Why are Areas Used by Protected Species at Craighouse having Nature Designation Removed?

bat

A pipistrelle bat as found at Craighouse

In light of the Council trying to de-designate large sections of the site in the New Local Plan , one of our members, Tana Collins, has been researching an important protected animal at Craighouse that is protected in the UK and also under European law, with severe penalties for those that kill or destroy their habitats.

Bats.

As many people know, Craighouse is full of bats. They may look a bit like winged mice, but are very different with a maximum recorded lifespan for Pipistrelles of 16 years and just one young per year  – which is why they can be so vulnerable to change. Pipistrelle populations have reduced by approx 70% over 15 years.

According to the wildlife audits there are two kinds on the site the Pipistrelle 45 and 55.

If you walk on the orchard at dusk, you will see them feeding on the insects around the fruit trees. They are all around the woodland fringe and across the open spaces. Craighouse contains a perfect mosaic of habitats for a wide range of animals – and is perfect for bats due to its unique combination of open space, old buildings, woodland and nearby water (at Craiglockhart Pond). This combination is absolutely perfect for bats.

According to DEFRA’s website:

“Bats are intelligent social animals that can live up to 30 years. Populations of bats have declined dramatically in recent years  Several species of bat are seriously threatened and in the last decade one species – the greater mouse eared bat has become extinct as a UK breeding species.”

The website says that Pipistrelle numbers have dropped by about 70% during the 15 year period 1978-1993.

All the bat species in Scotland are protected.

Habitats of importance for Pipistrelle bats are:

  • Woodland edges
  • Parkland/amenity grassland and recreational areas
  • Hedgerows

Why is the Orchard/Lawn not covered by the Biodiversity designation?

The DEFRA website specifically lists woodland edges and parkland/amenity grassland and recreational areas as important habitats for the two protected bat species known to be on the Craighouse site.

In the Biodiversity Audit of June 2011 undertaken by ABI Wildlife on the Craighouse and Craiglockhart sites, they write:

“Bats have been found within parkland habitat of both Craiglockhart and Craighouse.”

According to DEFRA, orchards also provide additional feeding opportunities for species that feed in semi open habitats such as woodland edges and glades. As well as woodland being important to bats, Pipistrelles are bats that use grasslands extensively. You can easily see this with the naked eye up at Craighouse where bats fly across the orchard/lawn feeding on insects.

So, it is clear that all the parkland orchard/lawn area should be protected. So why is it not? Indeed, why has a large section been removed from the Biodiversity designation?

The Council are claiming the decision was made by wildlife experts. But there is no evidence of how or when any assessment was made. Nor of any meeting where such a decision might have been discussed.  The Friends of Craighouse would like to know how any wildlife expert could de-designate areas known to be key habitats for bats as listed above on a site that is well-known to be used by populations of bats?

We would like to be provided by the Council with evidence of this assessment and the decision-making process undertaken and the data they were provided with to undertake such an assessment. So far, we have received no answers to our questions.

Why have all the green open spaces where the Craighouse Partnership want to build around, in the vicinity or across from the listed buildings been de-designated?

According to the ABI Wildlife report:

“Two species of bat, Pipistrelle 45 and 55 have been recording feeding around the buildings.”

Pipistrelles are known to summer roost in old buildings and feed on grasslands And yet all the green areas surrounding the buildings have also had their designation dropped in the proposed New Local Plan.

Again, the Friends of Craighouse want to know – how was this decision made, what assessment was undertaken and how was the criteria applied? There appears to be no justification for this whatsoever.

Why have the old buildings on Craighouse been dropped when modern buildings like the entrance building to the Botanics or large chunks of Waverley station been included?

DEFRA says:

“Conservation of bats is complex and needs to take in to account of several factors, including the protection of summer roost sites; the protection of winter hibernation sites and protection of appropriate management of habitats where bats feed.”

It says that Pipistrelles summer roost in buildings.

Old buildings are particularly important for bats. This is one of the reasons that many older buildings may be included under Biodiversity site designations. The buildings were all previously covered by a nature conservation designation – but now in the proposed new local plan – again – they have been quietly dropped.

So why have all the buildings at Craighouse – known and evidenced to be surrounded by feeding bats – had the designations quietly dropped in the face of direct evidence that they should not be? Why have the old buildings at Craighouse been deliberately removed from the designation when buildings such as the modern entrance building for the Botanics which is too new to have established bat populations, are covered?

All bats are now protected by law.  It is illegal to intentionally kill bats, to disturb them or to damage their roost sites. 

Bats are extremely highly protected. All bat species found in Scotland are classed as European protected species and are fully protected under the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 (as amended).

Scottish Natural Heritage lists the following offences in relation to bats:

It is an offence to deliberately or recklessly:

  • capture, injure or kill a wild bat;
  • harass a wild bat or group of bats;
  • to disturb a wild bat in a roost (any structure or place it uses for shelter or protection);
  • to disturb a wild bat while it is rearing or otherwise caring for its young (this would be a ‘maternity’ roost);
  • to obstruct access to a bat roost or to otherwise deny the animal use of the roost;
  • to disturb such a wild bat in a manner that is, or in circumstances which are, likely to significantly affect the local distribution or abundance of that species;
  • to disturb a wild bat in a manner that is, or in circumstances which are, likely to impair its ability to survive, breed or reproduce, or rear or otherwise care for its young.

It is also an offence to:

  • damage or destroy a breeding site or resting place of such an animal (note: this does not need to be deliberate or reckless to constitute an offence);
  • keep, transport, sell or exchange or offer for sale or exchange any wild bat or any part or derivative of one (if obtained after 10 June 1994).

DEFRA write that several basic management principles are relevant to the management of habitat for bats including avoiding the loss of suitable habitat – this has a direct effect on the number of bats that can survive in an area and is an important factor in the recent decline of some bat populations.

In light of all this, how come the Council made the decision to remove large areas of the Craighouse site from the Biodiversity designation and not to apply this designation to the known feeding grounds of key protected species like bats? What evidence or assessment was done to come to this decision? How can we trust any decision going forward on this if they won’t give us answers, or be properly transparent?

—–

Thanks go to Tana Collins for researching this topic and we are always grateful to anyone sending in any information and further research. We also have a section Our Craighouse on the menubar for people’s stories and photos.

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