Could bats put the brakes on Western Link plan?

Barbastelle bat

Independent surveys have found a ‘super-colony’ of barbastelle bats close to the proposed West Link road. - Credit: Charlotte Packman

A Norfolk wildlife charity is confident the land designated for the Norwich Western Link route will be protected by the government - putting the brakes on the road project.

In December, the Norfolk Wildlife Trust requested that the government designate key barbastelle bat roosting, foraging and commuting habitats in the Lower Wensum Valley as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC).

Now, Dr Charlotte Packman, an independent bat expert, is gearing up to submit the result of her research into a barbastelle bat 'super-colony'  - a species listed as 'near threatened' by the International Union for Conservation of Nature - along the route to government natural environment advisers.

Dr Charlotte Packman, director of Wild Wings Ecology. 

Dr Charlotte Packman, director of Wild Wings Ecology. - Credit: Wild Wings Ecology

Norfolk County Council wants to build the £198m Western Link of the Norwich Northern Distributor Road across the Wensum Valley, from the A1067 Fakenham Road to the A47 near Honingham.

In 2020, a survey carried out by Dr Packman, director of Wild Wings Ecology, identified a 'super-colony' of the rare flying mammals along the route, which she said made it a nationally important site.

Eliot Lyne, Norfolk Wildlife Trust chief executive, said: “Dr Charlotte Packman will soon submit the results of her independent scientific research to Natural England, which details very strong evidence that this area is crucial for the long-term survival of barbastelle bats in the UK.  

Eliot Lyne, chief executive of Norfolk Wildlife Trust

Eliot Lyne, chief executive of Norfolk Wildlife Trust - Credit: Danielle Booden

“Natural England will assess this information, and make recommendations to the government.

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"Following any necessary public consultation on each recommendation, a decision will be made on whether SSSI and SAC designations will be granted.  

“We believe this area clearly meets the criteria for SSSI and SAC status. Both designations would provide the resident bat colony vital protection from future developments such as the proposed road.”

Dr Packman's research recently featured on BBC Countryfile at the weekend, prompting Norfolk Wildlife Trust to reiterate opposition to the road and to call for extra protection.

When the trust submitted the request to the government last month, Martin Wilby the county council's cabinet member for highways, transport and infrastructure said they could not base proposals on designations not currently in place.

A woodland that will be cut through by the NDR Western Link and home to a barbastelle maternity col

A woodland that will be cut through by the NDR Western Link and home to a barbastelle maternity colony. Photo credit: C. Packman - Credit: C. Packman

He said: "We are taking a really rigorous approach to our proposals for the project which is being informed by the evidence we have gathered over three years of extensive surveys as well as national guidance and advice from statutory environmental bodies.

"We’re planning to put in significant environmental mitigation and improvement measures as part of the project, such as installing green bridges and wildlife underpasses, and creating and improving habitats across a wide area, which is likely to include woodland and wetland."

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