The presence of bats on the SRMC site has had a surprisingly high profile throughout the development and has been an agenda item on meetings since the initial planning phase.
So what’s the fuss about? Well, all UK bat species are protected by the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017. Protection is necessary to preserve habitat, particularly hibernation and roosting sites, and to prevent further decline in the population numbers.
The mature broad-leaved trees on the SRMC site, the Derwent Valley and nearby Strothers Hills are a good foraging habitat for bats and their presence in the area is obvious and audible to anyone visiting after dark.
So, there are bats in the area but are they roosting or hibernating in our building? That was the big question because if so mitigation needs to be provided at considerable cost and delay. The planning guidelines require that a survey be completed to assess which species of bat are present, the level of activity and whether they are roosting in the church building.
So, let’s get on with the survey so we can start the development.
Not so fast. There is no point doing a survey when they are hibernating and if bats are present in the building it is important not to disturb them. Bats take a while to wake up from hibernation which they start in October or November and are not fully active again until late spring or summer.
The survey, which required 3 separate site visits by 4 surveyors took place in June 2019.
Of the 8 species of bat found in the North East, 3 were present on the site: Common Pipistrelle, Soprano Pipistrelle and Noctules.
Although they were found to be foraging (feeding on insects) in the woodland around the church, to the relief of all concerned there was no evidence of them roosting on the premises.
The three species present on the site have stable or increasing populations locally. Nevertheless the guidelines require that roosting provision is made in the form of bat boxes placed in the woods surrounding the church.
Not just any old box will do. The specific design and manufacturer is specified and ours had to be imported from Germany.
The location is important too. Specialist input and approval is required from the ecologist at GMBC as to the height and direction the boxes face.
The bat boxes are now in place and complement the various other wildlife features on site: bird nest boxes, feeding stations, hedgehogs houses and bug hotels.
It is hoped that in the spring tours can be arranged to show how we are doing our bit for nature.