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Bats and Wind Turbines

Ecology, Planning, Protected species, Wind energy

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Bats and turbines don’t mix. As a protected species, it is crucial to consider the potential impact that a wind farm can have on these mammals and integrate this into your design.
This article looks at ways of protecting these species and minimising costs and delays to planning for wind energy projects.

What’s all bat fuss?

The UK has a total of 18 different species of bat, all of which are protected under both UK and European legislation because numbers have decreased so rapidly in the past century. Seven species of bat are listed as species of principal importance in England.

What are the hazards of wind turbines to bats?

It’s not direct collision that’s the main problem as might be first thought since bats use sensitive echo-location which usually helps them to steer clear of the blades. The greatest hazard is actually Barotrauma, which has been shown to kill bats when they fly into the area of low pressure surrounding the blades. In addition to this, there are also concerns surrounding the displacement of bats from foraging habitats.[1]

How can bats affect planning for wind energy projects?

The legislation surrounding the protection of these species means that planning authorities are required by law to investigate the potential impact that proposed wind energy developments could have on bats. Planning consent can even be refused if planners are unable to demonstrate that the turbines will not have a significant effect on bats. It is the developer’s responsibility to provide enough evidence to put the planning authority’s mind at ease and enable consent to be granted.

If bats are detected in the area for your proposed wind energy development, this can cause often unforeseen delays and expense and have even in some cases led to abandonment of the project all together.

It’s not all doom and gloom. As the potential impacts of wind turbines on bats become increasingly understood, a range of guidance documents have emerged and bat ecologists who have experience in turbine development can offer significant technical support to the application scheme.

Here at The Landmark Practice, we’ve obtained planning consent for a number of wind energy developments where bats were shown to be present and so we thought we’d share our top tips to help you minimise potential costs and delays for your project.

Five top tips to keep your wind project on track and bat friendly

  1. Employ your ecologist early on in the project. We’re not just saying that because we’re ecologists! By employing an ecologist at the start of your decision making process, you can identify the least risky site for your turbines. Avoiding potential impacts from the outset will significantly reduce your overall ecological risk.
  2. Siting of turbines. The siting of your turbine(s) is vital. This will be influenced by a number of factors, including ecology. Bats often use linear features such as hedgerows, streams and woodland edges to navigate between their roosts and foraging habitat. Natural England recommends a standoff distance of 50 m between a turbine blade and linear feature. Avoiding such features will enable things to go more smoothly with the local planning authority and also makes good scientific and commercial sense.
  3. Keep your ecologist informed of changes. As ecologists with experience in renewable energy projects, we are aware that the specification of turbines and their locations very often change throughout the design process. Keep your ecologist informed! What might seem like harmless changes in dimension or micro-siting could affect the results of the ecological assessment.
  4. Anticipate the need for bat surveys. The latest guidance on assessing the impact of wind turbines on bats recommends that, for some sites, surveying should take place from April-October. Schedule this into your programme! Surveys can be completed more quickly, depending on the project, but additional surveys may prove to be an advantage if project details change later in the design phase. It is safer to assume that ecological surveys with seasonal requirements of this sort can take up to one year to complete. It is better to be prepared than disappointed!
  5. Choose your ecologist wisely. Ensure that when commissioning your ecologist that they have the relevant skills, experience and licenses to fulfil your requirements. If they intend to use sub-consultants all or part of the work, check that they too are suitably qualified and licensed. Remember that your project could succeed or fail on the basis of their work. Ask for case studies of similar work they have undertaken in the past. Ask for CVs of all staff involved in the project – don’t settle for a token CV from their Managing Director. A good benchmark to measure their abilities can be found in the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management’s ‘Competencies for Species Surveys.

We hope this article helps you to realise your wind energy ambitions whilst considering the potential impacts your projects may have on bats.

Download the full guide here (pdf) - BatsWind Turbines – Implications for Planning.

[1] The Bat Conservation Trust