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A property developer and demolition company manager who admitted destroying roosts for protected species of bats have been sentenced at court.

19 February 2018

Developer Christopher Wilson of Avante Ltd appeared at Bournemouth Crown Court for sentencing on Friday 16 February 2018 after admitting two offences of damaging or destroying a breeding site or resting place of a European protected species of animal. He was sentenced to £2, 500 Proceeds of Crime order plus a further £1,750 fine, Costs £500 and a Victim Surcharge of £170, meaning a total of £4920. 

David Stokes, Director of South Coast Demolition Ltd, had admitted the same offences and was sentenced at Poole Magistrates Court on Wednesday 13 December 2017, when he was fined £1,600, ordered to pay £400 in costs and a victim surcharge of £120. 

In 2016 Wilson purchased the former Ickle Angels Nursery site in Carroll Avenue, Ferndown, which consisted of two buildings that were known to contain roosts for Pipistrelle and Long-Eared Bats. When he submitted a planning application to redevelop the site, Wilson included a Biodiversity Management Plan that had been commissioned by the previous owner of the site in October 2012 and had an expired date on it. He should have commissioned a new Biodiversity Management Plan but failed to do so. The original plan also advised that, due to the presence of bats a licence from Natural England would be required before starting works on the site. Wilson never instructed an ecologist to carry out a survey and did not apply to Natural England for a licence. In the Spring of 2016 Mr WILSON contracted Mr Stokes to start work on the buildings. 

In October 2016 a local councillor contacted police to raise concerns that the demolition work that had been carried out on the site may have caused damage to the bat roosts.

A Dorset Police Wildlife Crime officer attended, along with the ecologist who had carried out the original Biodiversity Migration Plan in 2012. It appeared that bats were still present and, following consultation with Natural England and the Bat Conservation Trust, an email was sent to Wilson on 20th October 2016 giving him a formal warning of the requirement to apply to Natural England for a licence. However an email was sent to South Coast Demolition by Mr WILSON on the 10th November, after police advice, asking when they could commence demolition.  The police officer sent another warning email on 17th November 2016 but demolition had already begun. Upon receipt of the second police email Wilson sent an email to South Coast Demolition the same day telling them to stop the demolition immediately due to risk of prosecution but work had already progressed since the site visit and the roosts had been destroyed.

An different ecologist carried out a visit on 28 November 2016 and confirmed the roosts had been destroyed.

The district judge at the sentencing of Stokes acknowledged he was acting under the direction of Wilson. Today at Crown Court the  Judge stated “ it is easy to obtain information from the Bat Conservation Trust that play an invaluable role in helping.. there is no excuse for this situation that came about” 

Police Constable Claire Dinsdale, of Dorset Police’s Rural Crime Team, said: The developer contracted a demolition firm to carry out a ‘soft strip’ which went far too far. Despite ceilings, windows and even some tiles being ripped out, it was decided by police, the CPS and Natural England as bats appeared to still be present to send these warnings to the developer. However despite receiving a reply to this email, an email was later sent by Mr WILSON to the demolition firm asking when they could demolish the site. No ecologist had been instructed, no bat surveys done and no licence to carry out such works had been applied for. In mitigation Mr WILSON had arranged for bat boxes to be put up at the site.  

What makes this case nationally important is that we applied for a Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 application, which is only the second time this has been done for bat crime in the UK. A ‘POCA’ is where if a defendant is shown to financially benefit from a crime. The order is to reclaim an amount. Mr WILSON was saved the costs of an ecologist survey and licence fee hence these costs were claimed for. We are pleased the court has reflected this in the result today. 

If any developers, demolition firms, roofers or public have any concerns or questions please do contact the Bat Conservation Trust Helpline on 0345 1300 228. They will assist. We would rather work with developers to prevent matters. I would like to thank the ecologists who give up their time to assist police in such cases and the Bat Conservation Trust. 

As ever the Bat Conservation Trust regret the need for any prosecution for offences relating to bats. But equally we do ask that investigations and prosecutions into such matters are undertaken in an effective manner. Here we have a case that serves as a case of best practice. This was a complicated and prolonged investigation undertaken in a most professional manner. We would like to thank all of those involved, witnesses, the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

Related story: Development company plead guilty to bat roost destruction in Kent http://www.nwcu.police.uk/news/nwcu-police-press-releases/development-company-plead-guilty-to-bat-roost-destruction-in-kent/

For Bearing Witness for Wildlife - Conservation Wildlife Crime Project see: http://www.bats.org.uk/pages/bearing_witness_for_wildlife_-_conservation_wildlife_crime.html

To donate to the work by the Bat Conservation Trust see: https://www.justgiving.com/bats

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