Revamp plans for the Thornton House complex in Audlem may have to be redrawn after experts uncovered a thriving bat colony on the site.
Teams of bat surveyors carried out dawn and dusk surveys on the 18th, 19th and 25th September led by licensed bat worker and ecologist Richard Roe, a professional bat consultant with over ten years experience in the field
A report to Cheshire East planners says teams of four carried spot surveys "equipped with heterodyne, frequency division and time expansion bat detectors."
They spotted pipistrelle and soprano bats flying around the existing buildings and foraging among nearby ornamental trees.
An investigation of roof spaces also found bat droppings that suggest a roost of up to 100 bats.
Experts believe there to be at least one maternity colony and several regularly used satellite bat roosts on the site.
Their report warns that the proposed building work at Thornton House will result in the loss of bat roosts and, if work is carried out in an "insensitive manner", it could result in death or injury to roosting bats.
All bats are fully protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and several European directives while British bats species are afforded extra protection by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 and the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006.
The legislation makes it an offence to intentionally or deliberately kill, injure or capture bats; deliberately disturb bats; damage, destroy or obstruct access to bat roosts; possess or transport bats unless acquired legally or to sell, barter or exchange bats.
Wulvern Housing Association has lodged detailed plans to replace the Thornton House complex in Audlem with 10 new bungalows.
The Association must now get a special license from Natural England before it can start any demolition or building work work on the site.
A licence will not be issued before planning consent is given so it is also up to Cheshire East planning authority to be satisfied that no criminal act will result from the development.
They have also been told that licenses are only issued if there is an 'overriding need' for development, no satisfactory alternative and no long-term damage to the local bat population .
Cheshire East planners are confident they can meet the tests for a license. They have draw up a strategy to mitigate damage to the bats with a scheme to place bat boxes on buildings and trees across the site while Wulvern Housing is redrawing its bungalow plans to incorporate special bat roosting habitats into the new roof spaces.
If planning consent is granted as expected and work does get under way, the existing roof tiles and felt may have to be removed by hand under close supervision and exposed beams left undisturbed for at least seven days to allow the bats plenty of time to find somewhere else to roost.
The work may also have to be carried out in December when bats are less likely to make use of the roosts.
Members of the webteam find it hard to resist speculating whether the bats currently spend much of their flying time foraging over the nearby 'Gladman' fields – but we must leave that thought for another day.
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