In Britain we are lucky enough to have 18 species of bat, 17 of which are known to be breeding here – that’s almost a quarter of all our mammal species. Bat populations have suffered severe declines during the past century though, and are in urgent need of protection.
All bat species and their roosts (even if no bats are present) are legally protected, by both domestic and international legislation. It is also illegal to obstruct access to a roost.
- In England and Wales, the relevant legislation is the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) (as amended); the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, 2000; the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act (NERC, 2006); and by the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations (2010).
- In Scotland, the key legislation that applies is the Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulations 1994 (as amended).
- In Northern Ireland bats are listed under Schedule 2 of the Conservation (Natural Habitats etc) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1995.
- In the Republic of Ireland they are listed under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife Act 1976 and Schedule 1 of the European Communities(Natural Habitats) Regulations 1997.
Many people are unaware of the laws protecting bats and sometimes a polite conversation will be enough to prevent a crime taking place, but ignorance of the law is not an excuse. In the case of bats the law is very clear: it is illegal to capture, injure or kill a bat of any species, disturb any bat while it is roosting, or damage or destroy a bat roost.
A Frequently Asked Question concerns photographing bats. Great care needs to be taken as any disturbance caused to a bat by a photographer is an offence.
Therefore while it is legal to photograph a bat (even to use a flash) it should be done well away from their roost and not at too close a range.
Let’s help protects bats
Is someone doing work in a place that is known to have bats?
Is someone knocking down a building that has bats in it?
Is someone blocking the entrance/exit to a bat roost?
Are trees that may have bats in them being cut down?
Without the correct and valid licence it is illegal to:
- Deliberately capture, injure or kill a bat of any species.
- Intentionally (or ‘recklessly’ under Scottish law) disturb a bat in its roost or deliberately disturb a group of bats (a roost is any structure or place which any wild bat uses for shelter or protection eg in a tree, building, or roof space).
- Damage or destroy a bat roosting place (even if bats are not occupying the roost at the time)
- Possess or advertise/sell/exchange a bat (dead or alive) or any part of a bat.
- Intentionally or recklessly obstruct access to a bat roost.
There are exceptions to the above that are defences under law:
- Injured or disabled bats may be taken and possessed in order to look after them, with the sole purpose of releasing them once they are no longer disabled.
- Mercy killing is permitted where there is no reasonable hope of recovery (provided that person did not cause the injury in the first place – in which case the illegal act has already taken place).
No-one will be expecting you to identify the bat species involved, but remember that all bat species are protected anyway so that doesn’t necessarily matter.
- It is particularly important to record locations accurately (easy enough if it’s a building being developed, but less so if it’s a tree in the middle of a field that is being felled). Apps that provide GPS data are available for most smartphones.
- Take any photos that may be relevant – but do not risk committing a crime by disturbing the bats yourself
- If you do see someone committing a crime – and if it is safe to do so – take as many photographs as you can. Recording the offender’s face is important of course, but their clothing, the bags they’re carrying, the equipment they’re using are all important too.
Do NOT try to get too close – taking some long-distance images is better than having a camera smashed or being attacked and hurt.
- If you think a crime is taking place that involves bats call your local Wildlife Crime Officer or police force on 999 if the crime is taking place or on 101 if the event is over.
- Also please contact the Bat Conservation Trust immediately on 0845 1300 228 so they can give you advice on what to do. (The BCT has a very useful Bat Crime Investigations page on their website, as well as an excellent Need Help with a Bat? page which answers many FAQs.)
Thanks to Bat Conservation Trust for permission to use their text and for help with this page.
Page updated July 2014.
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