23rd October 2015
In the UK, bats and their roosts are protected by law to address the dramatic decline in numbers witnessed across Europe during the period between 1950s and 1980s. The continuing loss of suitable natural habitat along with other factors has driven bats to increasingly roost in man-made structures and has made them more susceptible to disturbance and roost destruction.
The Bat Crime Annual Report 2014 (downloadable HERE) outlines and analyses both incidents and outcomes of the Bat Conservation Trust's (BCT) Investigations Project throughout the year. The report, being released today, states the overall number of bat crime allegations referred to police from BCT in 2014 was 159, up 30 percent from 2013, and the highest ever number of referrals since the project began in 2001.
It is difficult to know if the increase in recorded incidents is as a direct result of a rise in the incidence of bat crime, or whether it is because more crimes are being reported. BCT and local bat groups have stronger links with enforcement agencies making bat crimes easier to report. However, the number of reports received is still only a fraction of the number of incidents that impact on bats.
During 2014 the BCT has continued to work closely with the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), providing intelligence on all incidents referred for investigation. The most recent National Wildlife Crime Strategic Threat Assessment acknowledged the BCT as the unit's primary source of intelligence relating to bat crime. According this report, "BCT (Bat Conservation Trust), accounts for 68% of the overall intelligence count. This is a situation unique only to bat persecution and shows the value of having an investigations officer employed by BCT." Bat crime remains a priority area for the NWCU.
As in previous years, the building development and maintenance sector accounted for the vast majority of the bat-related crimes referred to Police with tree felling also posing a significant risk. The summer months (June to September) continue to be the busiest in term of referrals, which is not surprising, given this is also the busiest time for development and maintenance works to be carried out.
The three largest categories of primary offences in 2014 were roost damage, disturbance and obstruction of roosts.
Of the 159 cases referred to the police in 2014, the evidence available does not suggest that any other prosecutions should have been pursued. Analysis of the manner in which cases have been disposed of reveals that across the UK police forces find that 1 in 7 investigations into an alleged bat crime result in a confirmation of offences having been committed. Often, there is insufficient evidence for officers to pursue a case. Of the total of 159 referred incidents, 118 resulted in no formal action being taken. There are 7 investigations from 2014 or earlier that are either on-going or for which the BCT have not yet been advised of the result.
From a bat conservation perspective it is important to assess how well legislation is being complied with and how many bat crimes have been prevented. With this in mind 2014 must be considered to be another successful year, with evidence to suggest that many offences have been prevented with potential offenders having instead chosen to comply with the law.
Despite the effort directed into preventing offences, an occasional incident will occur where it seems that a serious offence has taken place and the only recourse is for the offenders to be sanctioned by a court. In 2014 there were five prosecutions for bat crime, some of which carried over from previous reporting periods.
The Crown Prosecution Service have undertaken a review of the way in which they consider wildlife crime and specialist wildlife crime prosecutors have now been identified in every CPS area. It is now likely that a prosecutor with some specialist knowledge will review every file of papers submitted for consideration of prosecution of bat offences. Additionally a national lead for bat offences has also been appointed. The BCT very much welcomes this move. We have made contact with a number of the new wildlife crime prosecutors and provided a presentation to the first ever CPS wildlife crime training course. The Investigations Project continues to provide training for the Police, Statutory Nature Conservation Organisations and bat workers, and to raise awareness of best practice among groups most likely to be involved in perpetrating bat crimes.
Further information about Bat Crime is available HERE
Bat Crime report 2014 can be downloaded HERE
To contribute to the work by Bat Conservation Trust: http://www.bats.org.uk/pages/get_involved.html
Contact: Joe Nunez at email@example.com or 0207 820 7168 for more information, images and interviews.
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