What is the law relating to bats?

Bats, their breeding sights and nesting places are protected by law

There are 17 species of bat in the UK. They range from the tiny pipistrelle, weighing in at around 5g (less than a £1 coin!), to our biggest bat, the greater mouse-eared - which is still smaller than the palm of your hand.

Bats are not blind, but at night their ears are more important than their eyes. As they fly they make shouting sounds. The returning echoes give information about anything that is ahead of them, including the size and shape of an insect and which way it is going. This system of finding their prey is called echolocation - locating things by their echoes.

Mating / breeding

Bats mate during the autumn and sometimes into the winter when they hibernate. The females then store the sperm and do not become pregnant until the spring when the weather gets warmer. Pregnant females gather together in maternity roosts to have their young and these may be the same group and the same site each time. Pregnancy lasts between 6 to 9 weeks depending on the species and can be influenced by availability of food and climate. Females usually give birth to a single baby each year which they keep close to them and nurture.

Bats are very sensitive to disturbance during the maternity season and may abandon their young if this happens. For 4-5 weeks the young are suckled by their mothers until they are old enough to fly and they begin to venture out from the roost to forage for food.

Bat habitat

Bats do not make nests, but choose various places throughout the year to roost. Some prefer hollow trees, others caves, some use both at different times. Many shelter in buildings, behind hanging tiles and boarding, or in roof spaces. For several weeks in summer, female bats choose somewhere warm to gather in a maternity roost. Here they have their babies, staying until the young are able to fly and feed themselves. Bats are often found roosting in houses, both new and old.

You may realise that you have bats roosting in your house during the summer months, when they are most likely to be active. To obtain further information about bats please see the Bat Conservation Trust website.

Conservation (Natural Habitats & C) (Amendment) Regulations 2007

Bats, their breeding sights and nesting places are protected by the Conservation (Natural Habitats & C) Regulations 1994 which was amended by the Conversation (Natural Habitats & C) (Amendment) Regulations 2007 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Under Regulation 39 of the above Regulations, a person commits an offence if he:

  • Deliberately captures, injures or kills a bat
  • Deliberately disturbs a bat in a way likely to significantly affect;
    1.     The ability of a significant group of animals to survive, breed or nurture their young, or
    2.     The local distribution or abundance of the species

It is also an offence:

  • To damage or destroy a nest
  • To have possession or control
  • To transport
  • To sell or exchange
  • To offer for sale or exchange

Any live or dead or any part of any bat normally found wild in the European Union.

Possession

Unless a person has a licence issued by the Governmental body Department of Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), obtained via Natural England (see below) possession of any bat of a species normally found in the wild in the EU obtained after the introduction of Regulations in 1994 is now unlawful. However it is also an offence to fail to comply with a European Protected Species Licence.

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, a person commits and offence if he:

  • Intentionally or recklessly disturbs bats while occupying a structure or place that is used for shelter or protection
  • Intentionally or recklessly obstruct access to any place used for shelter or protection by bats
  • Sells, offers or exposes for sale, or has in his possession or transports for the purposes of sale, any live or dead bat, or any part of, or anything derived from
  • Publishes or causes to be published any advertisement likely to be understood as conveying that he buys or sells, or intends to buy or sell bats

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)

These sites have been particular designated as such because of the significant bat population. Under Section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 offences may be committed by

  • Owners and occupiers who carry out or permit certain operations without the consent of the SNCO, or,
  • Any person who intentionally or recklessly disturbs bats in a SSSI designated for such species.

Fines of up to £20,0000 may be imposed by Magistrates Courts, whereas Crown/High courts can impose fines to an unlimited amount.

Property developers and individual property owners must ensure that they are aware of and comply with the legislation in relation to bats and all wildlife. If you think you have bats in your house or development, call the Bat Conversation Trust Helpline on 0845 1300 228 and ask for a copy of the 'Living with Bats' booklet, which gives advice and information for roost owners or alternatively contact your local Wildlife Crime Officer.

If you wish to carry out any work in or on a building in which bats are present or where bats have been using to roost or hibernate, you must contact Natural England for advice before commencing work. Alternatively contact the Wildlife Crime Officer in your area who will be able to offer advice.


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