Bats (and other protected species) in your belfry


What should you do if your surveyor or builder tells you there are bats roosting under your roof? You can’t get rid of them because they’re a protected species, and it’s a criminal offence to disturb them.

Many people will have experienced the frustration of delays in their building projects due to one thing or another, but sometimes it’s due to little creatures living in your building, and you can’t do any further work until they’ve finished rearing their young. This is more likely when renovating an older, possibly derelict property, perhaps one that has been empty for some years.

The good thing is that bats (and there are 17 native bat species in the UK) will only take up residence in healthy places, so if it’s good enough for them, it’ll be good for you too. Their guano (excrement) doesn’t cause any health hazard, and you’ll only notice they’re there at all between April and September, which is when they roost and mustn’t be disturbed. When they hibernate, the only evidence of habitation is the guano.

If building work is to take place where bats live, special rules have to be followed, a licence has to be obtained, and restrictions on the types of materials and chemicals apply. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 has been updated to add the term “recklessly” to the description of the offences of disturbance of a bat, and intentional damage, destruction or obstruction of a roost. Such offences carry fines of up to £5000 per bat involved, and up to six months imprisonment.

The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 is the new version of the Habitat Regulations, and is the consolidated version of all amendments made since the original Regulations in 1994. The people who need to take notice of this legislation include builders, roofers, demolition companies, pest controllers, building surveyors, architects, planning officers, property developers and, of course, home-owners. Also affected are woodland owners and arboriculturalists and foresters, as bats can take up residence in old trees too.

For detailed advice on how to proceed with your building work once bats have been identified, you need to contact your Statutory Nature Conservation Organisation (SNCO) for your region – in England that is Natural England. They have information and advice not only on bats, but other protected species of flora and fauna, such as badgers, deer, moles, red squirrels, otters and dormice.

The Bat Conservation Trust is another source of valuable information about bats’ habitat and the responsibilities of home-owners.

Bats and other habitations and infestations will wherever possible be highlighted in a surveyor’s report before purchase. If you are buying an older property with an un-converted roof space, be sure to instruct a surveyor before you exchange contracts not only to check the suitability of the structure itself, but to find out if any unwanted flying mice or other house guests may also be in residence.

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