The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (WCA) protects bats and their roosts in England, Scotland and Wales. Some parts have been amended by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CRoW) which applies only in England and Wales.
It is an offence for any person to:
- Intentionally kill, injure or take a bat.
- Possess or control a live or dead bat, any part of a bat, or anything derived from a bat.
- Intentionally or recklessly* damage, destroy or obstruct access to any place that a bat uses for shelter or protection (*reckless applies in England and Wales only). This is taken to mean all bat roosts whether bats are present or not.
- Intentionally or recklessly* disturb a bat while it is occupying a structure or place that it uses for shelter or protection (*reckless applies in England and Wales only).
- Sell, offer or expose for sale, or possess or transport for the purpose of sale, any live or dead bat, any part of a bat, or anything derived from a bat. It is also an offence to publish, or cause to be published, any advertisement likely to be understood as conveying that they buy or sell, or intend to buy or sell, any live or dead bat, part of a bat or anything derived from a bat. Sale includes hire, barter and exchange.
- Set and use articles capable of catching, injuring or killing a bat (for example a trap or poison), or knowingly cause or permit such an action. This includes sticky traps intended for animals other than bats.
- Make a false statement in order to obtain a licence for bat work.
- Possess articles capable of being used to commit an offence, or to attempt to commit an offence. These are punishable in a like manner as for the actual offence.
It is not illegal:
- To take a disabled bat for the sole purpose of tending it and releasing it when no longer disabled, as long as that person can show that it was not disabled unlawfully by them.
- To kill a bat, as long as that person can show that the bat was so seriously disabled, other than by their own unlawful act, that there was no reasonable chance of it recovering.
- If the otherwise illegal act was the incidental result of a lawful operation and could not reasonably have been avoided.
Police and court powers
A police officer who suspects with reasonable cause that a person is committing or has committed an offence can stop and search them, search or examine any relevant thing in their possession, and seize it. They can also enter land other than a dwelling house without a warrant, or enter and search a dwelling house (with or without other persons) with a warrant. In England and Wales, the CRoW Act makes bat offences arrestable. The potential fine for each offence is £5,000. If more than one bat is involved, the fine is £5,000 per bat. In England and Wales an offender can also be imprisoned for six months. On conviction the forfeiture of any bat or other thing by the court is mandatory, and items used to commit the offence (for example vehicles) may be forfeited.
The WCA requires every Local Authority to bring the Act to the attention of the public and schoolchildren, and allows the Local Authority to take prosecutions in its area.
There is a bat flying around inside my house - how do I get it out?
Bats can get into houses through small crevices, down the chimney, through open doors and windows or they may be brought in and released by a cat. Mostly they will fly about at night and hide in some secluded corner during daylight, only to appear again the following night, perhaps in a different room. When flying they make high-pitched sounds that we can't hear called echolocation, which tell them what obstacles are in their way. So, if you have a large window in the room open it and the bat will likely soon find its way out. Otherwise wait for it to settle (often in the folds of a curtain) approach it slowly, pick it up gently and take it outside. If the bat 'disappears' it is best to wait until it re-emerges. There is no easy way to find a hidden bat unless you are prepared to move all your furniture.
There are bats living in my roof/under the eaves - what should I do?
Best to leave them alone. Bats originally lived in natural crevices like tree holes, but because we have destroyed many of their natural homes many have now adapted to live in our houses, even modern ones. Bats usually live in buildings during summer (May-September) going elsewhere to hibernate for the winter. They make use of existing crevices and do not build nests, so they cause no damage to property. The worst problem you are likely to encounter is a few droppings beneath their entry point. Bats are insect eaters and their droppings comprise mostly bits of insect wings, so they don't smell or carry diseases transmissible to humans.
Many bats in houses live under the eaves, inside soffits or between tiles and roofing felt, so never go inside the roof space. But if you have an older house you may have brown long-eared bats hanging from the main beam. Bats usually return to the same place year after year.
Bats have declined dramatically in recent years all bats and their roosts are protected by law at all times. It is illegal to do anything which may harm them or stop them entering or leaving their roost site, even if they are apparently absent at the time, without first obtaining advice from Natural England. The sort of thing which might require advice is replacing, repairing or repainting fascias, soffits and bargeboards; re-roofing the property; having the timbers treated for woodworm or dry rot; or converting the loft into a room.
Will bats harm me or my family?
No, bats are small, insect-eating mammals that are likely to be more afraid of you, than you are of them. Most species which live in houses weigh only a few grammes and many adult bats would with their wings closed fit in a matchbox. It is always wise to avoid letting any animal try to bite you, but the teeth of many of our bats are too small to pierce the skin. Bats have excellent navigation skills thanks to their echolocation system, so they won't get caught in your hair.
If I have a roost in my house - will I be overrun with bats in a few years?
This is very unlikely to happen. Although the majority of obvious roosts in houses consist largely of female bats which gather together to give birth, they breed at a very slow rate so big increases in numbers are very rare. A bat is usually several years old before it breeds for the first time and even then it may not breed every year. When it does breed, it only gives birth to one youngster a year. Because bats feed only on insects, they have to hibernate in the winter, first putting on sufficient fat to see them through the cold months. This can be quite a challenge for a young bat, so many die in their first winter. So, although most of the adult females and their female babies will return the next year to your house, the overall total number of bats is likely to be roughly the same. That is not to say that you won't notice some fluctuation in numbers.
Where can I find further information about bats?
If you need further information or advice about bats please call the English Nature helpline on. If necessary a local "bat worker" will be asked to call on you to help solve your problem.
You may also find the following sites useful:
Natural England - Bats (item 2)
Bats in Houses (item 6 and 8)
Advice for Planning Authorities Relating to Bats (item 12)