Environmental management – guidance

Bats: protection, surveys and licences

What you must do to avoid harming bats and when you need a licence.

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All bat species and their breeding or resting places (roosts) are protected by law.

In most cases, you should be able to avoid harming bats by adjusting your planned work. If you can’t avoid disturbing them or damaging their roosts, you may be able to get a licence from Natural England. If you need to apply for planning permission, your planning authority will check you’re taking the right steps to avoid harming them.

What you must not do

You’re breaking the law if you:

  • capture, kill, disturb or injure bats (on purpose or by not taking enough care)
  • damage or destroy a breeding or resting place (even accidentally)
  • obstruct access to their resting or sheltering places (on purpose or by not taking enough care)
  • possess, sell, control or transport live or dead bats, or parts of them

If you’re found guilty of an offence you could be sent to prison for up to 6 months and be fined £5,000 for each offence.

Activities that can harm bats

Activities that can affect bats include:

In most cases you should be able to avoid harming the bats, damaging or blocking access to their roosts. If you can’t avoid this, you can apply for a mitigation licence from Natural England. You will need expert help.

If you’ve found a bat roost during building work, stop immediately until you get advice.

Decide if you need a mitigation licence

It’s up to you to decide if your activity will affect bats or their roosts, and whether you’ll need a licence. You can get expert advice from an ecologist to help you decide.

You should try everything else possible to avoid disturbing the bats, blocking access to or damaging their habitats. In most cases you should be able to plan the work to achieve this.

If this isn’t possible and your activity will affect the bats, you can apply for a mitigation licence. Applying for a licence should be your last resort and only applies to a minority of cases. Your ecologist should help you with your application.

Your ecologist will conduct surveys to show how the bats use the area, and develop mitigation plans to reduce any negative effects. You’ll need to include the survey findings, impact assessments and mitigation plans (to reduce harm to bats) with your mitigation licence application.

You can only get a mitigation licence if your application passes these 3 legal tests:

  • the activity must be for a certain purpose (for example, for scientific research or in the public interest)
  • there must be no satisfactory alternative that will cause less harm to the species
  • the activity must not harm the long-term conservation status of the species (you may need to create new habitats to offset any damage)

Find out more about the requirements for a European protected species licence.

Contact the bat advice line

If you think you have a bat roost in or near your house or place of worship, contact the bat advice line. They will give you advice and can arrange for one of Natural England’s volunteer bat roost visitors to inspect your property. This is a free service.

Phone: 0845 1300 228 (or 020 7735 6663 if calling from a mobile phone – this number is only available during office hours). Email: enquiries@bats.org.uk.

When to appoint an ecologist

If you apply for a mitigation licence from Natural England, you’ll need an ecologist to:

  • carry out surveys to work out how your activity will affect bats
  • develop your mitigation plans
  • help with your licence application

You can find an ecologist from:

Appointing an ecologist isn’t required by law, but you will need expert help with your mitigation licence application.

When you need a survey

If you need a mitigation licence, you will need to arrange a survey to support your application. The survey will show how the bats use the area, and will be used as evidence for your mitigation plans.

If you need planning permission, your planning authority may also want to see the survey report.

Standards for surveys and mitigation plans

Natural England and your planning authority will check that your surveys and mitigation plans meet certain standards, summarised below. These aren’t legal requirements, but they constitute Natural England’s standing advice.

For detail on bat survey and mitigation, refer to:

Roost surveys

The survey should include a detailed inspection of any buildings, trees, structures or features the development will affect throughout the year. This may lead to emergence and re-entry surveys, monitoring how many bats use the roost.

Emergence and re-entry surveys should follow the Bat Conservation Trust’s survey guidelines.

These surveys are usually carried out between April and early October, but May to August is the best time. Survey between December and March to find hibernation roosts – December and February are the best times for this.

Bat activity surveys

Activity surveys are carried out with static or hand-held recorders and help to build a greater understanding of how bats use the area. You may need several activity surveys if you’re developing a large site.

Activity surveys begin with a planned walk covering the habitats on the site that are likely to be used by bats. The activity survey should:

  • begin 15 minutes before sunset
  • continue for 2 to 3 hours after sunset
  • be carried out between April and early October (the best time is June to August)

Mitigation and compensation plans

Your ecologist will produce a mitigation and compensation strategy to include with your mitigation licence application. This forms part of the method statement to submit to Natural England. If you need planning permission, your planning authority may also want to see your mitigation plans.

Your planning authority and Natural England will review these plans so they can assess how your proposals will affect the bats.

The mitigation and compensation strategy should show how you will:

  • attempt to avoid harming the bats, for example by doing the work when the bats are not present or by changing your scheme’s layout
  • put back any access points after the work
  • match the environmental conditions to how they were before
  • retain existing roosts if possible
  • replace roosts and foraging habitats, and ideally add more

The planning authority might ask you to include specific measures to mitigate or compensate for any negative effects to bats, through planning conditions or obligations. They can also ask you to enhance habitats through your development.

Replace roosts

You may need to create new roosts to replace habitats you’ll remove. For maternity and hibernation roosts of high conservation significance, you need proof that the bats are using the new roosts before destroying the old ones.

If your development will only have a minor effect on the bats, you can provide bat boxes plus new roosts in buildings. But if your development will have a major impact, you need to provide like-for-like replacements for any roosts you remove. For example, if you’re removing a large maternity roost for soprano pipistrelles, you should create the same roost type, size and conditions – not just a standard bat box.

Replacement roosts should reproduce the original internal environmental conditions as closely as possible, including:

  • temperature
  • humidity
  • roof lining

Create access points for roosts

New access points to roosts should mirror those they replace, including:

  • material the bats can grip onto
  • location on the building
  • size
  • height above the ground
  • aspect
  • links to surrounding habitat, such as foraging grounds

If you are retaining roosts but temporarily disturbing them, you will need to put access points back in their original positions wherever possible.

Future management, maintenance and monitoring

Natural England (and your planning authority, if you need planning permission) will want to see your plans for future management, maintenance and monitoring of the bats population.

Apply for a licence

Licences are free. You can usually expect a licensing decision within 30 days, but Natural England is currently assessing a large volume of applications. In some cases, you may not get a decision before hibernation season begins, and your planned work could be delayed until next year.

If you need to apply for planning permission, you should get it before applying for a licence.

Apply for a licence online

  1. Read the guide to applying for a protected species licence (PDF, 568KB, 16 pages) .
  2. Register on Government Gateway.
  3. Log on to Natural England’s online licensing portal using your Government Gateway ID and password.

Apply for a licence using a downloadable form

Download bat licence application forms to complete and return to Natural England.

Get advice about your licence application

You can get advice from Natural England about your draft licence application. This advice is available for bats, great crested newts and hazel dormice. You will have to pay a fee.


Email: wildlife@naturalengland.org.uk

Telephone: 0845 601 4523

Natural England wildlife licensing
First floor
Temple Quay House
2 The Square

Where bats are found

Bats might only use a roost at a particular time of year, but their roosts are still protected by law even if the bats aren’t there.

Some common roosting places are:

  • roofs and eaves of houses
  • churches and other old buildings
  • barns and old farm buildings
  • under bridges
  • trees with holes, cracks and splits, or loose bark
  • underground places like basements, tunnels and church crypts

Bats travel between their roosts and foraging areas like pasture or woodland. They commute between these habitats using linked routes such as hedgerows.

Some species of bat are widespread across England, but others have smaller ranges. Check their distribution on the National Biodiversity Network and your local records centre. If there aren’t any records of bats in your area, it doesn’t mean bats aren’t there.

What to do if a bat comes into your house

If a bat has flown into a room in your house, you can encourage it to leave without harming it and breaking the law. Avoid touching the bat directly. The Bat Conservation Trust explains how to remove a bat from your property.

If bats come into rooms in your house often, there’s a good chance you have a roost, most likely in the roof. You should get expert help from the bat advice line.

Bats can carry a rabies-like virus. If you’ve been bitten by a bat, wash and disinfect the wound then see your doctor immediately. Rabies in bats is very rare, and the chances of you being infected from a bat scratch or bite are very low.

How to deal with bats in churches and old buildings

Bats often roost in churches and other old buildings. You’re more likely to see them between April and October.

Bats don’t usually cause problems in churches, but sometimes their faeces and urine can damage artefacts and furnishings. If you want to do something about these issues, get expert help from the bat advice line first.

See a guide on managing bat problems in churches and old buildings.

Features of bat roosts

Certain features of buildings, underground areas and trees make them more or less likely to have a bat roost.

Roosts in buildings

You’re more likely to find bats using your building (particularly during summer) if it:

  • is not affected by artificial light
  • is close to woodland or water
  • was constructed a long time ago (particularly pre- or early 20th century), although bats use modern houses too
  • has cracks or crevices
  • has a roof warmed by the sun
  • has an uneven roof covering with gaps (but not too draughty)
  • has entrances bats can fly to
  • has a large roof area with clear flying spaces
  • has large roof timbers with cracks, joints and holes
  • has hanging tiles or wood cladding, especially on south facing walls

You’re less likely to find bats using your building (particularly during summer) if it:

  • is in a heavily urbanised area with few feeding places
  • is an active industrial premises
  • has modern (post-1970s) construction with few gaps
  • is prefabricated with steel and sheet materials
  • has a small or cluttered roof space (especially for long-eared bats)

Underground roosts

Bats are more likely to hibernate underground in winter. You’re more likely to find bats using an underground roost if it:

  • is close to woodland or water
  • is large enough to have a stable temperature in winter
  • is humid
  • has many cracks and crevices (but this is less important for lesser and greater horseshoe bats)

You are less likely to find bats using an underground site if it:

  • is in a heavily urbanised area affected by artificial light
  • is heavily disturbed, for example if people access it regularly
  • is small and draughty
  • has smooth surfaces (bats can’t grip on polished surfaces)

Tree roosts

You are more likely to find bats roosting in a tree if it:

  • is in ancient woodland or parkland
  • is large with a complex growth form
  • has natural cavities – ash, beech and oak are examples of trees that typically have these
  • has damage caused by rot, wind, woodpeckers or lightning, for example
  • has loose bark

You are less likely to find bats roosting in a tree if it:

  • is in a coniferous plantation with no matures trees that have splits, cracks or holes for bats to roost in
  • is young and less than 20cm diameter at chest height, with a simple growth form and little damage