Wildlife conservation bodies counter “ill-advised attack” on Natural England in letter to Secretary of State

Wednesday 10th April 2024

Norfolk Wildlife Trust has today sent a letter to the Rt Hon Steve Barclay MP, DEFRA Secretary of State.

The correspondence calls out Norfolk MPs who are labelling Natural England’s recent Barbastelle Bat guidance ‘arbitrary’ as they ask DEFRA Secretary of State to stop the report from blocking development of the controversial Norwich Western Link road.

The letter, co-signed by national organisations including The Wildlife Trusts, RSPB, The Woodland Trust, Buglife and Butterfly Conservation, calls the MP’s April 2nd letter “an ill-advised and unfair attack” on the dedicated work of Natural England specialists and the main contributor to the Favourable Conservation Status report for Barbastelle Bats, who is a renowned expert in the species.

The letter outlines the importance of Natural England’s evidence-based Favourable Conservation Status report and the guidelines it adheres to. It asks the Secretary of State to respect the role of Natural England as the Government’s advisor on nature, bringing a considered and independent position based on evidence.

The recent Barbastelle Bat Favourable Conservation Status report is one of many reports published by Natural England that identifies how well wildlife species which are specially protected by law due to their rarity and vulnerability are faring in the UK.

The report, which is a fundamental pre-requisite for meeting legal obligations from the Conservation of Habitats and Species (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, concludes Barbastelle Bats are not in favourable conservation status. This means that developments which are likely to damage the habitats which Barbastelle Bats rely on, particularly where significant populations are surviving, are unlikely to be licensed.

In their letter, Norfolk Wildlife Trust points out that the proposed Norwich Western Link road would be built through one of the most important areas for Barbastelle Bats in the UK and would be extremely damaging. It highlights that Norfolk County Council’s own report from as long ago as 2009 recognises the species is one of the UK’s rarest mammals and that Norfolk is one of its remaining strongholds.

Gareth Dalglish, Director of Nature Recovery for Norfolk Wildlife Trust, explains in the letter: “Given that we have known for a very long time that barbastelle bats are both exceptionally rare and threatened, it is no surprise that the report indicates that the UK population is in unfavourable conservation status.

He goes on to say: “The MP’s letter states several times that the guidance in the report is ‘arbitrary’.  This is simply not the case. The Favourable Conservation report uses the best available evidence to estimate population size, range and status. This is not arbitrary, but in line with principles previously set out by Natural England, the Government’s independent scientific adviser on nature conservation.

We have been warning Norfolk County Council for years that this development is likely to have an unacceptable impact on wildlife, and Natural England’s barbastelle bat guidance has been expected for some time.

The alarming truth is that the UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.  We must ensure that the future prosperity of local communities in Norfolk is advanced in harmony with its wildlife, not damaging it further.

To read the full letter sent by Norfolk Wildlife Trust, and co-signed by Buglife, Butterfly Conservation, The Wildlife Trusts, The Woodland Trust, RSPB, British Dragonfly Society, Norfolk Rivers Trust and CPRE Norfolk, visit norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk/ndr

Main Image Credit: An area of woodland directly on the route of the Western Link, © Iain Robinson