status of the local population of any EPS.
How Acer Ecology Can Help You?
We can assist you by undertaking preliminary roost assessment survey and dusk emergence and dawn re-entry survey. This will assess initially the potential for bats to be present on your site, and then after full surveys are completed determine if bats are roosting on site, and if so what species are present and in what numbers. Expert advice will be provided on the options and solutions available. If a European Protected Species licence is required we can complete and submit your licence application. Upon approval of the licence we can provide continuing assistance to help you ensure that the terms of the licence are adhered to.