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Proposed changes to the Natural England Bat Advice Service

Proposed Changes to the Natural England Bat Advice Service & Funding for the National Bat Helpline from Defra

Update 20/04/18

This update on the National Bat Helpline Hours of Service was provided in the April Bat Group Bulletin. 

As we reported in the Special Edition Bulletin that we circulated to bat groups at the end of March (see below), Defra have withdrawn their funding for our work on ensuring the public deals safely with bats, taking into account the risk presented by rabies. The current contract ceased on 31st March. We are in the process of lobbying hard in an attempt to get this support reinstated. We will update you when we have further information and will also be asking for your help in making our voices heard.

At present, we are working on the new procedures around dealing with bat bite cases, etc. and will have these in place for the start of May. We’ll update bat groups and bat carers in late April/early May about the new procedures, once they are ready and when we have updated all of the relevant processes, documents and web pages.

We will deliver the service to the best of our ability within these funding constraints and will continue to work with Natural England and other partners to identify additional funding. During this period of change for the Helpline (not just with the Defra contract but the changes through the Natural England Bat Advice Service contract) we are operating reduced hours answering phones. Currently this is from 9:30am until 4:30pm. We will be reviewing this and will keep you updated.

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Update 29/03/18

BCT’s National Bat Helpline is funded through a variety of sources covering different elements of the Helpline’s work. Such funding includes donations through appeals but by far the largest single funder has been Natural England for delivery of the Bat Advice Service under contract to BCT. The next most significant contribution has come from Defra relating to work on rabies disease risk management. This special edition bulletin is to share news about the significant reduction in income for the Helpline from these funding streams.

Defra withdrawal of funding for BCT Helpline

We regret to report that earlier this month we were informed by Defra that they are withdrawing their funding for our work on ensuring the public deals safely with bats, taking into account the risk presented by rabies. The current contract ceases on 31st March 2018. We are lobbying hard in an attempt to get this support reinstated including writing to Ministers and 10 Downing Street.

Over the next month we will be considering all the options available for continuing a reduced service for the most vital elements of this work previously funded by Defra, such as the Out of Hours Service. Part of this will be an appeal to support our work for this season as we seek to secure this service into the future. During this month of transition we will continue to cover urgent cases as best we can. We will update you when we have further information and will also be asking for your help in making our voices heard.

Natural England Bat Advice Service update

Following the Volunteer Bat Roost Visitors Bat Review Workshops and webinar during September and October, there was a second consultation phase of the Bat Advice Service Review with a deadline at the end of January. Thank you to all of you who took part in this. We understand that Natural England plans to provide a final report on this review process and the conclusions drawn imminently.

In the meantime we have been talking to Natural England about the vital need to be able to commence preparation for the coming season. We are pleased to report that BCT will continue to administer the Bat Advice Service until the end of November, although with reduced resourcing. The level of reduction in resourcing for this period is yet to be confirmed, and we will come back to you when we know more detail about this and any modifications to the service that come out of the review process.

From the end of November the Bat Advice Service contract will be let out to tender, which is standard Government practice. The interim period we will be working with Natural England to achieve savings and secure alternative funding, taking into account the valuable feedback received from VBRVs in the workshops.

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Update 29/01/18

As part of their review of the Bat Advice Service, Natural England ran eight Volunteer Bat Roost Visitors (VBRVs) & trainee VBRVs Bat Review Workshops during September and October 2017 (plus a webinar for those who could not attend a workshop in person). A member of BCT’s Senior Management Team was present at each workshop along with a representative of the National Bat Helpline was also present offer support or guidance where needed.

In December Natural England sent a report to VBRVs that collated the comments made during the eight consultation workshops, the webinar and via the bat review mailbox. In that email Natural England provided information on the second part of the Bat Advice Service Review, including a set of questions that form the second phase of the consultation. The deadline for responses is 31st January. BCT will be making a submission to this second consultation.

Natural England anticipate providing a final report to VBRVs in March giving their conclusions and plans for the service.

Thank you to everyone who has participated in the consultations so far, BCT are very grateful for all the support we’ve received.

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Update 05/09/17

Since our last post a couple of weeks ago (see below), we are pleased to report that Natural England have now confirmed the dates for the Bat Review Workshops. These will be taking place at eight locations across England from the end of September to the end of October, with a mix of weekends and weekday evenings. The aim of the sessions is to give Volunteer Bat Roost Visitors (VBRVs) and trainee VBRVs the opportunity to input their views to the review process and help to shape the approach that Natural England will take with the future of the service. Natural England have told us how keen they are to take into account what volunteers have to say as part of the review process, to help get the best possible outcome for bats.

The schedule of events is as follows:

  • London – Tuesday 26th September
  • Exeter – Wednesday 4th October
  • Darlington – Saturday (Provisional) 7th October
  • Worcester – Tuesday 17th October
  • Nottingham – Saturday 14th October
  • Manchester – Monday 16th October
  • Cambridge – Wednesday 25th October
  • Southampton – Saturday 28th October

The dates above are liable to change so please do check with Natural England for the date of the nearest event to you. If you are a VBRV or a trainee and haven’t received a communication about these events directly from Natural England please email them as soon as possible. This is also the email address to send bookings forms for the events, which were sent out with the email from Natural England and should be returned at least five days before the event takes place. Spaces are being allocated on a first come, first served basis.

We have been emphasising how very important it is that as many volunteers as possible are given the opportunity to share their views. We are therefore pleased that Natural England plans to run a webinar for anyone who is unable to attend one of the workshops.

Now the dates and locations have been shared with us, we are arranging which members of the BCT team will attend each workshop (where possible we aim to have the lot co-ordinator for the region along with a member of BCT’s Senior Management Team. Of course some members of staff are also VBRVs or trainees and so will be attending anyway). 

The BCT team continues to provide comment and input to the review process, and we will be meeting with Natural England again towards the end of September. Last week two of the people leading on the service review for Natural England came into the BCT offices to meet with the National Bat Helpline team. The team were asked similar questions to those that will be put to VBRVs at their consultations.

We will continue to work to ensure there is a full and effective Bat Advice Service. Thank you to everyone who has been in contact with us about the review to date. We hope that those of you who are VBRVs or trainees will participate in the Natural England consultation, either at the Bat Review Workshops or during the webinar. We are grateful for your ongoing support and will continue to keep you updated as discussions progress through emails to bat groups and via this web page. 

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Update 16/08/17

Natural England has recently contacted their Volunteer Bat Roost Visitors (VBRVs) and trainees about the reasons behind the current review of the service, along with plans for a consultation with volunteers. We were pleased to see this more open and frank communication.

The planned consultation workshops with VBRVs will take place from the end of September at locations around the country, with the aim of attracting as many VBRVs as possible to attend. We hope there will be a good turn out and BCT will also be represented at each of those workshops (the lot co-ordinator for the region, and in most cases we hope that one of us or another member of our Senior Management Team will also be able to attend).  We remain very keen to hear your views and suggestions for the future of the Bat Advice Service. We are pleased that Natural England is also exploring other ways for people to participate in the consultation if they can’t make the workshops.

Next Monday (21st August) we have two of the people leading on the service review for Natural England coming to meet with the National Bat Helpline team. In addition we have further meetings ourselves with the Natural England project team working on the review. As we continue to discuss a range of options our priority remains ensuring there is a full and effective Bat Advice Service. We understand that Natural England is in the process of seeking funding to allow the service to continue through this review period, in the first instance up to March 2018. Whilst no guarantees have been made at this stage this is a positive step.

Thank you to everyone who has been in contact with us about the Bat Advice Service review. We are grateful for all your support and will continue to keep you updated as discussions progress. 

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Update 19/07/17

In the post below we mentioned that we would be writing to the CEO of Natural England, James Cross, to express our concerns about the proposed changes to the Bat Advice Service. We wrote to James Cross on 12th July and followed up with a meeting with him on 13th July. At the meeting we discussed the reasons for our concerns about the proposed changes to the service and Natural England’s inadequate communication around this.

We are glad to have had a full and frank discussion at this level within Natural England. James Cross listened and will be talking to appropriate staff within Natural England. Of course we cannot know how much this will translate into changes to the proposals as they stand, but we are hoping this meeting will be the start of a more inclusive engagement process. We will continue to monitor developments and to update Bat Groups as soon as we hear more.

Natural England will be in touch with Volunteer Bat Roost Visitors (VBRVs) shortly about the consultation workshops they will be undertaking with VBRVs. We would encourage volunteer bat roost visitors to engage with these consultation workshops. In the meantime please do continue to send comments to Natural England and please copy them to us. We would like to thank everyone who has contacted Natural England so far with their thoughts about the proposed changes. Thank you to those of you who have copied us in. We really appreciate hearing your views and these were very helpful in informing our meeting with James Cross.

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Statement by BCT Joint Chief Executives 23/06/17

It is with sadness that we share the unexpected news that Natural England are unlikely to continue the Helpline Bat Advice Service when the current contract ends on 31st October 2017. We are strongly opposed to this proposal and the detrimental impact it will have on bat conservation, and will be writing to the CEO of Natural England, James Cross, to express our concerns.

The Helpline Bat Advice Service is a crucial part of bat conservation in England. We believe it underpins much of the bat conservation work in this country and will be making the strongest case possible for this vital support to the public to continue.

BCT is contracted by Natural England to organise and oversee its bat casework across England, with the vital help of Volunteer Bat Roost Visitors. These dedicated volunteers provide a free roost visit service to anyone who has bats in a residential property or church and requires further advice, beyond that which can be provided on the phone or in an email.  BCT undertakes the Bat Advice Service within our National Bat Helpline Service.

In 2016 we dealt with 14,781 enquiries on our National Bat Helpline. We organised 1,406 Natural England roost visits (9.5% of all National Bat Helpline calls) and answered a further 3,535 Natural England enquiries (24% of calls) which did not require a visit, such as planning enquiries or those needing information or reassurance about  a roost. We wrote letters to householders and churches based on the information provided by Volunteer Bat Roost Visitors after their visits. Our staff helped to manage roost visit requests by identifying cases where advice could be issued without a visit, such as for rodent control, loft insulation and non-chemical cluster fly treatment. We encourage roost owners with issues, such as bats in living areas, to take some simple steps to resolve them at home, without the need for a roost visit.  BCT’s National Bat Helpline dealt with an additional 7,228 non-Natural England enquiries (49% of all enquiries) last year, including 5,979 bat care related enquiries, crime related enquiries and general information.

Natural England tell us that they do still wish to maintain the roost visit system in some form going forwards, but that householders will initially be directed to online advice, rather than to a telephone helpline service and that they plan to develop a separate bespoke arrangement for churches to work with volunteers. Natural England have not made a final decision and we await further information.

The Helpline Bat Advice Service, including the roost visit service, and its predecessors have been working successfully for bat conservation in England for decades. Consequently we are urging Natural England to fully consider the impact of these proposed changes on bat conservation. We have requested that Natural England inform and consult with their Volunteer Bat Roost Visitors about the changes they are proposing and, if they go ahead, ensure there are clear transition plans in place. They have assured us that this will happen.

Natural England have invited comments from their Volunteer Bat Roost Visitors which should be sent to Natural England and will be carrying out consultation workshops with their volunteers. If you submit comments, please copy them to us, so we can take account of these in our discussions with Natural England. We would also encourage volunteer bat roost visitors to engage with Natural England’s consultation workshops.

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Julia Hanmer and Kit Stoner, Joint Chief Executives

Bat Conservation Trust

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