Wildlife and Buildings: James Fisher March 2012

Wildlife & Buildings

James Fisher – Wildlife Officer at Peterborough City Council

Today’s talk will focus on:

  • Bats, birds & other wildlife that use historic buildings
  • Which species are protected
  • How to tell what wildlife you may have & how this may affect any building plans
  • What you can do to encourage wildlife in buildings

    James holding an owl

    James holding an Owl chick



  • 10 species of bat have been recorded

            in the Peterborough area

  • Buildings can be important roosting sites for bats, especially when close to water or woodland
  • Bats are very small and can be found under slates, soffits & eaves, in wall cavities and can use gable ends, window sills, fascia boards, porches & cellars
  • Historic buildings are more likely to support bats as they contain more suitable features & small gaps 

Bats and the Law

  • Due to the decline in bat numbers in the last century,

            allUK bat species are protected by the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (as amended), Countryside & Rights of Way Act 2000 and the Conservation of Habitats & Species Regulations 2010. This makes it illegal to:

  • Damage or destroy a bat roost (whether occupied or not)
  • Deliberately capture (take), injure or kill bats;
  • Intentionally or recklessly disturb any bat whilst it is occupying a structure or place which it uses for shelter or protection;
  • obstruct access to any structure or place which any bat uses for shelter or protection.

Bat Signs:

  • No nests & don’t cause any structural damage
  • Look for droppings (contain insect remains & crumble easily; rodent droppings are smooth & go hard)
  • Grease marks on rafters
  • Urine splashes
  • Cobweb-free corners
  • Insect remains
  • Listen for ‘chittering’ noises
  • Seeing bats! 

Maintenance, repairs & alterations:

  • Having bats doesn’t mean that building work or roof repairs can’t take place but get specialist advice to minimise delays & avoid prosecution
  • If bats are found during works, work should stop immediately and professional advice sought
  • Timing: Avoid summer months (maternity roosts) and winter months (hibernation) so April & Sept-Oct generally best
  • Loft insulation should leave min. 10cm gap from eaves to retain bat access points (& maintain building ventilation)

Maintenance, repairs & alterations (contd):

  • Cavity Wall Insulation can risk entombing bats so best to begin insulation from bottom of wall upwards, giving bats a chance to wake & escape. Leave gap at top if possible.
  • If bats definitely present, gap must be retained & avoid works Nov – March (hibernation period).
  • Demolition is a major threat to bats and even if carried out outside planning process (via demolition notice), legislation still applies, so if in any doubt, get expert advice

Encouraging Bats:

  • Ensure bats have access to buildings via small entrances or install bat access panels
  • Install bat boxes/ bricks/ tubes to buildings

            (south facing)

  • Retain and enhance surrounding

            habitats such as hedgerows, ponds,

            mature trees & rough grassland

  • Enhance gardens with Evening

            Primrose/ Honeysuckle etc to

            encourage moths

Swifts, Swallows & Martins:

  • All rely on buildings to nest, but are in decline & are vulnerable to loss of nesting sites
  • Older buildings offer more suitable nest sites but long-established nest sites often destroyed when old buildings are renovated or demolished
  • Although nest can be tricky to spot, it is usually easy to see the birds flying to & from their nest sites
  • It is illegal to kill, injure or take any wild bird or take, damage or destroy a nest whilst in use or being constructed under the Wildlife & Countryside Act.

Swifts, Swallows & Martins:

  • Swifts nest just inside roofs, entering via small holes e.g. torn roofing felt or rotted soffit boards, often in colonies & will re-use nests year after year
  • House Martins construct mud, cup-shaped nests often below the eaves, tend to nest in groups and return to the same general area each year
  • Swallows nest in out-buildings with open access e.g. barns, garages & porches, but can enter via small gaps or open windows. Nests are constructed on ledges or beams either individually or in small colonies. They return to the same nest site each year.

Swifts, Swallows & Martins:

Always consider birds when carrying out:

  • roofing repairs (esp. near eaves & soffitt)
  • guttering
  • re-pointing or cladding walls
  • erection of scaffolding
  • loft insulation or conversion
  • pest control within roof space

Swifts, Swallows & Martins:

  • Programme work to avoid breeding season (March – Aug); if not possible, then always check for presence of birds first
  • Make new provision for birds when renovating/ altering buildings by improving access or providing nest boxes
  • Demolition should take place outside nesting season & alternative nest sites should be created nearby, well in advance of demolition

House Sparrows:

  • Declined by half in 25 yrs
  • Reasons unknown but likely to be due to less nesting sites in buildings, cat predation & less grain spill
  • Live in colonies often using holes or crevices in buildings
  • Help by providing nest boxes/ bricks in groups 2m apart & 3-5m high with dense shrubs & long grass nearby


  • Declined by 70% in recent times
  • Reasons unknown but likely to be due to less nesting sites in buildings & loss of inverts due to pesticide use
  • Nest in holes in walls of old buildings, trees or under eaves
  • Help by providing nestboxes 4-6m high & 4m apart, close by short grassland for foraging

Barn Owls:

  • Need areas of open country with abundant rough, tussocky grassland for hunting 
  • Nest in large hollows in trees or quiet farm buildings
  • Dramatic population decline during last 50 years partly due to loss of suitable farm buildings (with owl windows)
  • Receive greater protection that most other birds, being an offence to even disturb barn owls when building or using nests

Great Crested Newts:

  • Traditional stone walls may offer good hibernation & refuge sites if connected by other suitable terrestrial habitat and within 500m of a breeding pond
  • Therefore prior to reconstruction or removal of old walls or buildings a GGN survey is recommended
  • If GCN are present, a licence from NE will be required
  • Work should be done to avoid winter hibernation period & GCN-friendly features retained/ incorporated into design

Further Advice:

  • James Fisher, PCC Wildlife Officer

            Tel: 01733 453543

            Email: james.fisher@peterborough.gov.uk



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