Squatters Rights

Squatters Rights

After attending a bats and moths education event at the Houses of Parliment run by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Butterfly Conservation and the Bat Conservation Trust, MP Andrew Robathan was enlightened by the plight of Bats and how endangered they have become in the UK. He said “I am particularly fond of bats and urge that they be properly protected, but I also believe that it should be possible to move colonies that are, for instance, damaging ancient churches.”

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) Regulations 1994, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 and the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004, all species of UK Bat which currently stands at 17, is protected and it is an offensive to disturb or kill these magnificent creatures either directly or indirectly.

Baby Pipistrelle Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Baby Pipistrelle
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Weighing in at a mere 3g – 8g the Common Pipistrelles (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) and Soprano Pipistrelles (Pipistrellus pygmaeus) are the most common and widespread of the endangered species. Needing only 6mm gaps for entrance and exits to their roosts, their matchbox size easily affords them the title of Britains smallest bats. Sadly, all of the Uk’s bat species are rapidly declining.

Threats like demolition and renovation of buildings even the replacement of roof tiles or fascia boards can trap bats inside a roof space, denying them re-entry to their roost and forcing those inside to starve. Even toxic remedial timber treatment chemicals prove fatal.

It is a Criminal offence to:
1. Deliberately capture, injure or kill a bat
2. Intentionally or recklessly disturb a bat in its roost or deliberately disturb a group of bats
3. Damage or destroy a bat roosting place (even if bats are not occupying the roost at the time)
4. Possess or advertise/sell/exchange a bat (dead or alive) or any part of a bat
5. Intentionally or recklessly obstruct access to a bat roost

As the word ‘disturbance’ is ambiguous the Regulations have been ammended to give further clarification on the scope of the offence.
Under the Regulations, damage to, or destruction of a roost site is a strict liability offence, i.e. it does not have to be deliberate, accidental acts are covered too.

As the incidental result of a lawful operation defence has been removed operators are now open to this strict liability offence, whether the damage occurs by accident or not. The risk of committing this offence may be reduced by following guidance and avoiding breeding sites and resting places where known. Due to the nature of some endangered protected species such as bats it is not always possible to identify all breeding sites and resting places and there is a risk of committing an offence accidentally.

It is not only hedgerows, ponds, lakes, marshes, woodlands, and farmlands that provides rich food sources for all bats but also suburban gardens and urban areas. With an appetite for up to 3,000 insects a night, Pipistrelles need these habitats to survive. Green schemes like the Environmental Stewardship help their conservation but unless all landowners, their agents and farmers join the schemes, modern agricultural methods will still pose a huge threat as they make no provisions for wildlife.

Loss of habitat, the use of pesticides and intensive farming practices have lead to a reduction in the abundance of insects which the bats rely on as their only food source. For example the change from hay making to silage, has meant that many insects do not reach adulthood so there are less flying adults available. Changes in climate may also influence insect life cycles and so this may affect when bats can feed.

Creatures of habit, squatting in buildings old and new bats have rights and seeking advice from one of over a hundred local bat groups before carrying out any remedial work will prevent criminal offences. It is an illegal act to move colonies.

Growing specific plants to attract the insects bats eat, putting up bat boxes or joining the Bat Conservation Trust will help enormously to protect these persecuted animals. If you suspect a Wildlife Crime against any species please contact your local police Wildlife Crime Officer.

More on Wildlife Crime Officers.

Find out more about bats at the Bat Conservation Trust.

More on the Regulations at Defra and Natural England

Article written with thanks to BCT, Natural England and Defra.


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