BSG Ecology Partner Steven Betts is now a Registered Consultant, and is therefore able to rely on the Natural England Low Impact Bat Class Licence for sites that have been registered.
This aim of this new system is to provide a more efficient and proportionate approach to licensing for bats in certain circumstances. Natural England’s objective in introducing this licence is to provide a more streamlined service for developers that is appropriate to situations where effects on bats can be easily mitigated (but which nonetheless require a licence to derogate the law).
The Natural England low impact class licence for bats specifically applies to situations where the conservation importance of the roost concerned is low: for example, a commercial building where a day roost of two common pipistrelle bats has been found. The new licence is designed to reduce the application paperwork, scrutiny of the three legal tests¹ that need to be met prior to a licence being granted, and the speed with which a licence decision is made. It has been introduced to enable a more proportionate approach to licensing to be taken in certain situations.
Situations in which a Low Impact Bat Class Licence might apply
A two stage process is required in order to be able to secure and use the Low Impact Bat Class Licence. The first stage is becoming a Registered Consultant, which is only available to suitably experienced ecologists.
The second stage is for the Registered Consultant to register a site before undertaking any licensable works. A site has to be registered before a licence can be issued. Natural England state that this should be done at least 15 working days before work commences and no more than 12 weeks before the start of licensable activities.
This is only possible if the site meets certain criteria. It is important to understand what these are as they define where and when the licence can be used.
The use of the licence is restricted to impacts on day roosts, night roosts, feeding roosts and transitional roosts of the following species: common pipistrelle; soprano pipistrelle; brown long-eared; Natterer’s; whiskered; Brandt’s; and Daubenton’s bats. No other roost types, including hibernation sites, or additional species are covered by the licence.
So, for example, by applying these criteria it might be possible to register a site where three small Natterer’s bat day roosts have been found, each roost supporting 1-2 bats. However, it would not be possible to register a site where a small brown long-eared bat maternity roost supporting 5 bats was present (as maternity roosts are excluded) or a building with two small lesser horseshoe bat roosts each supporting 1-2 bats (as lesser horseshoe bats are excluded).
Note that these are straightforward examples and in some instances a range of other contextual and local factors will need to be taken into account by the Registered Consultant in determining whether a Low Impact Class License is appropriate to cover the works. In making this judgement, the experience and expertise of the Registered Consultant is of particular importance. Further, a site can only be registered for a maximum of three roosts supporting a ‘small’ number of bats (the number is defined by the Registered Consultant as it will vary from site to site and between species).
If developers understand the limitations of this licence, it has the potential to deliver a much more efficient approach to licensing for those situations to which it is appropriate.
However, in order to determine whether or not the Low Impact Bat Class Licence is appropriate for a particular site, it is necessary to ensure that any assessment is supported by a commensurate amount of recent survey work. Consequently this licence should not be viewed as an opportunity to disproportionately reduce or avoid survey work: failure to carry out the required supporting survey work is very likely to result in an application to register a site being rejected by Natural England, meaning the needless expenditure of time and money.
Whilst there are certain clearly defined criteria that need to be met before a Low Impact Bat Class Licence will be issued, the assessment also draws heavily upon the experience and expertise of the Registered Consultant. It is therefore recommended that advice is sought from a Registered Consultant at the earliest opportunity in order to determine whether a Low Impact Bat Class Licence is appropriate for the site under consideration.
Please contact Steven Betts on 0191 303 8964 for further advice.
¹ The tests are set out within Section 53 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010.
Top photograph: Natterer’s bat taken by Principal Ecologist Matt Hobbs