Bats and the Law
what is illegal?

In England, Scotland and Wales the law protecting bats is considerably stricter than it is for most other animals. All bat species have been for some time protected under schedule 5 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. however since 2007 the effective protection for bats now comes from Schedule 2 of the Conservation (Natural Habitats &c) Regulations 1994, which defines "European protected species of animals". Changes to legislation, and devolution, mean the law is difficult to summarise succinctly across the UK, but the strong legal protection for bats and roosts remains.

It is an offence across the UK to:

In addition, in Northern Ireland it is an offence to:

In Scotland it is an offence to:

In England and Wales it is an offence under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) to:

'deliberately' in this context may be interpreted as someone who, although not intending to capture/injure or kill a bat, performed the relevant action, being sufficiently informed and aware of the consequence his/her action will most likely have.

In this interpretation, a bat roost is "any structure or place which any wild [bat]...uses for shelter or protection". Because bats tend to reuse the same roosts, legal opinion is that the roost is protected whether or not the bats are present at the time.

Defences

There are defences in the law that allow what would otherwise be prohibited acts.

  1. Injured or disabled bats may be taken and possessed in order to look after them, with the sole purpose of releasing them once they are no longer disabled
  2. Mercy killing is permitted where there is no reasonable hope of recovery (provided that person did not cause the injury in the first place - in which case the illegal act has already taken place).

Formerly, killing, injuring, taking or disturbing bats or damaging, destroying or obstructing roosts were not offences if these were the incidental result of a lawful operation and could not have reasonably been avoided. However, since 2007 in most cases this exemption no longer has effect. So if you think you need to do this you will need professional advice before you do anything that might affect bats or their roosts, even if it is in a house.

If in doubt, contact the police or the Statutory Nature Conservation Organisation (SNCO) and allow a reasonable time to advise on whether the proposed action should be carried out and, if so, the method to be used. The SNCOs are Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Countryside Council for Wales. Different laws apply in Northern Ireland but they have a similar effect to the above. The SNCO for NI is the Environment and Heritage Service (Northern Ireland).

So what this means, is that if you intend to do any works which might affect bats or their roosts, such as work to old trees or in roofspaces, you must by law consult with Natural England or the other relevant body.

Rescuing bats
In the UK it is legal to handle a bat, or any other protected animal, without a licence for humane reasons only - this includes rescuing them from cats, and taking them to a vet or person who is experienced in dealing with injured bats. The bat must be released at the earliest possible opportunity in the area where it was found. It is illegal to keep a healthy bat in captivity without a licence. If you do pick up an apparently healthy bat - either from a cat directly, or perhaps one that is on the ground, - keep it in a cool dark box until dusk, then put it out somewhere out of the cat's reach, and let it fly off in its own time. Do not, under any circumstances, throw a bat in the air to make it fly - there are sad stories of people doing this only to find the poor bat was so disorientated that it crashes straight to the ground and breaks a wing.

To find out more visit the Bat Conservation Trust from whom most of the above information comes.