Natural England proposes changes to bat advice

I quote BCT’s response verbatim. This appeared on their website this morning. Words fail me

Worrying changes proposed to the Natural England Helpline Bat Advice Service statement by BCT Joint Chief Executives

It is with sadness that we share the unexpected news that Natural England are unlikely to continue the Helpline Bat Advice Service when the current contract ends on 31st October 2017. We are strongly opposed to this proposal and the detrimental impact it will have on bat conservation, and will be writing to the CEO of Natural England, James Cross, to express our concerns.

The Helpline Bat Advice Service is a crucial part of bat conservation in England. We believe it underpins much of the bat conservation work in this country and will be making the strongest case possible for this vital support to the public to continue.

BCT is contracted by Natural England to organise and oversee its bat casework across England, with the vital help of Volunteer Bat Roost Visitors. These dedicated volunteers provide a free roost visit service to anyone who has bats in a residential property or church and requires further advice, beyond that which can be provided on the phone or in an email. BCT undertakes the Bat Advice Service within our National Bat Helpline Service.

In 2016 we dealt with 14,781 enquiries on our National Bat Helpline. We organised 1,406 Natural England roost visits (9.5% of all National Bat Helpline calls) and answered a further 3,535 Natural England enquiries (24% of calls) which did not require a visit, such as planning enquiries or those needing information or reassurance about  a roost. We wrote letters to householders and churches based on the information provided by Volunteer Bat Roost Visitors after their visits. Our staff helped to manage roost visit requests by identifying cases where advice could be issued without a visit, such as for rodent control, loft insulation and non-chemical cluster fly treatment. We encourage roost owners with issues, such as bats in living areas, to take some simple steps to resolve them at home, without the need for a roost visit.  BCT’s National Bat Helpline dealt with an additional 7,228 non-Natural England enquiries (49% of all enquiries ) last year,  including 5,979 bat care related enquiries, crime related enquiries and general information.

Natural England tell us that they do still wish to maintain the roost visit system in some form going forwards, but that householders will initially be directed to online advice, rather than to a telephone helpline service and that they plan to develop a separate bespoke arrangement for churches to work with volunteers. Natural England have not made a final decision and we await further information.

The Helpline Bat Advice Service, including the roost visit service, and its predecessors have been working successfully for bat conservation in England for decades. Consequently we are urging Natural England to fully consider the impact of these proposed changes on bat conservation. We have requested that Natural England inform and consult with their Volunteer Bat Roost Visitors about the changes they are proposing and, if they go ahead, ensure there are clear transition plans in place. They have assured us that this will happen.

Natural England have invited comments from their Volunteer Bat Roost Visitors which should be sent to bat.review@naturalengland.org.uk and will be carrying out consultation workshops with their volunteers. If you submit comments, please copy them to CEO@bats.org,uk, so we can take account of these in our discussions with Natural England. We would also encourage volunteer bat roost visitors to engage with Natural England’s consultation workshops.

Julia Hanmer and Kit Stoner,Joint Chief Executives

Bat Conservation Trust

Natural England are due to send an e mail to all Voluntary Bat Roost Visitors today but there may be a delay even though the date was agreed in advance.

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