The pioneering work to protect Greater Horseshoe Bats by local authorities across the South West has been celebrated by the Association of Local Government Ecologists (ALGE) at their awards.

The South Hams Special Area of Conservation (SAC) Greater Horseshoe Bats Steering Group (comprising Dartmoor National Park Authority, Devon County Council, South Hams District Council, Teignbridge District Council and Torbay Council together with Natural England) has been given a special commendation within the ‘Local Government Changing the Way We Work Award’ category.  The panel felt that the Steering Group was an excellent example of collaborative, cross authority working in order to deliver a better approach for the conservation of Greater Horseshoe Bats within an area of high development pressure. 

The commendation comes as the Steering Group have been working together on a new evidence-based planning guidance document which will assist both planners and developers to assess whether new development will have an impact on the protected bats and provides advice on the information that applicants must submit if this is the case. The guidance has now been adopted by all five planning authorities. The cross authority Steering Group was recognised by ALGE for the way in which they have sought to ‘improve the way they work’, helping to implement new guidance and share experience.

ALGE is a national voluntary association representing professional ecologists working in local government in the UK and marked its 25 year anniversary with awards recognising its members’ and their partners’ contributions to furthering nature conservation and its delivery at the local level. The awards were announced at ALGE’s conference in London on 3rd December 2019.

Dartmoor National Park Authority adopted the guidance in September and their Head of Forward Planning and Economy Dan Janota said: “A landscape managed well for bats is a landscape consistent with Dartmoor’s special qualities; a rich pastoral tapestry of strong hedge bank boundaries, and protected river corridors, dotted with clusters of traditional buildings offering opportunities for wildlife. Dartmoor National Park Authority is proud to be part of this proactive Steering Group.”

Councillor Mike Morey, Cabinet Member for Infrastructure, Environment and Culture for Torbay Council, said: “It’s fantastic that the work we’re doing with our partners has been recognised nationally in this way by ALGE and Torbay Council is pleased and proud to have adopted this important piece of planning guidance to safeguard our local environment.”

Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member with responsibility for the environment, Cllr Roger Croad, said: “The south Devon landscape supports an incredibly important population of this rare bat.  This special commendation recognises the importance of Devon Local Authorities working together to help protect this population.  We need to continue to work closely with developers and Natural England to ensure that new developments such as housing and roads are located and designed to ensure that there is no impact on these special bats.”

South Hams District Council’s Executive Member for Environment, Cllr Keith Baldry, said: “We have a great many greater horseshoe bats in the South Hams and it’s crucial that we have guidance which helps to safeguard their future.  Working together with our partners ensures that all five planning authorities have a consistent approach when applying the new guidance.  The national commendation by ALGE is wonderful news which acknowledges the time and effort we have all put into the Steering Group.”

Teignbridge portfolio holder for planning, Councillor Gary Taylor said:  ““This guidance has been the culmination of several years of hard work by our ecologists and planning teams. They have sought to really understand how Greater Horseshoe Bats live in and move around our rich landscapes so we can ensure that they are protected from the risks that new development can pose. We are immensely proud of this award, recognising a piece of work which will hopefully see this species continue to be such a special part of our area long into the future.”

Natural England’s Devon, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Area Manager Wes Smyth, said: “Bats are an important and declining part of our native wildlife so it is important we protect the sites they call home as well as where they feed.

“I am delighted that the hard work of Natural England and all partners involved in this project has gained national recognition. Our joint planning guidance will help to ensure this rare and wonderful species of bat is conserved for future generations.”

Facts about South Hams Special Area of Conservation

  • The South Hams Special Area of Conservation (SAC) is an area in Devon that is thought to hold the largest population of greater horseshoe bat in the UK, and is the only one containing more than 1,000 adult bats (31 % of the UK species population).
  • The SAC contains the largest known maternity roost in the UK and in Europe and it has been designated in part to ensure the favourable conservation of this species of bat.
  • Berry Head, Brixham is lucky enough to host a designated Greater Horseshoe Bat roost that is identified as being integral the survival of the Torbay population of bats.
  • There are six SAC roosts in total across the five local authorities.

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