Operation Wingspan & Wildlife Crime

As part of their year-long awareness raising campaign, Police Scotland highlight the dangers of building development to bats and badgers.

Brown long-eared stuck to fly paper
Brown long-eared stuck to fly paper

Brown long-eared stuck to fly paper © Daniel Hargreaves.

Police Scotland is running a year-long awareness raising campaign to tackle wildlife crime across the country.

Operation Wingspan, which started in October last year, focusses on each of the National Police Chief Council (NPCC) wildlife crime priorities in turn.

In February and March bat crime is being highlighted, while the previous phase referred to badger persecution.

One of the greatest threats to the wellbeing of bats and badgers is development such as construction, roof work and tree cutting. Such development, even if well intentioned, may be a criminal offence if these species or their homes are disturbed. As such Police Scotland Wildlife Crime Officers have been proactively visiting and surveying badger setts and bat roosts across Scotland that have been identified as at risk.

Detective Chief Superintendent Gary Cunningham, Police Scotland’s Wildlife Crime portfolio holder said:

“Police Scotland is committed to tackling wildlife crime and Operation Wingspan provides a platform to do that.

We have a rich natural environment in Scotland including badgers and bats, which are afforded legal protection. But that does not necessarily mean development or restoration cannot go ahead in locations where these species reside. There is often a solution that works for all parties. But it is crucial that anyone wishing to undertake such development follow correct procedures”.

Liz McLachlan, NatureScot Licensing Manager, said:

“It’s important that anyone wishing to undertake development that may disturb badger setts, bat roosts or any other protected species takes advice at the earliest opportunity.

“Our website has lots of really useful guidance to support developers to take forward proposed work where possible, while maintaining the welfare of protected species.”


Bats often roost in the roofs of old buildings, which can pose difficulties for those in the heritage sector.

Regulation 39(1) Conservation (Natural Habitats etc) Regulations 1994 makes it an offence for a person to deliberately or recklessly disturb a bat in a manner likely to impact on breeding, rearing young or population distribution.  Under this regulation it is also a strict liability offence to destroy or damage a bat roost, even if no bats are present.

If someone wishes to undertake development where a bat roost is present they should consult NatureScot (01463 725364 / licensing@nature.scot) or the Bat Conservation Trust first. These organisations might advise that a bat survey be undertaken by an ecologist to establish if a roost is present. Subject to the outcome of that report it may be necessary to apply for a license from NatureScot. These licences are available free of charge to enable most development works to go ahead while minimising the impact upon bats.

Contact NatureScot Licensing Team on 01463 725364 or licensing@nature.scot.

More information on bats and development can be found on the NatureScot and Bat Conservation Trust websites.


Section 2(1)(c) Protection of Badgers Act 1992 makes it an offence to Interfere with a badger sett. This includes damaging a sett, obstructing access or disturbing a badger while it is in the sett.

A spokesperson from Scottish Badgers said:

“As badgers live in underground structures, they are particularly sensitive and vulnerable to nearby construction. As soon as a sett is suspected to be within the footprint of any development, professional advice should be sought immediately. It is an offence to interfere with or damage an active sett in any way, and licences through NatureScot while available, do come with strict conditions that must be adhered to in order to remain legal”.

If someone wishes to undertake development which is within 30m of an active badger sett or they think may disturb a badger sett (pile driving or blasting), the process is very similar to that of bats, where early contact with NatureScot Licensing Team is advised, or alternatively advice may be sought from Scottish Badgers operationscoordinator@scottishbadgers.org.uk (www.scottishbadgers.org.uk).