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‘Heavy-handed’ accusation as council forced to suspend Western Link bat survey

PUBLISHED: 17:26 13 July 2020 | UPDATED: 09:04 14 July 2020

A barbastelle bat. Pic: C Packman.

A barbastelle bat. Pic: C Packman.

C. Packman

Council bosses were forced to suspend bat surveys on the route of the mooted Western Link - after an eleventh hour intervention.

Iain Robinson in the woods he owns, part of woodland near Ringland, which will be affected if the western link road to the NDR gets built. With him are his daughters, Miranda and Matilda. Pic: Denise Bradley.Iain Robinson in the woods he owns, part of woodland near Ringland, which will be affected if the western link road to the NDR gets built. With him are his daughters, Miranda and Matilda. Pic: Denise Bradley.

Contractors working for Norfolk County Council had, on Friday, told owners of woodland on the route of the £153m road they would start bat surveys on Sunday - and anybody obstructing them could face £1,000 fines.

But woodland owners, who had appointed Dr Charlotte Packman from Norwich Research Park-based Wild Wings Ecology, to conduct their own bat survey, raised concerns over that move.

Dr Packman had, two weeks previously, written to the council to warn barbastelle bats start giving birth in early July, so a survey then could be disastrous.

Labour county councillor Emma Corlett also raised concerns. Natural England, on Friday, changed the contractor’s licence to state trapping must be timed to avoid the risk of capturing females which are heavily pregnant, carrying or feeding dependent young. The council survey was suspended.

The preferred route for the Western Link, as chosen by county councillors. Picture: Norfolk County CouncilThe preferred route for the Western Link, as chosen by county councillors. Picture: Norfolk County Council

Dr Packman said: “In Norfolk barbastelle bats typically start giving birth in early July. To undertake trapping and radio-tagging of the mothers at this very sensitive time could be harmful to the newborn pups.

“Some radio-tagged bats will not return to the maternity roost at all on the night of tagging. Consequently very young, dependent pups may not survive.”

Iain Robinson, who owns part of the woodland on the mooted road’s route and is opposed to the road, said the council’s approach had been ‘heavy-handed’.

He said: “The woodland owners are opposed to the building of the Norwich Western Link and are passionate about ensuring the wildlife that live in this woodland are protected from it.

Norfolk County Council Labour councillor Emma Corlett. Pic: Archant Library.Norfolk County Council Labour councillor Emma Corlett. Pic: Archant Library.

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“We have been trying to negotiate very reasonable terms of access for the council’s ecology contractors, WSP, having become concerned at the potential for harm to the barbastelle bat population through the timing of such a survey.

“This heavy-handed approach from the council damages their reputation, and demonstrates their unwillingness to be reasonable on this issue and listen to the concerns of landowners.”

And Ms Corlett, whose Labour group at County Hall is opposing the Western Link, said: “Whatever your views on this road scheme this is unacceptable.

“It was obvious even to non-experts that it is risky to trap bats that are heavily pregnant or mums that have just given birth. Whatever experts the county council is relying on to carry out these surveys, their expertise clearly isn’t wildlife in Norfolk woodlands.”

A council spokesman said: “Expert surveyors working on behalf of the council had planned to start carrying out trapping and tracking bat surveys from mid-July.

“This was in line with relevant good practice guidelines, had been licensed by Natural England several months ago and is consistent with other surveys for the same species that have been licensed and are currently being carried out for other infrastructure projects nationally.

“Two days before the surveys were due to commence, Natural England revised and reissued the licence for the surveys with a new condition which meant we could no longer proceed from mid-July.

“Our surveyors were acting in good faith in scheduling this work when they did, basing this on extensive experience of carrying out similar surveys.

“This was reinforced when Natural England licensed the surveys originally. We will now look to discuss the revision to the licence with Natural England and decide what steps to take from there.

“We had been in touch with landowners over several weeks regarding upcoming surveys to attempt to agree access with them. “We issued notices on Friday as we had not managed to agree access with some landowners for specific surveys. We will continue to discuss future surveys and access requirements with all landowners.”

More consultation on the road, which would connect the Northern Distributor Road to the A47 near Honingham is due to start later this month.

MORE: Bat safety warnings redacted from ecological survey into NDR impact


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