Bat Red Tape!

Since my last post we’ve been progressing quietly.  Fine tuning the design, getting detailed drawings done and in for building regs, organising the legal side of things, applying for conditions to be discharged etc.  A small spanner in the works has reared its head however.  Nothing so severe as to derail the project, but enough to scupper my plans of getting a good bit of the prep work done before a main contractor might start in September.  That spanner comes in the form of a piece of paper called a ‘Natural England Licence’.  A licence whose purpose I have not yet fathomed, other than the creation of red tape, and a nice little earner for an ecologist who gets to complete said red tape.

Invariably the response I’ve have got from people in and around the building trade when I’ve mentioned a bat was found during the surveys we had done is along the lines of “why didn’t you make sure you smoked any bats out before the survey”?!  Whilst I’ve perhaps not said it out loud, I’ve definitely thought because surely this is as equally anti-social as the likes of fly-tipping?  Indeed it’s a driving force of our project that we should have a positive impact on the environment!

Attempting to fill in the forms for this Natural England Licence however has definitely elevated my blood temperature several degrees.  First off let’s be clear that our site is in fact a very low impact one in terms of bat habitat.  The single bat that was found inside the stone barn that entails the conversion element of the design was only found during one of the two surveys and there was no evidence that it roosted in the building.  It was a Brown Long-eared bat, which I now understand to be common across the UK and Europe.  The lean-to garages with corrugated tin roofing was described from the outset as a low quality habitat for bats though a single dropping was found inside (!).  We were of course happy however to put in a belt and braces mitigation strategy to ensure in fact that there will be more bat habitat after the development than before.  This strategy was designed by the consultant ecologist and signed off by the authority ecologist.

I was a little aggrieved that we have to pay for an ecologist to be on site during the demolition of the garaging and the stripping of the roof of the barn, given that no bats were found roosting, and that the garaging has been described as poor bat habitat!  Seems a little bit of a ‘jobs for the boys’ type scenario.  I also understood at the time the mitigation strategy was set out that a Natural England licence was required to carry out this work.  In my naivety I had understood this to be a licence the ecologist must possess to carry out the work.  Seems sensible really, and given that our ecologist confirmed she could monitor the demolition I thought we were set.

But I have now of course learnt that the Natural England Licence is a licence that must be applied for simply for its own merit.  It appears not enough to have two ecologists sign off a pretty comprehensive strategy for a scenario where one common bat was found to temporarily be present in the building and where the other building concerned in the development is of low-habitat value, but we have to tell Natural England all about it so they can give their seal of approval.  And when I say all about it I mean all about it.  It’s not simply having them check off the bat survey report.  The forms they require completed are utterly ridiculous. I once at university did an exercise completing an Environmental Impact Assessment for a large off-shore wind farm, and the forms required for this Natural England Licence are roughly equivalent.  £350 I have to pay the ecologist in order to have these forms completed; and it takes Natural England 8 weeks to turn them around!!  They want to know what the “need” is for the project, couldn’t it be “avoided”, what would happen if we did “nothing”.  Then they require all your answers to be backed up by evidence! If you are so concerned about every detail of the project then READ the PLANNING APPLICATION I found myself screaming in my head.

But what irritates me the most is that all this wholly unnecessary red tape is surely completely counterproductive to the supposed aims of Natural England and ecologists.  A nice little fee earner it may be for the bat ecologist fraternity, but in terms of supporting the bat population surely all it will end up doing is encouraging the less scrupulous to take the necessary steps to ensure that they don’t face a scenario where they have to deal with organisations that behave in such a way?!