Creating a bespoke boudoir for bats

As part of the re-development of a small brownfield site within Norwich, NWS were commissioned by RGW Portugal Ltd to undertake bat surveys of two small buildings. One of these was found to support low numbers of brown long-eared bats Plecotus auritus and soprano pipistrelles Pipistrellus pygmaeus, which were using the building for roosting in summer. The buildings needed to be demolished in order to create space for two new residential homes, and so NWS prepared a European Protected Species Mitigation licence for bats which was granted by Natural England.

Brown long-eared bat captured during demolition work

Brown long-eared bat captured during demolition work

NWS licensed ecologists supervised the demolition of the buildings in August, removing a roosting brown long-eared bat which was found along the central ridge beam and relocating this within a bat box which had been placed on a mature oak tree in adjacent woodland.

RGW Portugal Ltd were keen for an environmentally sensitive development and had included bike stores within the design to encourage the use of green transport. These features provided the perfect opportunity to create a bespoke bat loft for both species of bats to use. The loft was constructed above the bike stores, using a lined and tiled pitched roof to generate warm internal temperatures. Two carefully-placed bat access points were installed along the ridge and at both gable ends, allowing a number of entry points whilst reducing potential for light ingress and draughts. The ridge beam was formed using rough-sawn timber to create a suitable surface for bats to cling to, and bat batons were also installed along the inner walls to provide additional perching points.

The last features of the bat loft have just been installed this winter and NWS are hopeful to see use of this loft by bats when they return to roost in April.


Natural England – update on European licences delays : 16/2/15

We thought an update of statistics on our previous article might be of assistance.

Natural England are still unfortunately experiencing delays in reviewing European Protected Species Licence applications.  It looks like the situation with bats has slightly worsened, although the issues with great crested newts now appear to have improved.  They are training more staff, but our forecast is for no improvement in the immediate to near future.

Bat Update (as of 16th February 2015)

  • 355 ‘New’ Applications outstanding [ Up from 279 on 22 December ]
  • “New application processing time: Average delay of 18 days (48 days versus 30 working day decision deadline) [ Increase from 17 days on 22 December ]

Great Crested Newt Update (as of 16th February 2015)

  • 52 ‘New’ Applications outstanding [ Up from 19 on 22 December ]
  • “New” application processing time: Average delay of 2 days (32 days versus 30 working day decision deadline) [ Down from 7 days on 22 December ]

If you are concerned about gaining a licence, please contact us as soon as possible.

What bat boxes should I use ?

Bat boxes are something we have a lot of inquiries from clients about .

The type of bat box to use will depend on what species of bats you need to provide for or want to attract.  Brown long-eared bats will prefer boxes with large cavities, whereas pipistrelles prefer flatter boxes that they can squeeze up into.  Maternity roosts will often look for much larger boxes or in the case of Brown long-eared bats the use of roof spaces or attics.

However clients also want bat boxes to look pretty and fit the style of the house.

Many bat boxes are designed more for modern architecture than a renovated building.  For example Schwelger [ ] have the biggest range of “concrete” boxes and their very helpful website contains pictures and specifications for what they look like in reality and how to fit them.  The bigger ones are surprisingly heavy and nearly the size of a postbox, an important consideration for aesthetics and safety.  They are widely available via resellers in the UK.

On buildings where appearance is very important, especially listed buildings, built-in bat boxes may be a better option. Soffit boxes are a possibility and bat boxes can also be built into walls, where there is sufficient thickness or a double skin arrangement with a wide enough cavity.  Both these options leave only a small external access slot, which looks a bit like a letter box.

Wildcare stock a wide range of bat boxes and can send you a very nicely illustrated catalogue quickly by post :

You may also wish to consider installing bat access tiles as an alternative provision for bats.

[Footnote : Liz from the Sales Team at Wildcare has told us there is a wider selection of Schwelger boxes on their website than in their catalogue at the moment if you want something specific.  ]

Natural England – serious delays to European licences

There are serious delays in Natural England issuing development (“European”) licences for bats and great crested newts and their normal 30-day turnaround is being missed by upto 3 weeks.  Natural England has stated that this follows “the recent introduction of our new IT system”, but this issue appears to be continuous since at least March 2014, and appears to also be anecdotally linked to the number of trained staff available, and has not yet shown signs of improving.

The delays in the processing of Wildlife Licence applications, apply both to acknowledging receipt and the issuing of decisions (see update below for the four week period 24th November to 19th December 2014), and is worst for bats.

Natural England staff are apologetic for this delay, and we have spoken to advisors who have been distressed by the situation. Their office will be closed from 4pm 24th December 2014 until 2nd January 2015, which will mean another 5 days delay to any licences outstanding at Christmas.  Area managers have been helpful in advising about delays.

We suggest that any clients requiring licencing in the next few months, engage us as soon as possible so that we can advise.

Great Crested Newts Update (as at 22nd December 2014 )

  • 19 ‘New’ Applications outstanding.
  • ‘New’ Application processing time : Average delay of 7 days  [37 days versus 30 working day decision deadline ]

Bat Update (as at 22nd December 2014)

  • 279 ‘New’ Applications outstanding.
  • ‘New’ Application processing time : Average delay of 17 days [47 days versus 30 working day decision deadline ]


Alex’s Work Placement Blog

At Hellesdon High School, we need to do a work placement in Year 11, so I have been completing work experience in the NWS consultancy office on Monday 14th and Tuesday 15th July 2014. I learned about what the consultancy does to preserve protected species and how developers have to take precautions if they want to develop areas which have been found to contain any protected species  in them ( such as bats or great crested newts ).

I also helped during my placement on evening surveys with my dad, which was probably a bit more interesting to get out and about.

The first survey was a night time newt survey at three different ponds with torches and bottle traps. My dad and I enjoyed this so much we went back there in the morning to come and see the results of the bottle trapping.  We had caught a great-crested newt and I got to handle it [supervised !] before it was released, which I had never done before and found very exciting.  The most enjoyable thing was finding out about how to prove the existence of great-crested newts – they are not very easy to find except by night.

The second survey for the placement was a bat survey on a thatched house at Hickling.  In this we counted the numbers of bats coming out of a gap in the thatch. We counted 98 bats from the same place, which means a big roost inside the roof somewhere. This was fantastic to see – so many bats in one night – the person on the other side didn’t see any all night so I was lucky ! I enjoyed learning about bat species – I hadn’t realised before that there were many different species of bat and not just one.

Finally we found a kitten on the riverside on our lunch break, so I also got to look after the rescue kitten for a bit, although I am not sure he was that happy about it. All in a day’s work at NWS !

Rescued cat with Alex

Kitten with good acting skills as Great Crested Newt in training exercise

Picture of Alex with the cat

Alex on placement at the NWS office with bemused kitten

Low-impact fast-track bats on trial licence

Chris has been taking part in a Natural England trial of a fast-track licence scheme for developments that might affect bats : the so-called “Low Impact” class licence scheme.

The scheme reduces considerably the amount of paperwork required for submission, and also the response time from Natural England to three weeks.  It is aimed at simple schemes involving low numbers of bats and no more than three species at a time.

We haven’t been able to use it very often as it doesn’t cover projects lasting beyond June, nor does it cover things like trees or winter roosts. Most clients have therefore opted for the certainty of a “full” European Protected Species licence.  When we have though the results seem very promising in the simplifications.

The trial was due to finish at the end of June and it was hoped it would continue seamlessly into a full rollout from then onwards.  Unfortunately due to a shortage of staff resources needed to take stock of how the trial went, it looks like there will be a delay .

The review and evaluation of findings should come out “soon” and Natural England are hoping to introduce a new licence for these low impact roosts, probably by the autumn.

We will let you know when we know more.

Bats in the thatch at Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Hickling reserve

Norfolk Wildlife Services have been asked to survey bats in the thatched wardens house at the NWT Hickling, Norfolk, and offer advice on their protection.

At Hickling, Stewart has undertaken an assessment of the bat roost within the warden’s house, which requires rethatching.  The bat colony has been known about for several years, with bats flitting around the eaves on summer evenings catching midges and mosquitoes swarms from the adjacent wetlands.  As such the Hickling warden John Blackburn was keen that the thatching work didn’t accidentally block entrances or affect the bats, and so called on Norfolk Wildlife Services to offer specialist advice well in advance.

John Blackburn, the warden, joked : “People talk about taking work home with them, but in this case a bit of the nature reserve seems to have moved into my house.  It’s easy to forget that there is a whole night shift at Hickling, that starts up when the reserve closes.  Nocturnal creatures such as bats are as integral a part of the ecology of Hickling as it’s bitterns.”

Bats will not normally roost in thatch, since the reed can very easily pierce or snag their membranous wings, and in rural Norfolk areas typically use Dutch pan tile roofs, which have abundant snug gaps.  At Hickling, based on droppings found, the bats are suspected to roost within a cavity wall in the loft, perhaps sardined into the inside of a breezeblock, where they are not visible in the daytime.

In order to find the roost location and count the number of bats using the roost, nocturnal surveys will observe both their emergence and then around dawn their carousel display as they settle to roost.

Stewart, an ecologist at Norfolk Wildlife Services said:

“We will use specialist bat detectors, which many people will be familiar with, that reduce ultrasonic bat echolocation calls to an audible frequency. The echolocation calls will be recorded digitally, allowing later analysis to confirm which species were present. We have a good idea where bats are emerging from as droppings are regularly found beneath a hole around the roof rafters, but will be relying on good vision to confirm this and any other potential roost sites within the building. The most likely species we will find are soprano pipistrelles, but we know there are also two other pipistrelles at Hickling as well as Natterer’s and Daubenton’s bats, so it should be quite exciting.”

Bat survey – what does it involve ?

Why and when is a survey needed ?

All British species of bats and their roosts are protected by UK and European law.  Local Planning Authorities (LPA) therefore take bats into account when determining planning applications and may request a bat survey.

Bat survey of barn with an endoscope by Stewart

Bat survey of barn with an endoscope by Stewart

A bat survey is required where bats could be affected by a development. Examples include sites such as old barns, buildings close to woodland and water, bridges, and old trees. The presence of bats does not mean that the development cannot go ahead. It just means that more details may be required on their use of the site.

Anyone planning to develop or demolish a building, which might affect bats, should plan for bat surveys and perhaps any mitigation needed.  The bat survey and assessment work will require an experienced, specialist bat consultant, so you need to find someone you can work with and trust.

How is a bat survey carried out ?

The initial stage of a bat survey involves a day time visit. This allows advice on the likelihood of bats being present or using the site.  If bats are potentially present, then summer bat “emergence surveys”, carried out at dawn and dusk, can then tell if the building is used as a roost. This also builds up detail about how any bats are using the site and the wider landscape. Sometimes winter bat surveys are required where there are cellars or suitable places for hibernation (e.g. ice houses ), but this are rare in East Anglia.

A similar method will apply for tree survey, although for woodlands a tree assessment method or transects may be more appropriate.

How is it used ?

The bat survey will be used by the planning authority to determine the application, and this may include attaching conditions such as timing for the development, installing a bat loft or bat boxes. Landscaping works may enhance the habitat for bats around the development.

What happens after planning ?

Where bats are significantly affected then a European Protected Species (EPS) licence will be required from Natural England.  This is issued free, but needs a bat specialist to put together the application and supervise the works. The licence set out how the works must be carried out as well as any monitoring after the development is completed.  Once this is in place the works can proceed on a clear timetable.

Our tip for when planning a development is to seek initial advice for your bat survey and mitigation well in advance to prevents unexpected delays in planning.

Further info

The Bat Conservation Trust has recently published good practice guidelines on the process for bat surveys and mitigation. These are a very helpful guide where bats are affected by development proposals.

Pee of newt and poo of bat – bat identification from droppings and DNA

Droppings, faeces, dung, poo – call it what you will these are a mainstay in the ecologists fieldcraft for id’ing species, and bats are no different.

Finding bat droppings within barns and lofts, at bat access points and under cracks and holes in trees is a good initial indicator of bat presence at a site. Knowing they are bat droppings is relatively easy, as although they look very similar to mouse droppings, when crushed they easily break down to a fine powder, made of insect carapaces.

You can sometimes determine the species or group of bat species present, purely from their droppings. Until recently this has been fairly tough, relying predominantly on how the droppings look….their colour, size, shape and texture.

Pipistrelle droppings are usually very small and regularly oval shaped, but by eye you can’t tell the difference in droppings between the three different species. Brown long-eared bat droppings are usually longer and twisted, but can often break up at the twists to look like smaller droppings. Serotine droppings are usually ‘bullet’ shaped.

However, there can be substantial differences between droppings from individual bats of the same species, with the diet playing the greatest role.

Brave souls have endeavoured to determine bat species by dissecting bat droppings using a microscope, and using the insect fragments that remain to determine what the bat’s diet is. This can then be compared to databases on preferred prey of different species. A taxing and time consuming process.

But more recently, DNA analysis technology has made identification of bat species from their droppings quick, easy and reliable. Specialist labs extract DNA from a single bat dropping (to avoid any risk of cross species contamination), undertake Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) to obtain the mitochondrial DNA sequence, allowing identification to species through phylogenetic analysis [ apparently !]. And, as there is no overlap in mitochondrial DNA between species.

In plain English, an almost 100% reliable way of id’ing bats by their poo !