Bats and the Law

All bat species and their roosts are legally protected in the UK, by both domestic and international legislation including the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) – though as of 2023 the government is discussing removing the specific protection of all wildlife (including bats) currently provided by the EU’s Habitats Regulations (bats are European Protected Species under The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017). There are no plans to change domestic laws.

A wildlife crime may be committed if an individual:

  • Deliberately takes, injures or kills a wild bat.
  • Intentionally or recklessly disturbs a bat in their roost or deliberately disturbs a group of bats.
  • Damages or destroys a place used by bats for breeding or resting (roosts) (EVEN IF bats are not occupying the roost at the time – NB this is different to birds nests which are not protected when not in use).
  • Possesses or advertises/sells/exchanges a bat of any species found in the wild in the EU (dead or alive) or any part of a bat.
  • Intentionally or recklessly obstructs access to a bat roost.

Licences from a Statutory Nature Conservation Organisation (eg Natural England or Natural Resources Wales) are required for activities involving bats where “you cannot avoid disturbing them or damaging their habitats, or if you want to survey or conserve them.”

Ecologist supervision is required wherever there is a risk that bats can be encountered such as stripping a roof of a property with a confirmed bat roost present. This requirement is to ensure that works are done in a sympathetic way towards bats and if any bats are found during the process they can be safely transferred to a suitable bat box on site.

Yes, wildlife crime involving bats is a serious problem. While all bat species are protected by law and some species are recovering, UK bat populations have crashed due to human activities including habitat change, huge declines in the availability of their insect food, and destruction of roosts. Every bat is precious!

Bat crime figures for 2022 (the latest currently available as of Dec 2023) increased by 23% compared to 2021. A survey issued by the National Wildlife Crime Unit to the 43 police forces across England and Wales (19 responded meaning these numbers are likely far less than the true extent of crime), coupled with reports to Bat Conservation Trust revealed 164 cases of bat crime. Note that a ‘case’ is just the reported incident, not the number of individual bats affected.

The most common form of bat crime is disturbance or destruction of roosts, often due to property development.

Natural England (the government’s adviser for the natural environment in England) list a number of activities that may harm bats. They are not necessarily illegal but in many cases require ecological surveys to establish the presence (or non-presence) of bats before any action is undertaken.

These activities include:

  • renovating, converting or demolishing a building
  • cutting down or removing branches from a mature tree
  • repairing or replacing a roof
  • repointing brickwork
  • insulating or converting a loft
  • installing lighting in a roost, or outside if it lights up the entrance to the roost
  • removing ‘commuting habitats’ like hedgerows, watercourses or woodland
  • changing or removing bats’ foraging areas
  • using insecticides or treating timber

All bat species, their breeding sites and resting places are fully protected by law.

Breaking these laws could incur an unlimited fine and/or up to six months in prison and forfeiting the equipment used to commit the crime. Recent bat crime cases have also involved Proceeds of Crime Act confiscations, where any savings made from not following legal processes are paid to the courts by the offender.

In October 2023 a Derby-based property developer was ordered to pay a total of £14,435.17 (fined £3,200 plus a victim’s surcharge of £1,280 and ordered to pay full prosecution costs of £9,955.17) in a prosecution brought by Natural England for breaching the conditions of a European Protected Species Bat Mitigation Licence.


While a licence to survey, film or take photographs of protected birds or animals (and all bats are protected by law) is NOT needed if they are not disturbed, it is a criminal offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb a bat in its roost.

Photographing bats can easily disturb them, especially if they are in their roosts (or entering or exiting their roosts) and particularly if the photographer is using a flash or a lighting rig. Therefore in most instances a licence from Natural England will be required to legally photograph bats.

See Natural England: Protected species: when to apply for a licence to survey, film or photograph them

In law, reckless means ‘taking an unjustified risk’ with respect to the circumstances and/or the result of an action.

So a person who disturbs a bat will be judged to have acted ‘recklessly’ with respect to: (i) a circumstance – when they are aware of a risk of that exists or will exist to that bat or bats; (ii) a result – when they are aware of a risk that will occur; and the circumstances as they know it makes it unreasonable (or unjustified) to take the risk.

No, bats will not damage property and they will not cause any damage to a home.

Bats frequently roost in both old and new houses. Homeowners rarely hear or smell bats, though. They don’t ‘build’ nests or roosts (normally just slipping into a gap or hanging from a beam) so don’t chew or destroy any of the materials in a roof or loft. And as their droppings are very dry (essentially just dried insect remains with no moisture) they soon crumble away to dust/powder.

All bat species are protected and we should consider it a privilege if we’re lucky enough to share our home with them.

No, Because all bats in the UK are protected by law, unless an individual has a special license from a Statutory Nature Conservation Organisation (eg Natural England) it is not lawful to keep a dead bat.

Bat Conservation Trust suggests submitting dead bats for passive testing by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA). Only bats that are physically intact and not in the late stages of decay should be submitted.

To safely dispose of any other dead bats, use two bags (one inside the other) and place the body in the bin with domestic rubbish for landfill. Avoid direct contact with any dead animal if at all possible.

Food availability is critically important to bats but so are roosting sites. Many sites are lost to housing and transport developements, but developers are legally obliged to contact Natural England if a proposed development might affect bats or roosts.

Advice from Natural England says that they must be consulted if a development proposal:


Any development should also:

  • avoid harm or disturbance to protected species and their habitats

  • mitigate for the effect on them if it’s not possible to avoid harm

  • compensate for harm as a last resort.

  • Developers must apply for a licence to allow activities that would otherwise be illegal.

Before any development goes ahead, planning authorities are legally obliged under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006 to make sure that they have information (provided by qualified ecologists) on the presence of protected species on site.

If a survey has not been carried out, we are within our rights to contact the council and request that a survey be completed.

We are also entitled to see any results of a bat survey under the Freedom of Information Act.

Information on the presence or otherwise of bats usually comes via overnight surveys. It’s worth contacting a local planning authority to find out whether a bat survey has been carried out as part of the planning application.

If we have firsthand evidence that bats are roosting in a building or tree on the site (if we’ve seen bats emerging from buildings or trees for example) and planning permission has been granted without a bat survey, or works are taking place without a licence, then a crime may be being committed.

Local bat groups are the easiest place to start for advice on ecologists and surveys (just Google ‘local bat group’) but we can also contact Bat Conservation Trust or find one using either the:

Class licence are required for “activities that need specific skill or experience to avoid risk to the conservation or welfare of a protected species”.


If you plan to act under the authority of a class licence you:

  • must be registered to use most class licences
  • need to apply to be registered for each licence you use
  • remain eligible to use the licence(s) for as long as you remain registered
  • meet the recording and reporting requirement for each licence
  • might need to pay to register or renew a class licence – each licence will tell you if you’ll need to pay
The following two paragraphs are copied from an email in response to a 2021 petition asking the government to strengthen laws protecting young animals and birds during tree felling operations. It essentially repeats much of the advice already given here, but as it refers specifically to the law on ‘protected species’ (which in the case of felling trees will often involve bats, and without exception in Britain all bat species and their roosts are legally protected by both domestic and international legislation) and comes directly from the government itself it’s worth adding to this page (NB the highlighting is ours):
“The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 makes it an offence to intentionally kill, injure or disturb a protected species or intentionally or recklessly damage any place a protected species uses for shelter or protection, including during the breeding or nesting seasons. A felling licence does not remove this responsibility. There is a defence if a person can show that the act was the incidental result of a lawful operation and could not reasonably have been avoided, but this would require them to demonstrate that they had followed best practice and taken all reasonable steps to avoid the disturbance or damage. The need to do this is brought to an applicant’s attention in a covering letter when they are issued with a felling licence.
“Where other species affected are European Protected Species, which includes bats and dormice but not red squirrels, the defence of an incidental result of a lawful operation does not apply and the landowner must carry out an assessment of the possible impact on protected species and, if necessary, apply for a licence from Natural England. Where proposed tree felling sites carry statutory designations to protect important features, such as biodiversity, the Forestry Commission is required to consult other relevant authorities and seek their agreement as to the appropriateness of any tree felling. This consultation may result in additional advisory notes being applied to a felling licence. Any additional permissions or consents that may be required, for example, Site of Special Scientific Interest consent from Natural England, must also be in place prior to felling taking place.”
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, January 2021

Yes. It is illegal to kill, injure or disturb bats wherever they are found.

The PSNI (Police Service of Northen Ireland) says thatIf you find bats in the loft or shed of your house, they should be left in peace, although some steps can be taken if they are in the parts of the house that you actually live in. If you are planning to do anything that might affect bats, NIEA should be contacted to advise on whether and how you may proceed“.

Wildlife crime is defined as any action which contravenes current legislation governing the protection of the UK’s wild flora and fauna, including species traded in the UK.

Note that wildlife crime does NOT include:

  • Incidents involving domestic or companion animals such as dogs (other than dogs being used to hunt mammals), cats, rabbits, domesticated birds, etc.

  • Wild animals that have been involved (killed or injured etc) in road traffic accidents.

Road accidents with wild animals do not need to be reported to the police, but note that domestic animals (as well as goats, horses, cattle, asses, mules, sheep and pigs) come within the remit of the Road Traffic Act. If you have a road accident involving these animals you are required by law to report it to the police. If the wild animal is so badly injured in a road accident that there is no chance of recovery or the animal can not be returned to the wild then he or she may be euthanised, providing there is no appropriate long-term captive or semi-captive accommodation or when treatment would involve undue suffering or distress.

If we come across a wildlife crime scene or a dead bird/object that may be related to a wildlife crime every piece of information is – or might be – important, but it needs to be recorded properly and accurately for the authorities to have a chance of prosecuting an offender.

  • Before we do anything else it is very important that we do NOT approach anyone we suspect of committing a crime – they may be violent and/or aggressive. This is especially true of badger baiters and hare coursers who are typically extremely violent. This must be a first priority!
What do we need to record?
  • What we can see happening – what sort of crime is being committed
  • Are any firearms involved, could we or the public be in danger?
  • The exact location. Most smartphones have map apps or download the free What3Words app. If in open countryside look for obvious landmarks or fence lines, a tall or isolated tree, a wind turbine, any streams or brooks etc. Think about what would you need to re find a remote location.
  • It is important to record if at all possible whether we are on or near public land as this will determine the type of police response.
  • Never put ourselves in danger, but can we see who is involved and what they look like (e.g. number of people, their gender(s), age(s), the clothing worn, tools being carried)? Can we hear them – if so what are they saying, are they using any names etc?
  • If any dogs are involved how many are there, what colour are they, do we know what breed they are (even information like ‘terriers’ or ‘lurcher-types’ can be very useful).
  • The make, colour and registration number of any vehicle (we can take photos of a car if we think it is being used or might be used to commit a crime). Does it have any obvious dents, branding or markings, spotlights, bullbars etc.



  • Do NOT disturb the scene by walking around unnecessarily – small pieces of evidence (cigarette ends, footprints, the marks left by a spade etc) may be lost or trampled into the mud or grass.
  • If photographing an object do try to use eg a coin or a notebook/field guide for scale – providing it won’t disturb the crime scene.
  • If in the countryside take wide angle photographs of any landmarks (a tree, a distinctive fenceline, a hill) that might help officers relocate the crime scene. DO NOT mark a site with eg a white plastic bag though. Being able to see a marker from a distance might sound like a good idea, but it will also alert an offender that someone has been at the site: they may go back and remove the evidence.
  • Do NOT move any items at the scene – the exception being if they are likely to disappear before the police arrive when we can collect them as evidence.
  • Do NOT touch any dead birds or animals with bare hands. They may be poisoned baits or victims of poisoning. Many poisons (eg Carbofuran) are extremely dangerous in even very small amounts and can be absorbed through the skin.
  • Do NOT do anything illegal ourselves – that might mean our evidence is not admissible.

Wildlife crimes involving bats bring additional considerations as they are nocturnal and roosts are typically well-hidden, hard to find, or on private property.

If you suspect that, for example, a tree or a roof space is being used by bats and that roost is threatened by eg development, the best evidence is obtained through a bat survey by a professional ecologist. Local nature societies, Wildlife Trusts, or dedicated bat groups might have contact information if a search online fails to turn anyone up.

  •  Some ecologists (especially if they have an interest in bats) may visit a site without charge if they have the landowner’s permission.

Recording sonograms or video footage of bats on private land is not recommended of course, but – providing it is safe to do so – bats are of course very mobile and can often be seen from the edge of private property.

A simple bat detector is also a very useful tool and kits start at around £100 but remember that ALL UK bats are protected (there are no exceptions) so even if the species can’t be identified even distant phone footage of a bat flying in and out of a hole could be important.

REMEMBER: It is against the law to intentionally or recklessly disturb a bat in their roost or deliberately disturb a group of bats – even if we are trying to help!

 If we see a wildlife crime taking place (or someone is at risk of getting injured or is being threatened) call 999 immediately.
They will want to know what we can see happening:
  • What sort of crime is being committed
  • Are any firearms involved
  • Could we or the public be in danger
  • Do we have photos or video footage which may be used as evidence
  • Tell whoever you REPORT the crime to exactly what you have RECORDED as described in the section above.
To report a historic crime – that is, a crime that is no longer taking place – use 101 or a local organisation instead.
  • If calling the police ask to speak to a Wildlife Crime Officer and make sure to get an Incident Report number.
  • Please always follow any advice given and – if they are not available – insist that a Wildlife Crime Officer is made aware of your report.
  •  Our options are wider if the event is over, and it may be preferable to talk first to a charity or NGO to get advice. Crimestoppers (an independent charity) can be contacted in complete confidence on 0800 555 111
  • When thinking about reporting a crime it’s worth noting that only the police have statutory powers to make an arrest. RSPCA and RSPB investigation officers work with the police for successful prosecutions.
Reporting a wildlife crime (or even a suspected wildlife crime) is important for two reasons.
  • If the event is still happening it may enable the authorities to catch the criminals ‘in the act’ (which means a higher chance of prosecution),
  • and if the event is over a report can still help to build up a more accurate picture of what might be happening in a specific location or across the country as a whole.

The Bat Conservation Trust (BCT, the UK’s leading bat charity) suggests contacting local police if you suspect a wildlife crime involving bats is being committed or about to be committed.

The standard advice when contacting the police is to always ask for a reference number. Let BCT also know about the incident by emailing or by completing the incident form at

Contacting local media can also be useful, but remember that few journalists have any knowledge of bats or of the laws protecting them. Once they are aware that ALL bats are protected by law they will often help.

In Northern Ireland, contact the Northern Ireland Bat Group (The Ulster Museum) : 028 9039 5264

REMEMBER: It is against the law to intentionally or recklessly disturb a bat in their roost or deliberately disturb a group of bats – even if we are trying to help!

Our help is always welcomed
  • Whoever we decide to contact we have been assured that our help is welcomed and that if we’re in any doubt that what we’re seeing is a  crime we should report it anyway. Remember, if what we see ‘feels’ wrong, it probably is!
  • Even if we’re not sure about what we’re seeing, we can take a photograph and email it to the police or an investigations officer – they are trained to quickly recognise for example when a snare is illegally placed, whether a trap is being used illegally, or whether a crime is being committed or not.
  • We may help stop or solve future crimes by helping build up a pattern of behaviour in an area.

Seventeen species of bat breed in the UK. Many are in long-term population decline because of fragmentation and loss of habitat, an unprecedented crash in the numbers of insects they feed on, and deliberate destruction of roosting and breeding sites for development projects. For more general information on the UK’s bats see our Bat Facts page.

Have you ever wondered what UK law says about hunting with dogs, shooting, or collecting bird eggs? Or what protection foxes, badgers, bats, and birds of prey have? Whether a gamekeeper is using a snare, spring trap, or a cage trap legally? Wanted to know more about operating drones, using airguns, or driving quad bikes legally? What the different forms of trespass are, what constitutes assault, or what we should do if we’re arrested?

And have you ever been unimpressed with having to search hunting and shooting websites to find some of the information you need?

Us too! Which is why we have developed ‘Protectors of the Wild‘ and laid out the information we need in over thirty simple, mobile-friendly pages just like this one.

Protectors of the Wild‘ is a free resource to help us all become ‘eyes in the field’ by learning how to recognise, record, and report wildlife crime and wildlife persecution.

After all, the more we know, the more any potential criminal will have to be looking over their shoulder wondering if we know enough to Recognise, Record, and Report what they’re up to.

And the more we can all do to help protect the wild.

Have you ever wondered what UK law says about hunting with dogs, shooting, or collecting bird eggs? Or what protection foxes, badgers, bats, and birds of prey have? Whether a gamekeeper is using a snare, spring trap, or a cage trap legally? Wanted to know more about operating drones, using airguns, or driving quad bikes legally? What the different forms of trespass are, what constitutes assault or harassment, or what we should do if we’re stopped and searched or even arrested?

And have you ever been unimpressed with having to search hunting and shooting websites to find some of the information you need?

Us too! Which is why we have developed ‘Protectors of the Wild‘ and laid out the information we need in forty-one simple, mobile-friendly pages and over 500 FAQs just like this one.

Protectors of the Wild‘ is a free resource with two aims: to help us all become ‘eyes in the field’ by learning how to recognise, record, and report wildlife crime and wildlife persecution; and to provide a ‘quick guide’ to anyone interacting with hunts, hunt supporters, or the police.

After all, the more we know, the more any potential criminal will have to be looking over their shoulder wondering if we know enough to Recognise, Record, and Report what they’re up to, and the more we know our rights the better we can protect ourselves.

And the more we can all do to help protect the wild.

The National Wildlife Crime Unit currently has seven priority offences for wildlife crime.

Badger persecution

It is illegal to interfere with or block a badger’s home or ‘sett’. Badger baiting is a centuries-old now illegal blood sport, where small dogs such as terriers or lurchers seek badgers out of their setts before fighting and killing them.

Bat persecution

Bats and their homes are legally protected, so disturbing or removing them is an offence. If bats roost in your roof, you need to obtain a special ‘bat mitigation licence’ from Natural England to be allowed to disturb them. They are hugely important to our ecosystem.

Trade of endangered species

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) sets out which endangered animals and plants have protected status. It is illegal to remove any of them from their natural habitat, possess, or sell them. Currently, the top priorities are European eels, birds of prey, ivory, medicinal and health products, reptiles, rhino horns, and timber.

Freshwater pearl mussel offences

These Endangered mussels (Margaritifera margaritifera) are only found in rivers in Scotland and small parts of England. They can live for more than 130 years but are extremely sensitive to water pollution and have been illegally farmed for years. It is illegal to damage or destroy their habitat or to take, injure or kill them.


Fox, deer, and hare hunting are all illegal under the Hunting Act 2004. Poaching offences also cover illegal fishing – when anglers do not obtain a licence or remove protected fish from lakes and rivers without returning them.

Raptor persecution

Birds of prey are often targeted on shooting estates. Their eggs are also traded illegally. It is an offence to target, poison, or kill them, with a particular focus on Golden Sagles, Goshawks, Hen Harriers, Peregrines, Red Kites, and White-tailed Eagles. Disturbing or taking their eggs or chicks is also illegal.

Cyber-enabled wildlife crime

Social media is often used to promote wildlife crime and recruit people to take part in it. Endangered plants and animals are also traded illegally online.

  • Punishment must fit the crime. Conditional discharges and paltry fines are not a disincentive for criminals.

A common complaint is that even if wildlife criminals are brought to court the fines or sentences they get are pathetic and not a disincentive. In most cases judges are giving out the penalties they are allowed to under the law. Changes can be made though. In 2022 the maximum sentence for ‘causing uneccesary suffering’ went from six months to five years. That was the result of targeted public pressure and campaigning. We need to identify where changes should be made and push hard for them.


  • Wildlife crime must be notifiable and statistics accurately compiled so that resources can be properly targeted.

Police forces are required by law to inform the Home Office of any notifiable offences, which then uses the reports to compile the crime statistics known as ‘recorded crime’. Currently, wildlife crimes are not ‘notifiable’ though (and wildlife crime involving firearms are also not recorded as firearms offences by the Police).  Without them being notifiable, no one knows how many wildlife crimes are being committed across the UK and where the hotspots are (though ‘grouse moors’ is one obvious response). As we have stated many times on this website, law and legislative enforcement is hugely underfunded and under-resourced. Some of this has undoubtedly been through political choice, but if we at least know which crimes are being committed and where, the resources that are available can be placed where they are needed most.


  • There must be changes to make it far easier for all of us to play our part in ‘Recognising, Reporting, Recording’ wildlife cime.

As even a quick glance at the Protectors pages makes clear, laws protecting wildlife are hard to understand. Major pieces of legislation like the Hunting Act 2004  and other laws are riddled with exemptions which strongly favour the hunting, shooting, and agricultural industries. Some date from a century or more ago and don’t reflect the modern world. These need to be updated. While there has undoubtedly been efforts made by successive governmants to use ‘plain english’ to explain legislation, any government wanting to tackle wildlife crime needs to make understanding what is and what isn’t a crime far more easily understood and put resources into a reporting system that the public feel confident using. Crucially, the public need to be sure that if they do report a crime it will be acted upon.


  • We have to protect the environment and wildlife properly.

Laws protecting wildlife and the environment need to be revised to reflect the 21st century and the biodiversity and climate crises we are in. Animals (and plants) are not an add-on or a ‘nice to have’ – they have shaped the systems that life depends on, and our laws need to reflect how critically important they are.


If you’d like to support just one legislative change, Protect the Wild has launched ‘The Hunting of Mammals Bill: A Proper Ban on Hunting‘ – please sign our petition calling for a proper ban on hunting with dogs.

We would like Protectors of the Wild to be the ‘go to’ free resource, packed with the kind of information that really does help all of us become ‘eyes in the field. But we can’t possibly think of every question that might need answering or every situation someone might find themselves in! And while the information in these pages is largely taken from Government online advice and was compiled in 2023 (and constantlyy updated), perhaps we’ve missed something out.

If you could provide us with legal advice get in touch. Or if you find a mistake or a gap please let us know. That way we can continually improve Protectors of the Wild – for the benefit of animals and all of us. Thanks.

‘Protectors of the Wild’ is a project of Protect the Wild. We have a dedicated email address for anyone wishing to get in touch with a specific Protectors query or with additional information etc. Please use the form on our Contact Protectors page or email Thank you.

Much of the information we give in these pages is very technical or to do with legislation which can be revised without much notice. While we have worked very hard on these pages and we take keeping our information accurate and up-to-date very seriously, Protect the Wild are not legal professionals. Just to make sure no-one thinks we’re offering professional legal advice, we feel obliged to include the following disclaimer on every page.

  • Please think of the ‘Protectors of the Wild’ pages as a ‘first stop’ before seeking legal advice. We provide detailed information but not professional advice. The information provided by Protect the Wild should NOT be considered or relied on as legal advice and is for general informational purposes only. Any of the material on our website may be out of date at any given time, and we are under no legal obligation to update such material. While we update and revise as often as we can, Protect the Wild assumes no responsibility for the accuracy and correctness of any information, or for any consequences of relying on it. Please do not act or refrain from acting upon this information without seeking professional legal advice.