The route of the Southern Link Road – what could it mean for the rare and protected colony of bats in the area?

The Southern Link Road, part of the bypass scheme, will go from Banwell to Winscombe. The SLR is designed to reduce the flow of traffic using the Northern Route of the bypass and the A368 through Banwell, Sandford and Churchill. It will replace Castle Hill in Banwell as the route to and from west Winscombe.

The Southern Link Road appears to have several impacts which could be regarded as ‘showstoppers’ and one of these relates to the bats. The Environmental Impact Assessment Scoping Report is available online but it does not present a complete picture. Full reports are needed, which are still outstanding. According to the Banwell Bypass Information to Inform Habitats Regulations Assessment – Screening, there could be harmful impacts on a rare bat population foraging and roosting area. They will be affected by both the Northern Route and Southern Link routes. The site of the Southern Link Road falls within the North Somerset and Mendip Bats SAC (special area of consideration).

“The relevant SAC component within the 2km Zone of Interest (ZOI) is the Banwell Ochre Caves, which is located immediately adjacent (south) of the bypass scheme at c.50m from it. The Banwell (Bones) Caves component is located c.600m from the scheme. Proposals may significantly affect how the bats move around the site and the wider landscape and how they utilise functionally linked, supporting habitat.

These species may currently commute across the site for the Southern Link Road scheme to access key resources or use habitats within or in proximity to the scheme site for foraging/roosting. New infrastructure may significantly affect the ability for bats to access/use such key resources. This may indirectly affect the SAC by impeding its ability to meet its Conservation Objectives, specifically, the ability to maintain or restore the populations of qualifying species such as bats.”

WinTAG decided to find out more by doing a recce visit to the site of the proposed Southern Link Road. There we interviewed a member of Avon Bat Group, who has spent the summer monitoring bats in Winscombe and evaluating the habitat we have along the Strawberry Line.

Q: We live in a very special area for bats. Can you tell me what a bat is and how long they have been on the planet?

A: Well, it has been suggested that the first bats were formed 65 million years ago. They are mammals with wings and have powered flight. Like us, they have thumbs, fingers, wrists, and elbows. They are not blind. We have 18 species in the UK, 17 of which are breeding. The female will have 1 pup a year and it will suckle milk from their mother. They are all insectivorous meaning they eat insects. Bats help us. They are a good indicator of healthy habitat. So, if bats are around, the chances are we may have good eco systems too. Bats and their roosts are protected by law whether they are used are not.

Q: Can you tell me why bats are protected?

A: Bats are protected because they are vulnerable, rare and threatened. Their reproduction rate is low and will only have their pup if the conditions are right and there are enough food sources available to support them. They are endangered owing to the use of pesticides which affects insect availability. With Greater Horseshoe bats (G.H.S), the use of pesticides has led to a decrease in the availability of larger beetles, particularly cockchafers, and moths over large swathes of the countryside. Lesser Horseshoe bats (L.H.S) are vulnerable to disturbances to roosts and intensive agricultural practices. It takes time for them to become sexually mature. L.H.S bats in the second autumn and G.H.S not until the third year. So, they need to survive quite a long time before they can even reproduce.

Q: The Southern Link Road proposed by North Somerset Council as part of the Banwell Bypass is, I believe is near Horseshoe bat roosts of national importance. Can you tell me what a roost is?

A: A roost is a place of shelter that bats use. They are used for a variety of reasons; for summer maternity roosts to raise their babies, for winter hibernacula, for swarming, mating, and for spring gatherings. It can be a place for non-breeding males and females, and they can also be a place for feeding. They can provide transitional shelters during Spring and Autumn.

Q: What type of place is used as a roost for bats?

A: Around three quarters of British bat species are known to roost in trees. For example, Noctule bats will tough it out and roost in trees during the winter. Most bats in the UK evolved to roost in trees but when there is a lack of them, they will use human made structures. The Lesser and Greater Horseshoe bats like caves, mines, tunnels, and cellars because the conditions are stable. The temperature and humidity are just right. It is safe from predators with less disturbance from light pollution, which Horseshoe bats are particularly sensitive to. Lesser Horseshoe bats are very sensitive to disturbance, especially in their nursery and winter roosts.

Q: How important is the landscape?

A: The surrounding landscape is very important. Bats need to be able to move freely between roosts and foraging areas. Lesser and Greater Horseshoe bats forage in open and closed woodland, scrub, wetland, and permanent pasture. Greater Horseshoes eat cockchafers, dung beetles, noctuid moths, craneflies, and caddis

flies. Lesser Horseshoes eat midges, small moths, caddis flies, lacewings, beetles, small wasps, and spiders. The habitat needs to be interconnected and able to support those food sources, as well as provide clean water to drink. Trees, hedges, and vegetated water sources attract many insects. Both L.H.S and G.H.S have a declining population trend and the G.H.S has declined by over 90% in the last 100 years.

Q: Can you tell me about how bats move around the landscape to find their food?

A: Bats have an amazing way of navigating around the landscape and structures in the dark. They emit a high-pitched frequency and listen to the echo bouncing off the object. This helps the bat create a picture of the environment and locate prey, including the size and shape of an insect and which way it is going. Lesser Horseshoe bats can feed close to vegetation sometimes in dense foliage and in lowland valleys. They rarely fly more than five metres above the ground, circling favoured areas. The Greater Horseshoe’s flight is slow with mainly low flying, hunting over meadows for dung beetles and can sometimes take prey off the ground.

This photo shows a Lesser and Greater Horseshoe Bat in a roost

I recorded some Lesser Horseshoe bats this summer. Here is a photo of one. It allows us to enter their world in a way we would not otherwise be able to experience. Please have a listen.

Q: Thank you, for your insight into the life of our bats. From what you have told me today it raises a number of concerns. Banwell Ochre mine bat roost, in particular is in close proximity to the proposed Southern Link Road. Building a road near a roost for declining and endangered species of bats, that use low flying techniques to forage, is detrimental. They will no doubt be at risk of road traffic accidents or fatality. The removal or change in land use around the area will also affect their foraging areas as the road will go through open land with the removal of woodland. The pollution from the traffic will affect the vegetation which will affect the availability of the insects, which will in turn affect food sources for them. The fact that they help us understand the health of our habitat is also important. If the bats are not there, how will we know how healthy our eco systems are? It could be suggested that the bats that roost in Banwell may also visit Winscombe as it is so close. They are our neighbours; they have been here longer than we have, and we should be their custodians.

WinTAG had no idea how interesting the life of bats is and how precarious is their existence. We have seen the references to the Mendip Bats SAC in the Environmental Impact Assessment report, but we need to listen to the volunteers who are doing such good local work in bat conservation. 

Resources: Bat Conservation Trust, Bats of Britain and Europe by Christian Dietz and Andreas Kiefer, North Somerset and Mendip Bats Special Area of Conservation (SAC) Guidance on Development: Supplementary Planning Document. North Somerset, Banwell Bypass Information to Inform Habitats Regulations Assessment – Screening.

For further information about the bats of Banwell Hill, please contact WinTAG at winscombetag@gmail.com.

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1 Response

  1. admin says:

    Thank you for highlighting the fact that the rare horseshoe bats living in our area are at risk from the new Southern Link Road. . As a keen gardener, I’m so grateful that we still have bats, as they come out at night and eat vast quantities of moths and other insects which would otherwise seriously damage the crops I’ve planted, and a lot of the natural foliage I enjoy around me in the countryside. Bats are an enormously important part of the food chain in the way they regulate pests.
    Looking at the research studies which have been carried out, in planted areas where bats were excluded from grazing, the plants lost over 13% of their leaf area to grazing insects, and the bats were more effective at pest control in the understorey plant areas than birds. Bats themselves provide food for hawks, owls and other predators, who would be badly impacted if a whole colony of bats were to be wiped out.
    The fact that the horseshoe bats are low flying and come out at night to feed on insects is massively important to the food chain that keeps us humans alive.
    We know we have to reduce pesticide use which can harm everything else in the food chain, including humans.
    We know that in the coming years of increasingly extreme weather, flooding, heatwaves, food shortages, we need to make sure we can grow food crops, and keep our trees, hedges and pastures, so that every link in the natural food chain is protected. . Let’s all stand up for the bats. Without them, our local food chain is in danger of breaking.

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