6th February 2015
As a consequence of the historical declines in UK bat populations in the 20th century, bats and their roosts are protected by UK law. With the depletion of natural habitats in the UK, many bat species have resorted to using man-made structures as roosting sites, this includes houses, churches, barns and other buildings. This dependency makes them vulnerable to any redevelopment of buildings they inhabit, with damage and destruction of roosts, particularly maternity roosts, resulting in significant negative impacts on the local populations. Bats in the UK are most active between March and October. This coincides with peak building construction times, so it is unsurprising that most bat crime incidents reported to the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) occurs at this time.
As the latest Bat Crime report (downloadable HERE) being released today shows, the overall number of bat crime allegations referred to police from BCT in 2013 was 121, down by 13 cases from 2012. The majority of these crimes were as a result of building development activity, with damage being caused to roosts identified as the most frequent offence. BCT's Investigations Project works towards preventing bat crime, and during 2013 has been working closely with the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU). BCT provides the unit with intelligence relating to all incidents that are referred for investigation, which according to the NWCU Strategic Assessment 2013 "accounts for 68% (62 logs) of the overall intelligence count".
Of the 121 incidents in 2013, 102 resulted in no formal action being taken, but this should not disguise the fact that important bat crime prevention work has taken place in each situation. Suspects of any crime are contacted by the investigating officer to ensure legal compliance, with the interest of the police likely to act as a deterrent in the future. In some cases however, no further action was taken as a result of a lack of evidence supporting allegations that a roost had been destroyed.
105 bat crime incidents in 2013 were referred to English police forces, with Devon and Cornwall Police and the Metropolitan Police both receiving the highest number in the country (8 apiece). 10 incidents were referred to Welsh forces, 5 to Scottish forces and 1 to Northern Irish forces. Given the geographic spread of reported cases, on average police forces in the UK are being asked by the BCT to investigate less than 3 bat crimes annually. This highlights why investigative experience of bat crime is scarce, and underlines the value of the advice and guidance that our investigations project can offer.
The number of cases that result in prosecutions each year is not necessarily a useful indication of how well bat crime is handled. BCT are of the opinion that a far greater measure of success from a conservation viewpoint is to assess how well the legislation is being complied with, and how many bat crimes have been prevented. If this approach is accepted then 2013 must be considered to have been another successful year.
Despite receiving a large number of reports, the question remains as to whether these incidents are a true reflection of the level of crime occurring. For this reason it is vitally important that BCT continues to gather information that can be used to evidence levels of crime.
Further information about Bat Crime available HERE
Contact: Joe Nunez firstname.lastname@example.org or 0207 820 7168 for more information, images and interviews. (Out of hours: 07984 545 531)
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