When Planning Rules Go Batty

The interplay between planning rules and the rights of protected species is the perfect example of legislation having the opposite effect from what was intended

You may get rid of mice under the floorboards in this country, or ants in the larder, but if there’s a bat in the bedroom, don’t try to eject it. That would be “disturbance” of a protected species, for which, inside or outside your home, you are required to apply for a licence that might well be refused. In one case, a householder was no longer allowed to turn lights on or boiler off in a utility room, now designated as a “bat roost”. To disturb bats without permission is an arrestable offence. Conviction could mean prison for six months and/or a fine of £5,000 – per bat.

Apply for permission to convert an outbuilding or put a room in the attic and there has to be an environmental survey, carried out by planning authority-approved consul-tants. If they find traces of bats you can forget any idea of getting the work finished within two years, if ever. Those same consultants are then commissioned to carry out an expensive series of seasonal surveys, after which planning consent just might be granted on condition that an expensive, purpose-built “bat hotel” is incorporated.

This is a perfect example of legislation having the opposite effect from what was intended. The consequence of giving bats’ needs precedence over humans’ is that prudent householders become law-breakers and make sure nobody will find any. Bats are ejected and their traces removed. One blogging anti-batman advises using loud music, bright lights and strong smells to create a bat hell. Another recommends buying a machine that pumps out noxious fumes.

Many protected species, including lizards, voles, dormice, owls, badgers, swallows and even sparrows, have declined in number in parallel with the ratchetting up of their legal protection (though a few predatory pests, such as magpies and seagulls, have inconveniently multiplied). In the case of bats, the commonest species, pipistrelles, is down by 70 per cent since the 1970s. You don’t have to be a card-carrying “green” to think this is a great pity. But you do have to be very green indeed to agree that bats should have more rights in your own home than you do; and you have to be very naïve to believe that previously law-abiding citizens, who would willingly have shared their attics, outbuildings or even bedrooms with bats, will be happy to leave them in sole occupation. And I haven’t even mentioned rabies.

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