After providing my friend, Brian, with some bat advice, I thought I’d smash out a quick blog for people in a similar situation. Navigating the planning process when you have bats in your loft can be a pain; the process if rife with jargon, potential time delays, un-expectancy and expense.
This article is relevant to people within the UK only. Many people live with bats in their lofts, under their weather boarding, under tiles, in out houses and other areas; the vast majority of people with bats have no idea that they are sharing their home – not surprising given that the most common bat in the UK (common pipistrelle) can fit on the tip of your thumb and squeeze into spaces as small as 1.5cm in diameter. A top bat guy (no, not batman) once mentioned to me that when he got out of his car to survey a large house, he could smell a bat roost (entirely possible with Soprano pipistrelles; which have a subtle but noticeable musty smell when roosting in large numbers i.e. 200+ individuals – this is not the norm however!).
Even in Ovid’s metamorphoses, written 2 thousand years ago, the propensity for bats to take up residents in our homes was mentioned.
Why are there bats in my loft?
To put it simply, you are providing them with free heating and housing. Much like a student, they appreciate free, warm living spaces. But seriously, before houses were invented, all UK bat species would have roosted in trees and caves. A lack of suitable natural habitat within the surrounding area – i.e. veteran trees with bat features – is also likely to be contributing factor. The majority of roof spaces contain rough-sawn beams and a stable temperature – similar to large trees and caves. To an animal that can fit into a matchbox, your roof void could be considered a large cave or tree – with multiple spaces to roost within it. That brings us to our next point…
How did bats get in my loft?
I, like many ecologists, was surprised at how small UK bats are when I first held one in my hand. A silhouette of a bat foraging beneath a lamp post can make them appear bigger than they are. The smallest bat in the UK is the soprano pipistrelle, pictured above on someone’s thumb! That is a full grown adult. They can and will squeeze into gaps that are as small as about 1.5cm in diameter. A slipped or missing tile, a gap in the soffit board or weather boarding, lifted lead flashing etc. are all ways bats will enter a loft. Reminder – they can just as easily roost on the outside of your house; for example, underneath a hanging tile or behind some weatherboarding. Hand made clay tiles are notorious for having bat roosts, particularly if they are opposite a wood, line of trees or nice hedgerow.
It’s best to keep in mind, as with all animals, that they do not keep copies of textbooks. Sometimes a client may ask me ‘where do bats not roost? That question is probably best answered by listing some of the places I’ve heard bats being found in the UK from other ecologists – including; in the folds of curtains (in abandoned houses), in the pedestrian tunnel at Anfield football ground, inside an acoustic guitar that had recently been retrieved from the loft, inside a light switch box in a stone barn, inside an upturned exercise bike in an abandoned house and on some toilet roll in an abandoned home (see below).
Bat noise in Loft?
Humans can hear noises up to 20khz, with the upper limit in average adults closer to 15–17 kHz – source. The typical frequencies of bats is shown below, all though they can be slightly lower in the big bats and in smaller bat social calls. The main take away however, is that you probably won’t be able to hear bats ‘squeaking’. But what about scratching? This is highly likely to be rodents. You would be surprised how many squirrels manage to get into lofts.
Bats won’t be ‘scurrying’ in the same manner as rodents, when walking they tend to walk slowly and gently, typical in the apex of the roof. It is conceivable that you may be able to hear a very large bat roost in a wall cavity – however these are very rare in the average home.
What if bats enter my living spaces? Or I find an Injured Bat?
While we are focusing largely on loft space, which is where people normally have bats, now is a good time to briefly mention bats in ‘living spaces’. If a bat enters your normal living quarters, i.e your lounge, bathrooms, bedroom etc. then it is legal to remove the bat; similarly if you find an injured bat anywhere you are legally allowed to rescue it (see Bat Conservation Trust link below). You may recall the infamous and amusing video of ‘Irish Family Vs Bat’ [Youtube Video Link]; it is important to remember that the broom method is not a common or effective one.
Even more importantly, remember that this above advice cannot be used to remove bats from your loft, or shed, outhouse, or external part of your property etc.
Remember that bats carry a form of rabies-like virus and if you find one in your living quarters, or find an injured bat, I would recommend reading the extensive advice on the Bat Conservation Trust website, here. Often, a volunteer bat worker can assist free of charge and take the bat into care.
Lastly, bats entering your living quarters is extremely uncommon and usually as a result of a juvenile bat ‘getting lost’ by entering via a gap in the loft. In summary, do not be scared to leave your window open in the summer if you have bats in your loft.
How do I get rid of bats in my loft?
Firstly, you need a reason of ‘overriding public interest’ – this is planning jargon. ‘Overriding public interest’ is a badly worded phrase; if you want a loft conversion/extension to your home this counts as overriding public interest.
However, it is very difficult to have bats removed from your loft if it is purely because you do not like or want them there – there are no provisions for this within UK legislation or the planning process.
What about removing bats on health and safety concerns?
This is a minefield and can be very hard to prove. I have worked on a project for a billionaire client who wanted to claim removal of a large amount of bats from a loft on health and safety grounds – but Natural England would not grant this. You can always contact Natural England, a consultant ecologist or the Bat Conservation Trust for advice. Ultimately though, despite some misleading articles on this, UK bats being in your loft is not considered a health and safety concern because the only disease UK bats can transmit to humans (a rabies-like virus) is transmitted via a bite or scratch.
As a side note, ignore articles that refer to UK bats and histoplasmosis – they are probably trying to sell you something since histoplasmosis, a fungus which grows in bird and bat poo rich soils, does not naturally occur in the UK.
Bats are fully protected under two pieces of legislation in the UK; The Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981, as amended) and the EU Conservation of Habitats and Species Legislation (2017). The latter piece of legislation is why bats are referred to as a ‘European Protected Species. In summary: these two pieces of legislation make it an offence for anybody to disturb a bat roost (all though it doesn’t specify what ‘disturbance’ constitutes), damage or block access to a bat roost, take or sell bats (alive or dead) or destroy a bat roost.
In order to undertake any of those activities, which would be punishable under the law, bat ecologists can have various licenses that allow them to take and disturb bats, so we can do our day to day job (i.e. capture and handle bats or disturb them when looking for roosts); however, in order to destroy a roost, a special licence for your home is needed – this would be a ‘European Protected Species Mitigation Licence’.
Can I still use my loft as storage, if bats are in it?
The assumption with the above question is that you will very occasionally use your loft as storage and perhaps for occasional maintenance for any plumbing or electrical needs; like most people. This is unlikely to cause significant disturbance to bats if they are present, which, presumably, are use to a certain level of human disturbance anyway; since they are in proximity of human noises etc. Using your loft in this manner does not require planning from the council, but remember that we are all bound by UK wildlife laws regardless.
With this in mind, I would advise that you carry on using your loft space as you normally would. However, for major works, such as a loft conversion, and others that require planning permission, you may need dedicated bat surveys; and, any attempt to clear your loft of bat evidence prior to getting this, could be seen as covering up evidence of a bat roost – even if it was an innocent attempt to clean up. Indeed, this has happened to me before while inspecting a roof (where the roof had been cleaned between visits) and as a company, we chose not to pursue this work from the client.
There are bats in my loft and I want an extension or loft conversion
For this option, it is likely that the council will advise you to contact an ecological consultant in your area to undertake bat surveys.
For more information on bat surveys, check out the end of this article: How Long Can A Bat Roost Be Disused Before it is Considered Abandoned? – Bio-Net-Gain
If you do not need to convert your loft space, then do nothing. If you are wanting a loft conversion, or an extension (anything that requires planning permission) then you are likely to require bat surveys of your property. Remember to get a range of quotes from ecological consultancies and to cost this into your project.
Disclaimer: The information on this article is for general guidance on your rights and responsibilities – it’s not legal advice.
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