Bat colonies under threat from development plans in North Somerset: Avon Wildlife Trust Statement on West of England Joint Spatial Plan

Avon Wildlife Trust has responded to the latest consultation on housing development in the West of England to express concern about the potential impact on protected bats in the North Somerset Levels.

The Joint Spatial Plan developed by local Councils sets out proposals for four new communities, 7,850 new houses and several new roads to be built around Nailsea, Backwell, Churchill and Banwell.

The North Somerset Levels is a crucial habitat for Greater Horseshoe bats. The area’s meadows and waterways support a wealth of wildlife, including insects that are essential to the bats’ diet. Thriving colonies of bats surround the Levels, including summer maternity roosts in the levels where they raise their young, and winter hibernation sites on the Mendips. The Levels landscape provides essential landmarks and corridors that the bats use to travel between roosts and feeding grounds. Across the UK their numbers have declined by 90% in the last 100 years as their habitat for feeding, hibernating and roosting has become more fragmented, and light pollution has limited the number of ‘dark corridors’ available for them to fly within. The importance of North Somerset for bats has been reflected in the creation of a Special Area of Conservation, which is legally protected to ensure that Greater and Lesser Horseshoe Bats can survive and thrive there.

Avon Wildlife Trust believes that the level of development planned for this area risks significant impacts on the future of these protected populations of bats, through the loss of essential feeding habitats and travel corridors, and through new roads creating linear barriers to their movement across the landscape severing links between breeding and hibernation sites.

The Joint Spatial Plan documents promise that development would be accompanied by a strategic approach to assessing, safeguarding and enhancing bat habitat, but have not yet shown that it is possible to prevent significant damage to protected bat populations.

We support the strategic approach to identifying sustainable locations for housing, but we are calling on the local councils behind the plan to look more closely at the potential impacts on bats in North Somerset and review whether it is possible to go ahead with planned levels of development in the proposed locations without unacceptable impacts on the natural world.