Tuesday, 20 October 2009

On trial for bat crimes

This month has seen two important bat crime cases come to court following the hard work of police wildlife crime officers in opposite corners of England and Wales. Dr Kate Barlow, Investigations Officer here at the Bat Conservation Trust explains how she has been involved.

The first case saw Mr. Ayob Bhailok, a solicitor from Preston in Lancashire, found guilty of two charges of destruction of bat roosts in Prestatyn Magistrates Court, North Wales. He was given a 6 month conditional discharge and ordered to pay £2000 costs. The verdict was delivered at the end of the two day trial but was the culmination of a complex investigation carried out by North Wales Police and particularly by wildlife crime officer Sgt Rob Taylor. I got involved to help explain to the court the impact these crimes had on bat populations.

Mr. Bhailok was working as a consultant for Freemont (Denbigh) Ltd who wanted to develop the old North Wales hospital site, which contains a number of Grade II listed buildings. Denbighshire County Council granted outline planning permission for the site in 2006 which included a requirement for bat surveys to be completed. The initial bat survey was carried out and identified a number of bat roosts in the complex of buildings with roosts of one of Britain’s rarest bats the lesser horseshoe bat and brown long-eared bats in the former Bryn Golau ward of the hospital. Then in 2008 the Bryn Golau ward building was demolished. Despite the bat survey report stating that the building was home to a possible maternity roost site for lesser horseshoe bats and that Freemont (Denbigh) Ltd would need to obtain a license from the Welsh Assembly Government before any buildings containing bat roosts could be demolished. The licence was never obtained.

Sgt Rob Taylor discovered a partly demolished building, and bats had to be rescued and relocate to another building with help from a local batworker. Work on the development at North Wales Hospital stopped last November when the bat offence was detected and no work has been able to go ahead on the site since.

As part of the investigation, Sgt Rob Taylor asked me to provide a statement explaining the impact of the destruction of the roosts on the populations of the two species involved. We have been providing these statements for cases that reach the courts in recent months and they give background information on the bat species and populations involved to the Magistrates, who cannot be expected to be bat experts.

After a long investigation by Sgt Rob Taylor, Mr. Bhailok was charged with destruction of the two roosts in the Bryn Golau ward building. He denied the charges, arguing that he had passed on planning issues at the site to a number of consultants to sort out. Following the trial, District Judge Andrew Shaw said that Mr. Bhailok was responsible for giving the go ahead for demolition works to start on the Byrn Golau building, and found him guilty of the charges.

A week later Essex police called to let me know of another bat prosecution. Two companies, Hills Construction and North East Demolition were found guilty of destruction of a bat roost at Colchester Magistrates court last week and fined £2000 and £1500 respectively. A small barn was identified to have a brown long-eared bat roost in it during a bat survey of 2006 and the report from the survey recommended that a licence would be required. The surveyor then noticed in 2008 that the barn had been demolished and after checking found out no licence had been obtained. He reported it to Essex police who investigated and charged the two companies, the first were developing the barn and the second carried out the actual demolition.

With more bat crime cases reaching court it shows that bat crime is being taken seriously and will hopefully prevent crimes happening in the future.

What is bat crime?

Bats suffer persecution (harassment and cruel treatment) for various reasons. The persecution may be deliberate or reckless (e.g. continuing with roofing work even though bats have been uncovered) or may be due to a lack of awareness of bats and the places they live in (e.g. entombing bats in walls while re-pointing stonework.

Some of the problems bats may encounter include injury or death, loss of roosts or disturbance of bats for example when they are feeding young. Bats are especially vulnerable while females are pregnant or looking after young bats, and both males and females are vulnerable during winter hibernation.

Why are bats a wildlife crime priority?
Numbers of British bats have declined rapidly over the last few decades; as a result all bats and their roosts are now protected across the UK. Without protection this decline would continue. Wildlife crimes affecting bats have devastating consequences for bat populations either directly through killing of bats, or indirectly by removing essential roosts used by the bats. The law is there to protect bats and roosts but NOT to stop anything ever happening at a roost. It is designed so that bats must be taken into account when work needs to be carried out, and that any work that is done is completed in a way that causes the least disturbance to the bats, reduces the chance of injury and safeguards the availability of roosts.

What can I do if I suspect a bat crime?

If you suspect a bat crime, please report it.
Making notes (mental or written) at a scene, remember:
What is happening?
Who is involved?
Where – note the location precisely
When – note date and time.
Take photos (with camera, video or mobile phone) if you think it is likely that evidence may be removed, and only if it is safe to do so
Contact your local police station immediately. Explain that you think a wildlife crime is being committed and mention ‘Operation Bat’. This is the standard operating procedure for police dealing with bat-related crimes. Ensure you get an incident number from the police.
Let us know by emailing investigations@bats.org.uk or completing the incident report form on our website . You can also report incidents directly to us in this way, or contact the Helpline 0845 1300228.

- Directly approach suspects, leave that to the police
- Pick up any bats at a site. Contact the Bat Conservation Trust for further advice on what to do with grounded, injured or dead bats either by calling the Helpline 0845 1300228 or from our website: