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Last week my business demolished a derelict brick building used by glue sniffers and fornicators. It took several years to get planning permission to do so and predictably the last hurdle was bats. We had to wait till the summer to do two costly bat surveys, which as expected found no bats, let alone rare ones.


We added an extension to a farmhouse this year too, and that was delayed for a year specifically to allow summer bat surveys, which also found nothing.


A few years ago a local firm was forced to erect miles of expensive plastic sheeting around a quarry lest a great crested newt trespass on the site by mistake. The plastic prevented young lapwings following their parents and left a legacy of wind-blown litter we are still clearing up. No great crested newt turned up to be saved.


The government says it now plans to relax the rules around bat and newt surveys for development, which cause massive delays to everything from conservatories to nuclear power stations. Cue outrage among bat and newt lovers. But the change is long overdue and won’t hurt bats and newts at all. Why? The way to help both kinds of animal is to supply them with extra habitat, not to tiptoe round individual animals on the bizarre assumption that they don’t know how to move.


Dig a pond for newts nearby; put up lots of custom-made bat roosts on buildings or trees. Indeed, that’s exactly what developers large and small do nowadays routinely. On a larger scale, the excellent new policy of “biodiversity net gain” has developers improving habitats for nature somewhere else, not far from where they are building houses.


So why, if this offsetting is the policy, do developers still have to do bat and newt surveys? Follow the money. The surveys are lucrative for the people that do the surveys. Firms, charities, wildlife trusts have found a nice little earner employing bat surveyors to sit outside barns with ultrasound scanners and prepare lengthy reports.


The cannier ones make sure that the reports say what the developer wants to hear. Here’s one such business I found online this week promising you negative results for about £1,000 minimum: “We know the prospect of bats slowing down your project can be stressful. That is why our experts do everything possible to make the process as fast and hassle free as possible. You can relax and let us take care of everything, knowing that we achieved 100% planning success over the past 12 months.”


Bat and newt surveys cause people to hate bats and newts. Their only purpose is to reward bat and newt surveyors. Abolish them.

By Matt Ridley | Tagged:  environment  the-times