The issue in a nutshell
A nationally important population of rare bats is under threat of illegal destruction by the proposed Norwich Western Link dual carriageway. We need an independent, rigorous and transparent scientific study to gain a proper understanding of these extraordinary bats and the woodlands they depend on for shelter, raising their young and feeding. Robust evidence will enable us to demand that their protection is upheld, as required by law.
Why should I care?
These special bats, called barbastelles, are one of the rarest and most highly protected bat species in the UK. Barbastelles thrive in mature and ancient woodlands, making their homes behind the loose bark of trees which are often hundreds of years old. The proposed Norwich Western Link (NWL) road will cut through one of the few remaining strongholds for this species. We have a moral and a legal responsibility to ensure their populations are not harmed as we strive for greater convenience in our lives.
We live in Norfolk. We know getting round the area to the west of Norwich by car is a pain. We have often experienced the frustration ourselves. But there are other (long-term, sustainable) solutions to this issue, which don’t involve the irreversible elimination of our unique and special wildlife. Once the bats are gone – they are gone. The road would undoubtedly make journeys through this area faster and easier (in the short-term at least) – but at what cost? Bats and other wildlife in the Norwich area have already had their habitats disrupted by the Norwich Northern Distributor Road (NDR) – we need to ensure a fair compromise that achieves a balance between our demand for convenient travel and the huge impacts inflicted on our wildlife. Furthermore, Norfolk County Council has proposed a net zero carbon target for 2030 - the NWL would open to traffic in 2025 and is in direct contradiction of this crucial goal.
We are not saying no to improving transport through this tricky area. But we are saying no to doing this in a reckless, short-sighted and irresponsible way that would cause unjustifiably high impacts on this exceptionally important area of wildlife habitats.
When the NDR was proposed, the council stated that the Western Link road would not be built because of unacceptably high impacts on ecology and the environment – a few years on, how has this changed?
So, whether you are in favour of the road or not, let’s make sure we have the knowledge and understanding to ensure improvements to transport through the area are carried out in a way which honours our responsibility to protect important wildlife and habitats.
What’s the story?
This exceptional population of rare barbastelle bats is one of the most significant yet least well understood ecological features of the area – so we want to focus on these bats as a top priority. Protecting barbastelles will benefit other wildlife too, as a whole range of species are dependent on these same woodland habitats.
We have been studying this key population of barbastelles, the 'Weston Super-Colony', for a number of years now. The Weston Super-Colony's home consists of a patchwork of mature woodlands in this area, with individual woodlands supporting some substantial maternity roosts in linked sub-colonies. JNCC (the public body that advises the government on nature conservation) states that 'all main breeding roost complexes containing 20 or more adult barbastelles should be considered for selection' for Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). Counts of just some of these sub-colony roosts within the Weston Super-Colony breeding complex have already identified a minimum of 130 barbastelles.
Disruption to the roost woodlands, foraging habitats and commuting routes within this sensitive network of colonies is predicted to be very damaging to the population. The road would cut right through this area, destroying maternity roost woodlands, fragmenting habitats, risking bat collisions with cars and generating considerable disturbance from construction activities and subsequent vehicle noise and lights.
No mitigation or compensation measures can effectively overcome these substantial impacts for barbastelles in this area.
To date, Norfolk County Council have repeatedly refused to openly and transparently share information on bat survey data collected to inform this, and related, schemes. From the limited information available, it seems bat surveys carried out prior to the route selection, in July 2019, were inadequate and not to guidelines. The surveys also failed to identify a significant maternity colony of barbastelles in a woodland which lies in the direct path of the proposed road: information which we were able to establish from an evening's voluntary trapping survey followed by radio-tracking to locate roosts and counts of emerging bats.
There are some bigger issues too…
- Too often ‘ecology’ is just seen as a box-ticking exercise in infrastructure schemes and is not given the attention and due diligence it deserves – ineffective token gestures rather than effective protection.
- Too often there is a conflict of interest with the ecological survey data being collected by the very companies that will build (and profit from) the roads and by the councils that want to see the roads built – this lack of independence has led to conclusions of some studies being compromised.
- Too often ineffective mitigation and compensation for impacts on wildlife are implemented. Large sums of public money are spent on it, often with no evidence to show these approaches work or, worse, evidence which actually shows these approaches do not work. But it ticks a box. It is then monitored by those same companies who proposed and implemented the mitigation/compensation and built the road – some of whom have then proved unable to honestly and objectively say, “actually, this hasn’t worked. There has been an impact on wildlife.”
- Too often, where there has been a lack of honesty and integrity, ineffective mitigation and compensation (and subsequent poor monitoring) has been falsely proclaimed as having successful outcomes for wildlife – thus, dangerously, promoting and perpetuating the same ineffective approaches in other/future schemes.
- Too often there is a lack of robust pre-construction baseline data which can be replicated in post-construction monitoring to effectively assess impacts.
- These problems persist - and all the while we are doing our wildlife a huge disservice. It makes a mockery of our wildlife laws.
What do we want to do about this?
In our own small way, we think we can make a difference here and help to ensure that the above mistakes do not occur and harm this key remaining stronghold for barbastelle bats.
Understanding these bats and how they may be impacted by the road is challenging: they are rare, they only come out in the dark and they move around fast by flying! We have only just begun to scratch the surface – but what we have learnt so far suggests something extraordinary here...
We now urgently need to carry out an intensive, year-long scientific study to gain a much greater understanding of these bats and their habitats. In the process, we’ll get to test and develop some of our new ideas and approaches for ensuring more effective baseline data collection and monitoring of bats, and in particular barbastelles. We will develop the tools and collect the data, not only to gain the knowledge we need about this population to support its protection, but to also enable long-term monitoring of the impacts of the road on barbastelles, should construction go ahead. Independent and robust data will also give us the power to hold the council to account should their proposed mitigation/compensation measures fail to deliver for bats.
Your support will help to bring about change and to reveal the truth! Funding will enable us to conduct a rigorous, independent bat study and develop new techniques and best practice. We will use the data collected to produce a professional, publicly available report to support evidenced-based protection of bats and their habitats in this important area.
These studies are expensive to run – we need specialist tools and equipment to be deployed on the project and a team of dedicated, experienced and licensed bat ecologists to ensure robust and professional data collection, analysis and reporting. We have carefully costed the project and are committed to ensuring value for money – this study is a fraction of the cost of conventional bat survey work that is often carried out for schemes of this nature. We have achieved this by factoring in generous in-kind contributions and volunteer time from our project supporters.
Please help fund this vital study by donating what you can and spreading the word by sharing our campaign page - thank you!