The news, on 8 December 2020, that Bellway Homes Limited had been fined a record £600,000 for damaging or destroying the breeding site or resting place of Soprano Pipistrelle Bats has brought the importance of complying with wildlife protection legislation into sharp focus.

Much of the legislation protecting wildlife is contained in the Habitats Regulations 2017; and the offence under Regulation 43 is wide-ranging, covering the deliberate capture, injury, disturbance or killing of a wild European protected species of animal, their eggs, breeding sites or resting places.  If found guilty of the offence, a company or individual can face an unlimited fine.

In the Bellway Homes case, the Court was told that the company had deliberately carried out demolition work on a site at Artillery Place, Greenwich, despite the fact that the presence of bats had been noted in a 2017 survey; and that the local planning authority had told the company that it would need to carry out mitigation measures and obtain species licences for that work, before it could commence.  The offence was aggravated by the fact that Bellway apparently took no steps to obtain such licences and, instead, applied unsuccessfully to the local planning authority for the planning condition to be removed.

Whilst the £600,000 fine is probably illustrative of Bellway Homes’ strong financial position and the particular aggravating features of the case, the prosecution does illustrate problems which can befall developers and contractors on sites where wildlife mitigation measures are required.  Carrying on with development or construction work in such circumstances is always a false economy, because the likelihood of concerned local residents reporting potential offences to Natural England, the local planning authority or police is, in our experience, high.  Failing to forward plan mitigation measures ultimately then results in longer delays to the construction process, because mitigation measures must always be worked around mating and breeding seasons; and only licensed individuals are able to carry out the mitigation measures required.

Should you require any advice about wildlife related issues on your sites, please contact Ian Seeley for further information.