19th January 2015

The Bat Habitats Regulation Bill sponsored by Christopher Chope MP had its second reading in the House of Commons on Friday 16th January 2015. A full transcript of the reading can be found HERE. The reading is set to continue on Friday 20th March 2015. We are urging everyone who cares about bats to email their MPs urgently. We have prepared some suggested text (AVAILABLE HERE) and you can find out your MP's email address here (please include your address when you contact your MP so that they know you are a constituent).

Mr Chope opened the reading by stating that "I hope the bill will find favour with organisations such as the Bat Conservation Trust". At BCT we acknowledge that in some churches bats can cause problems and we are involved in the work underway to identify long term solutions, but we do not think this bill is the answer. None of the terms used in the text have been defined, raising so many questions that it would simply be unworkable, plus the so called enhancements are unnecessary and risk leading to further villanisation of bats.

We are taking this opportunity to highlight and address some of the points raised during the debate for you to raise with your MP. The core issue with the bill was eloquently stated by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice MP, when he stated "Apart from the fact that the Bill is rather loosely worded - for instance, it does not define an adverse impact or a place or worship - such a blanket prohibition does not take account of either the potential importance of some churches to vulnerable bat populations, or the work that the Government are doing to alleviate the impact in such places when bats are causing a nuisance or distress."

During the debate there were several factually incorrect statements from Mr Chope. One of these was "Currently, the habitats regulations and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 work together basically to make it impossible for bats roosting and living in our churches to be controlled in any way whatever. In essence, they are above and beyond the law." This is not true and as Barry Gardiner MP stated "Due to the good will and expertise of a very large number of licensed volunteers in the UK, there are many instances where such advice can be offered free of charge. It is offered in the form, often of a phone call or an e-mail, or sometimes in the form of a physical visit to the building to inspect. The visit will result in a letter detailing how to carry out the work with the least disturbance to the bats. This might mean that the work has to be carried out at a particular time of year, which might in some instances cause some of the delays to which the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) alluded. Bats are usually only seasonal visitors to roosts. Sometimes the particular materials that can be used might be affected, but it is neither possible nor desirable - nor, I believe, necessary - to take the actions set out in the Bill." Mr Eustace (the Defra spokesperson at the debate) also gave an update on recent work to find sustainable solutions: "That current project is also bringing benefits to some of the worst-affected churches. Natural England, as the Government's licensing body, is producing a licensing framework as part of the toolkit, which will be the mechanism through which the research will be delivered. External funding is being sought to support the roll-out of the toolkit, and to create an effective national support network for churches with bat-related problems. Major strides are being made. For instance, at one church in Yorkshire, St Hilda's, work instigated by Natural England has dealt with the problem comprehensively, while ensuring that bats are able to roost in the roof of the building."

The first part of the bill could be interpreted as a positive step for bats although as Mr Eustice pointed out "However, the requirement to be aware of the existence of bats, and to consider the impacts of any building on their numbers, already exists. Local planning authorities already have a duty to take biodiversity and the requirements of the habitats directive into account when considering developments." We fully support Mr Eustice's assertion that "I think that the work that we have done locally and nationally demonstrates that peaceful co-existence is possible, and that we can deal with the problem without necessarily removing bats".

A concerning aspect of the bill was alluded to by Mr Philip Davies MP when he suggested extending the provisions more widely than just churches. The response from Mr Chope is telling "I recognise that other buildings could be similarly embraced by the Bill, and perhaps if it goes to Committee, an order-making power might extend the provisions to other areas in due course."

If you require further information please contact Joe Nunez on: 020 7820 7168 OR jnunez-mino@bats.org.uk

Some relevant links

Bats and Churches

English Heritage

St Hilda's Church