As roofers, we encounter bats in many of the houses that we work on. And that’s a good thing! Bats are a key part of our local ecosystems, and some species are even threatened. There are over ten species of bat that we often come across in our roofing work, here in Cornwall. So, in this spoooooky season, let’s find out what to do if you find you’ve got bats in your roof, and what you might need to do if you are having roofing work done.
As we specialise in rag slate roofs, Delabole slate and older or listed building roofs, Bristow & Reeve are experienced in all the legislation, licensing, documentation and safe practices surrounding working with bats. If your roof is old or has rag slate, get in contact with us about how we can help with the Natural England bat protection process.
Bats, like bees, are important pollinators; they can help move pollen around so that plants can breed. Bats are also good indicators of the biodiversity of an area; if a certain bat species are declining, then it could be that their food sources (insects and plants) are also declining. Bats are also important, as they keep insect populations under control, and spread seeds around, helping to keep forested areas growing healthily. In many ways, bats and bees act very similarly in an ecosystem; even our crops and what we eat can be affected by bat populations! This is why bats need our protection in the first place.
In fact, bats are considered so important as pollinators, re-foresters and pest control, that they are protected by UK law.
Though bats are vital for our ecosystem, often people feel concerned if they find out they’ve got bats living in their roofs! The first thing to know is that bats don’t tend to cause any lasting damage; their poo turns to dust pretty quickly, and they don’t make as much noise as rats or mice. They also don’t chew through wiring or eat human food, as rodents do. So don’t panic if you find out you have bats in your attic!
Some buildings must have a bat survey conducted on them before any work begins, regardless if you think you have bats or not.
Any long-standing building, such as a house, garage, barn, shed, farm building, or workshop, can house bats. The building will probably need a survey if you’re tearing down an old structure or undertaking significant work, including re-roofing or re-cladding.
If you live in an area of outstanding natural beauty, national park, conservation area, or similar, you will almost definitely have to have a bat survey conducted before any roofing work can be undertaken.
If you suspect bats in your roof or if you have an old building, you must contact Natural England. Additionally, if you have a tree close to the area where you are re-roofing, you must also have a bat survey conducted, as roofers working close to bats living in a tree can disturb the creatures.
It is generally only possible to conduct bat surveys from May to September since bats hibernate during the winter, and mustn’t be disturbed. You can speak to Natural England about the best time to conduct a bat survey on your property.
You must submit a bat survey with your planning application if there is a chance that the animals may be present at your property. Read more about the planning permission process on old or listed buildings here. If you are concerned about this process, Bristow & Reeve are fully experienced in the various documentation, surveys and permissions that are required before any building or re-roofing takes place.
Though any building work can disturb bats, re-roofing, roof repair and loft conversions can cause particular harm to bats.
If you engage in any of the following actions, you’re breaking the law:
If you’re found guilty of any offences, you could risk receiving a limitless fine or a 6-month jail sentence. This is why you must have a license before you begin your re-roofing work.
An initial bat survey can cost anywhere between £200-£800. Once you have conducted the survey, you should apply for your licence to continue with your roofing work within three months, and within the year at the very latest.
Other surveys, like emergency surveys, can cost a lot more, sometimes well over £1000.
Very small-scale building works do not require full surveys, and free advice is available from the Bat Helpline or Natural England. Please enquire with Natural England or the Bat Helpline to find out more about very small-scale building works.
If bats are indeed discovered in your buildings through a survey, you should apply for a licence to continue roofing work. It is also likely that a representative from Natural England will come to monitor the roofing work.
When you submit your survey, the council or similar authority will make recommendations about how the builders should go about the roofing work. You and your roofing team will be required to abide by those suggestions.
This guidance might only be the requirement to place a few bat boxes on or near your home to offer suitable alternative roosts.
However, other species, like brown long-eared bats, require room to fly before emerging. This could mean ensuring there’s an accessible loft area set aside for this purpose.
The current recommendation from Natural England is to only use bituminous roofing felt that doesn’t contain polypropylene/polyethylene filaments when installing the roofing felt on a roof that is used by bats. Hessian-reinforced bituminous felt type 1F is one good example. This felt will maintain a suitable and safe environment for bats inside the roof since it is dark in colour and has a rough surface that bats can grip.
Roosting bats may rip out the long fibres that make up non-bitumen-coated roofing membranes, which could entangle the bats. No matter the type of roofing felt utilised, ventilation is still necessary.
As well as being careful about the type of membrane we use, we must also be conscious of fitting lights or using certain chemicals toxic to bats. If we are replacing material on a roof, such as any cladding, soffits or fascias, we must try and replace using similar material, and the material must be rough enough for bats to hold onto. Most materials can be sandpapered or scratched a little, so bats can still roost.
In the past, we have even made special little bat entrances, so bats can get in and out safely, without causing damage to your roof, or with the rain getting in.
An on-roof solar panel system is typically less likely to affect bats than an in-roof solar panel system. It may, though, alter the temperature or roosting conditions for any bats that are roosting beneath tiles, as well as obstruct entrance points. Bats may also be disturbed by any wire or equipment installed in the roof space. Though Bristow & Reeve do not repair, install or replace solar panels, we are familiar with working on roofs that do have solar panels.
When it comes to bats, there is lots of free advice available. We have worked on many roofs with bats living near or in them, have a good relationship with our local Natural England authority, and are familiar with their processes.
Good places to seek advice include: