1st March 2017

There have been recent high profile press statements relating to great crested newts and notably those relating to Natural England's strategic approach to licensing (CLICK HERE). There has been a suggestion that this might lead to similar changes being implemented rapidly for bats. We are aware that a good conservation outcome is the underlying principle of making the protection for great crested newts work more effectively for both the newts and developers. Conservation of the species is being promoted at the heart of the approach to strategic licensing. Despite this, there remain valid concerns about the way this might be taken forward, which are currently being discussed between the NGOs representing newts and Natural England. Importantly, BCT have been working hard to make it clear that principles that are being developed for one species of amphibian cannot simply be applied to 17 species of bat.

There is a general recognition that the Habitats Regulations need to be better applied to benefit wildlife and to avoid unnecessary burdens on business through the way the legislation is managed; they are fit for purpose but need to better implemented. This conclusion was recently reinforced by a wider review of the Birds and Habitats Directives (which the UK Habitat Regulations implement) across the European Union, and is reflected in the views of both industry and environmental organizations who participated in both of these reviews.

Improvements in the licencing process have already been implemented, for instance with Natural England introducing low impact bat class licences and with the proposed churches bat class licence. Licensing is something in which changes in procedure can only come from the statutory bodies responsible for this - such as NE's new policies for EPS licencing for which a consultation was carried out in March last year (CLICK HERE) . In the area of licencing we will continue to enter discussions and lobby to ensure protection of bats is not eroded but we do not have control over this.

BCT are making substantial positive steps in the better implementation agenda such as the 'Partnership for Biodiversity in Planning' project, the 'Built Environment' project and the new 'Bearing Witness for Wildlife' project, which encompasses both mitigation and conservation wildlife crime. Of course the work of the Bat Helpline has always been fundamental in this process too.

However, to address the situation further BCT are developing proposals for ways of improving the implementation of the law protecting bats. We are sharing this now as we feel it is important to make it clear that, alongside our lobbying to retain the legislation protecting bats and our work evidencing that bats and the legislation that protects them are not a burden if properly implemented, we are continuing to look at additional ways implementation could be improved further.

The areas we are looking at working on are:

1) Producing a plan for how bats should be considered in the context of local plans - if properly done this significantly reduces future planning issues

2) Testing assumptions about the needs of commoner species (including our 'Bearing Witness for Wildlife Mitigation Project') - improved knowledge helps to refine and streamline planning processes

3) Trialling provision of habitats - putting flesh on the bones of the often quoted landscape scale approach and the Lawton Principle (landscape scale monitoring of provision)

4) Piloting a range of the most effective monitoring techniques thereby giving an insight into which is most fit for purpose and cost effective for a range of needs

5) *Linking the needs of bats in the landscape to benefits to the communities in that same landscape

6) *Linking the needs of bats in the landscape to ecosystem services

* Both 5 and 6 are wider considerations for the sustainability of the planning process

Some of these areas now have funding to get them underway such as the important work of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation funded 'Bearing Witness for Wildlife'. Others will require new partnerships which we will be actively seeking. It is hoped that the Statutory Nature Conservation Bodies will want to support this work.

We will, of course, continue to be a voice for bats in all political and policy arenas on these matters.