9th July 2020

We have received a response to our previous news piece “HS2 Phase One Construction Cause for Concern” along with a Licensing and HS2 information note. The full response can be downloaded HERE and the information note HERE NOTE: We are still seeking more clarity.

NATURAL ENGLAND RESPONSE (also available to download HERE):

Natural England appreciates the BCT’s feedback relating to HS2 Phase One bat licences (link). We have provided some comments below in response to the points raised. We take our regulatory role very seriously and will continue to be rigorous in our assessment of licence applications, and in our compliance monitoring of HS2’s licensable works affecting bats.

1. BCT Statement: “It is not always possible to establish presence/absence of bats in tree features because they are not always safe to access for inspection and are sometimes too extensive for thorough inspection, even with equipment such as an endoscope. How can the absence of maternity colonies be established with certainty before permanent exclusion or soft felling in such cases?

A comprehensive package of bat survey data supported the bat mitigation licence applications, submitted by HS2 ltd Enabling Works Contractors for the sites where woodland clearance was/is required. Advanced Level Bat Survey Techniques (ALBST) have been implemented at various locations to identify roosts and obtain detailed information on affected bat assemblages. The use of ALBST has provided greater clarity in terms of understanding the locations of important maternity roosts and additional information on the affected bat populations.

Prior to felling, a strict and conditioned protocol is followed by Accredited Agents, working under the authority and supervision of the Licensed Named Ecologist. Where a tree cannot be fully inspected, the protocol requires the Named Ecologist or Accredited Agent to consider various options to identify whether bats are present and carry out works appropriately. Appendix A of this document explains the procedure that is applied where full potential roost feature (PRF) inspection is restricted. A Natural England compliance visit has witnessed the above procedure being implemented on a number of trees.

2. BCT Statement: “If bats are found it is not always possible to establish whether or not they are breeding bats just from inspection surveys because the bats are tucked away deep into tree features. A small number of bats could represent a maternity colony in their own right or may be joined by others later, which is an especially high risk factor when carrying out such work early in the maternity season. How can breeding and non-breeding roosts be separated in such cases in order to protect the breeding ones?

Licensable works affecting trees in the maternity season have been carefully assessed on a site-by-site basis. Information provided to support the licence application has demonstrated whether the trees have previously been identified as an important roosting resource and the pre-felling inspections take a precautionary approach. We have only licensed works in the maternity season where there is considered to be a reduced likelihood of important maternity roosts being present.

Maternity roosts found through pre felling checks or trees suspected of containing a maternity roost would be left as per condition B13.

3. BCT Statement: “Tree clearance works around a maternity roost, even if the roost itself is retained, could cause disturbance through noise, vibration and the removal of habitats important for the sustenance of the colony (including suitable alternative roosts). How are these impacts on maternity colonies being accounted for?

HS2 are required to implement the measures in their HS2 Code of Construction Practice (COCP) to avoid in-combination noise and vibration effects. A further site-specific mitigation measure is also applied which provides bat boxes (and other features) to replace trees being lost which support moderate and high potential bat roost features. Therefore not only confirmed roosts are compensated.

In addition, the following commitments have been made in the corresponding method statements:

“There will be no new lighting at the site post construction. No night time vegetation clearance work is proposed during the active bat season. No tree felling will be done in darkness. Where other clearance work is undertaken during the darker winter months, all lighting will be limited to 1-2 hours after dusk and prior to dawn, and flood lights will be angled away from tree line/woodland edges.

The noise (chainsaws and other machinery) resulting from clearance/felling of trees will be in daylight hours and may indirectly affect other roost sites in the licence area. Such noise will be relatively short term in nature and undertaken in conjunction with other ecologically supervised works associated with PRF inspections. Unnecessary noise by contractors will be managed through toolbox talks and direct supervision by qualified ecologists approved by the named ecologist for the Mitigation Licence.”

4. BCT Statement: “Tree roosting bats will utilise a number of trees within a woodland area over the maternity season. Concerns are that the significant loss of trees in these woodlands will have removed all, or the vast majority, of the alternative roosts available to the impacted colonies.

ALBSTs have demonstrated that high numbers of roosts remain unaffected and the tree inspections have also identified moderate and high PRF trees that will remain present. As stated above, compensation is being applied for trees that are being lost that support moderate and high PRFs, therefore roosting opportunities for affected bat populations should remain stable.