‘Blindsided’ claim over NDR Western Link bat survey comes under fire

A barbastelle bat. Pic: C Packman.

A barbastelle bat. Pic: C Packman.

C. Packman

A council leader says his authority was “blindsided” by a decision which meant they were not able to carry out bat surveys along the route of the mooted Norwich Western Link road.

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

But critics said the council should have been well aware of the potential issues with carrying out a survey at a time when female bats are pregnant or carrying young - because they had raised those concerns with the authority.

Contractors working for Norfolk County Council had told owners of woodland on the route of the £153m road they would start bat surveys on Sunday, July 12 - and anybody obstructing them could face £1,000 fines.

But woodland owners and ecologist Dr Charlotte Packman raised concerns over that move, as did Labour councillor Emma Corlett.

Natural England then changed the licence for contractors WSP, 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 issue was raised at a meeting of the council on Monday, July 20. Leader Andrew Proctor said Natural England had initially given the green light for work in mid July, so the council had “acted in good faith”, with safety of bats the “prime concern”.

Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Neil PerryAndrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Neil Perry

He said: “In all fairness, the county council was blindsided by Natural England’s very late change of stance, which, actually, they have still not justified to us.”

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He said the work would still need to be done and said: “I have every confidence the officer team has behaved correctly and professionally throughout.”

Following the meeting, Natural England confirmed a modified licence has been issued, which means the bat surveys will be permitted to take place this month.

Mr Proctor told Ms Corlett; “Norfolk County Council has an excellent record of delivering infrastructure and I think where the difference is between where you are coming from on the Western Link and where I see it, is I want to see that road delivered.”

But Ms Corlett said: “It is staggering to say that the council was “blindsided” by Natural England, it could be argued that Natural England was “blindsided” by the council in the first place, by not making local data clear to them on how far in to July barbastelle bats in Norfolk give birth.

“Once Natural England were in receipt of the full facts they quite rightly revised the terms of the licence to ensure that the council upheld the law.”

Ryan Hildred, Natural England Wildlife licencing service manager said: “The protection of these bats is our top priority.

“After receiving evidence that the bats in this area of Norfolk have different mating habits than other populations nationally, we issued an amended licence to ensure the ongoing protection for both them and their pups.

“Following a further assessment of the licence application we have issued another modified licence which allows the survey to take place this month – whilst ensuring strict conditions of the capturing of bats to ensure their wellbeing.”

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