Oh Bats!

Admittedly, we've let things get a little out of hand

Writing a cheque is never fun, but one I had to make out for £371.60 a couple of weeks ago ranks as the least enjoyable I’ve filled in for some time.

On the other side of our drive we have outbuildings – a garage and a workshop. The former we’ve used as a dumping ground over the years. It now houses an impressive array of broken and unwanted equipment – from an un-tuneable piano to a hoover that wont suck, past two electric strimmers with blown engines, a faulty washing machine and the garage’s wooden doors which blew off in a particularly ferocious storm a couple of autumns ago.

The workshop was once used for purpose when Jessie (wife) had a small millinery business on the go, pre the arrival of sproglet 1 in December 2006. Now though, it’s predominantly somewhere to keep my bike and an outdoor fridge and chest freezer.

We’ve thought for some time that we’ve not been making the most of these buildings. We decided this summer we should turn them into accommodation with a view to providing holiday lets for fishermen and other visitors to the area. We reckoned, as the basic structure was already there, we could make two bedrooms, a bathroom, living area and kitchen reasonably easily.

The first step was to approach an architect friend for an opinion. He was very positive. The council would look favourably upon the scheme, as anything tourism related is good news. And, the footprint of the building is already there so we wouldn’t be starting from scratch.

His last piece of advice was that we should have a “bat survey” done. Just a formality he said, but you need to have one to accompany any sort of planning application.

I wasn’t entirely sure what this was, but a quick look online told me it’s exactly what you’d expect: a survey to see if there are any bats living in your belfry.

Fair enough I thought so I contacted a firm that provides the service and arranged a time. They came at dusk one evening with listening devices and thermos flasks, not sure if they had night-vision goggles, but possibly.

Anyway, the result of their investigations that night, another night and one dawn was that we do have bats in our belfry. Not just any old bats either – we have brown long-eared bats in the lean-to out the back of the workshop.

How exciting I thought – it’s a pretty cool animal. I assumed we’d be able to work around them, to provide bat boxes to re-house them or some such scheme.

Nope. We now can’t do anything. In fact, we’re not even allowed to go into our lean-to anymore. We’re not allowed to make alterations or improvements to it. We’re supposed to maintain it in its current state of disrepair.

It’s pretty much scuppered our plans for converting the garage and workshop, as it would be impossible to do the work without affecting the lean-to. It might be possible to get an exclusion order on the grounds of our plans being of benefit to the local economy, but it’s not certain.

So, then I received an invoice from the bat survey people for £371.60. For the pleasure of being told that I would be unable to go ahead with my plan to renovate my property, boost the local economy by giving work to local architects, builders, plumbers and electricians etc, then provide accommodation for potential visitors to the area, I was being charged almost £400.

I’m very aware of the environment and I love nature. I was genuinely excited to find we had brown long-eared bats here. But, surely this is all a bit over the top. These bats are not endangered in this area. It is possible to re-house them in bat boxes and we have other possible roosting sites – in our potting shed dug out under the sloping garden for instance – it’s ideal and I know bats have lived in there before.

Things have gone a little mad when you’re prevented from bettering your situation because of a few wee bats. Am I seriously expected to allow my outbuildings to slowly deteriorate and just look on, occasionally making sure the lean-to is still standing so the bats have somewhere to live? Well… yes, I am.

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