Two men sentenced for destroying bat roosts in Ferndown

A property developer and demolition company manager who admitted destroying roosts for protected species of bats have been sentenced at court.

Developer Christopher Wilson, of Avante Ltd, appeared at Bournemouth Crown Court for sentencing on Friday 16 February 2018 after admitting two offences of damaging or destroying a breeding site or resting place of a European protected species of animal.

He was ordered to pay £2,500 under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and was fined £1,750 as well as being ordered to pay costs of £500 and a victim surcharge of £170.

The case featured only the second ever Proceeds of Crime Act application relating to bats in the United Kingdom.

David Stokes, director of South Coast Demolition, had admitted the same offences and was sentenced at Poole Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday 13 December 2017, when he was fined £1,600, ordered to pay £400 in costs and a victim surcharge of £120. 

In 2016 Wilson purchased the former Ickle Angels Nursery site in Carroll Avenue, Ferndown, which consisted of two buildings that were known to contain roosts for Pipistrelle and Long-Eared Bats.

When he submitted a planning application to redevelop the site, Wilson included a Biodiversity Management Plan that had been commissioned by the previous owner of the site in October 2012 and had an expired date on it.

He should have commissioned a new Biodiversity Management Plan but failed to do so. The original plan also advised that, due to the presence of bats, a licence from Natural England would be required before starting works on the site.  

Wilson never instructed an ecologist to carry out a survey and did not apply to Natural England for a licence. In the spring of 2016, Wilson contracted Stokes to start work on demolishing the buildings.

In October 2016 a local councillor contacted police to raise concerns that the demolition work that had been carried out on the site may have caused damage to the bat roosts.

A Dorset Police wildlife crime officer attended, along with the ecologist who had carried out the original Biodiversity Migration Plan in 2012. It appeared that the bats were still present and, following consultation with Natural England and the Bat Conservation Trust, an email was sent to Wilson on 20 October 2016 giving him a formal warning of the requirement to apply to Natural England for a licence.

However, on 10 November 2016 Wilson sent an email to South Coast Demolition, after the advice from police, asking when the company could begin the demolition.

Police sent another warning email on 17 November 2016 but demolition had already begun. Upon receipt of the second email, Wilson contacted South Coast Demolition asking them to stop demolition immediately due to the risk of prosecution but work had already progressed since the site visits and the roosts had been destroyed.

The district judge at the sentencing of Stokes acknowledged he was acting under the direction of Wilson.

At Wilson’s sentencing the judge said that there was no excuse for the situation that arose and the defendant could have easily obtained advice from the Bat Conservation Trust.

Police Constable Claire Dinsdale, of Dorset Police’s Rural Crime Team, said: “What makes this case nationally important is that we applied for a Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 application, which is only the second time this has been done for bat crime in the UK. A POCA arises after a defendant is shown to financially benefit from a crime. The order is to reclaim an amount. 

“If any developers, demolition firms, roofers or public have any concerns or questions please do contact the Bat Conservation Trust Helpline on 0345 1300 228. They will assist. 

“We would rather work with developers to prevent matters. I would like to thank the ecologists who give up their time to assist police in such cases and the Bat Conservation Trust.”

Pete Charleston, Conservation Wildlife Crime Officer for the Bat Conservation Trust, said: “The Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) always regrets the need for prosecutions of this nature.

“These convictions send a clear message to those who might be tempted to cut corners. If you think that costs can be saved by not following due process then think again, you will be held to account with any profit being confiscated. 

“BCT are very grateful to both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service for a highly professional and effective investigation.”