Batty problem costs council dearly

17th March 2000 at 00:00
BATS hang in the belfry, or even dark and dank caves, you expect. In a school roof, however, they spell trouble.

A county council has been fined pound;2,500 for damaging a bats' roost while removing asbestos. The case is believed to be the first prosecution of its kind.

Leicestershire, which denied the offence, was also ordered to pay pound;400 costs. It is appealing the decision by magistrates at Hinckley, Leicestershire.

Insulation and Environmental Services Limited, was called in by the council last year to carry out asbestos-removal at South Charnwood high school in Markfield. The company was earlier fined pound;1,000 with pound;225 costs after admitting unintentionally causing serious environmental damage to a bats' roost - the same charge levelled at the authority.

The result has been hailed as a victory by the Bat Preservation Trust in te first such prosecution under the Conservation Regulations Act 1994.

The court heard that up to 100 brown, long-eared European bats could have been roosting in the loft when work began last July to remove hazardous blue and white asbestos. The bats had probably been living there for 20 years.

A workman did not discover them until three weeks into the contract. The court was told that work stopped immediately and English Nature and a bat expert were brought in to investigate.

Defending Leicestershire, David Monk said that the authority was not to blame, because surveys of the site and the actual asbestos-removal work had been carried out by someone else.

Neil Hughes wildlife officer for Leicestershire police, said that the result showed that magistrates were "now dealing effectively with breaches of wildlife law".

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