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Bats and Golf Courses

This article by Peter Fenn summarises British bat distribution and their roosting preferences, and describes the law protecting them and their roosts.

Bays are widespread and common throughout the British Isles; their presence often going undetected since they appear after dark. Many people have never seen a bat and do not know what to look for. Identifying bats is a complex procedure relying on the observation of flight behaviour and listening to their ultra-sonic calls on sophisticated electronic detectors.

Bats are frequently to be found on golf courses living in buildings, structures and trees; suitable roosts are available and food is easily found. The presence of bats offers few detrimental effects; they seldom damage; they do not build nests; and they cannot gnaw. However, the presence of bats brings a legal liability and responsibility, and those responsible for the management of golf courses need to be aware of the implications of bats living, roosting and feeding on their courses.

Firm evidence on bat activity is difficult to collect and it is prudent to start from the premise that bats are present on every golf course. The author would be surprised to find a golf course that does not play host to bats !

Forest Cover

After the last ice age, the British Isles was almost entirely covered in trees. By 1919, centuries of clearance for agriculture, warships, industry and housing left the forest at just 4%. Although this figure has been raised to 11% in recent years, Britain has remained one of the least wooded countries in Europe. Golf courses are therefore valuable bat habitats and often one of the few environmental sanctuaries where the use of pesticides and chemicals is minimal.

Bats and the law

Throughout Great Britain and Ireland all bat species are fully protected by legislation (mostly the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981). The relevant pieces of legislation are very similar and when taken together the effect is to :

  • make it illegal to deliberately kill, injure or capture bats;

  • deliberately disturb bats (whether in a roost or not);

  • damage, destroy or obstruct access to bat roosts.

The legislation is so written that an offender does not need to be aware of the roost to be committing an offence. If the roost is damaged, or access obstructed, an offence has occurred. The problem is exacerbated by the lack of any definition of the roost; it is clear what a bat is but what is a roost ? In one interpretation a bat roost is ‘any structure or place which a wild animal uses for shelter or protection’. Furthermore, since bats often use roost for brief periods and return over a time, there may be a case for the argument that roosts are protected whether or not the bat(s) is/are present. It would therefore appear that all roosts are protected. The legislation protects bat roosts in trees as well as buildings associated with golf courses.

Defences to illegal acts cannot be relied on unless the appropriate Statutory Nature Conservation Organisation (SNCO) has been notified and allowed a reasonable time to advise on the proposed action and the method, if allowed, to be used . The relevant SNCO’s are :

  • England English Nature
  • Wales Countryside Council for Wales
  • Scotland Scottish Natural Heritage
  • Northern Ireland Dept of Environment (Northern Ireland)
  • Environment Service

Golf Clubs are reminded of a recent case in Leicester, where a Council and building contractor were fined in court after being held liable for damage to a bat roost; a timely reminder to all involved in any activity which can impinge on bats and their roosts. The onus is now on Golf Clubs to check that bats and their roosts will not be affected by construction work.

Construction work and renovation, including tree pruning and removal, can destroy bat colonies or their roosts. Any work on buildings, trees and structures may unwittingly risk conflict with the law, because evidence of bats is not always obvious. The relevant SNCO must be consulted if work is planned or if bats are found, otherwise an offence will be committed. The work will not be prevented, but advice will be given on the procedure and method to be adopted.

Providing bat roosts

There are many reasons why golf courses might choose to provide extra roosts for bats; not least for the pleasure of watching them. Many bats put on dramatic displays of flying skills and investment in bat boxes will be repaid by their assistance in pest control; bats eat insects. Instructions for a simple bat box; design, manufacture and installation, are available from the author, also a schedule of bat species with their distribution and roost locations throughout the British Isles. Finally, Peter Fenn would be delighted to hear of any bat stories from Golf Clubs, and/or to give them his assistance.

For further information, contact Peter Fenn, UMIST, P O Box 88, Manchester M60 1QD. Tel. 0161 200 4233. E-mail : peter.fenn@umist.ac.uk

 

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