The National:

This article was brought to you by The Ferret.

HUNDREDS of bats could have been condemned to lingering deaths, cemented into railway bridges by repairs that breached official guidelines.

Data obtained by The Ferret has revealed that most of the maintenance work carried out on Scotland’s rail viaducts in the last two years has failed to include recommended surveys for bats.

The surveys that have been done were insufficient to detect and protect colonies of roosting bats hiding in small holes high in the stonework. As a result, large numbers of bats could have been missed and entombed as gaps were filled with mortar.

READ MORE: Anger at ScotRail 'planning failure' as trains are sent away despite demand

Wildlife groups and campaigners have reacted with alarm, calling on the Government company responsible for the bridges, Network Rail, to do better.

The company insisted that it was committed to minimising harm to wildlife, and promised to review its survey records.

The National:

Bats are highly protected under UK and European law as endangered species, and it is an offence to kill them. The penalties for destroying a bat roost include unlimited fines and six months in prison.

Bats roost within bridges and viaducts, often making use of cracks and crevices where mortar has fallen out. That’s why guidelines issued by the Bat Conservation Trust and backed by Government wildlife agencies, including Scottish Natural Heritage, insist on comprehensive surveys before stonework is repaired and repointed.

Bat surveys of large structures should include “detailed visual inspections” by licensed experts, the guidelines say. Bridges high off the ground should be inspected using scaffolding, elevated platforms or climbing ropes, and ultrasonic surveys at dawn and dusk are suggested.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon quizzed on rail network and education at FMQs

In response to repeated requests under freedom of information law, Network Rail has disclosed that it conducted “pointing repairs” on 27 of its 263 viaducts in Scotland in 2016 and 2017. But for 15 of them it had no information on bat surveys.

The 15 without survey data had potential sites for bat roosts. They included Ladyburn Street Viaduct in Greenock, St Enoch Viaduct in Glasgow, Cardenden Viaduct near Kirkcaldy and Dalguise Viaduct near Dunkeld.

Surveys were conducted before repairs to 12 viaducts in 2016 and 2017. But they were limited and involved mostly visual inspections from the ground, meaning colonies of bats could have been missed.

THE figures were described as “very worrying” by the Bat Conservation Trust. “We are deeply concerned that proper steps, as set out by wildlife legislation, appear not to have been followed to protect potential bat roosts in viaducts,” said the trust’s conservation director, Dr Carol Williams. “We would strongly urge greater transparency and collaboration by Network Rail in Scotland when it comes to consideration of bats in bridges.”

READ MORE: Animal campaigners sound alarms over use of cleaner fish on salmon farms​

The trust assisted with a report, published by the Government in October 2018, highlighting similar problems facing bats and other wildlife during vegetation management by Network Rail in England and Wales. It has now offered to work with the company in Scotland to try and avoid harm to bats in the future.

Scottish Natural Heritage stressed the importance of not breaking the law on bats. Railway viaducts were an “ideal habitat” with “excellent roosting opportunities” for bats, the Government agency’s mammal specialist, Robert Raynor, pointed out.

“There is a wealth of experience and best practice guidance on how to detect signs of bats in bridges and viaducts, and how to retain access to bat roosts without risking the integrity of the structure,” he told The Ferret.

“If bat surveys are incomplete or don’t take place at all when essential maintenance is carried out, there is a risk that bat roosts and access points may be overlooked and then filled in during pointing works, potentially killing bats and destroying their roosts.”

Raynor added: “Both these actions are illegal without a licence, so we strongly urge following best practice guidance.”

The Glasgow Conservative MSP, Annie Wells, is the Scottish Parliament’s species champion for the common pipistrelle bat. “I hope that this will act as a wake-up call to many companies that these practices are simply unacceptable,” she said.

READ MORE: Anger over delays in introducing laws to prevent shooting of beavers

“I would encourage all companies to do all they can to follow legislative guidelines. It is hugely disappointing that this has not happened in this case.”

The Lothian Labour MSP and species champion for the noctule bat, Neil Findlay, added “With any development we have to ensure the right steps are taken to protect wildlife, especially rare and protected species,” he said.

The National:

“Organisations like Network Rail have a duty to act and cannot ignore their responsibilities.”

The Scottish animal welfare charity, OneKind, was shocked by the “inconstancy” of Network Rail’s bat assessments. “Bats are a wonderful part of our wildlife and it’s unimaginable to think of them suffering, particularly when we know this could be easily avoided,” said director, Bob Elliot.

“There are tried and tested techniques that should be applied before work commences to avoid very real welfare issues occurring to any bats that may be hibernating, or in summer roosts in crevices or gaps in the mortar.”

He added: “Ensuring no bats are disturbed, killed or entombed when works are being carried out should be built into inspection and repair regimes, and then these applied consistently at all sites.”

SUSAN Davies, conservation director at the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said: “It would be alarming if Network Rail is placing both bats and their roosts in danger by routinely cutting corners.”

It is Network Rail’s responsibility to ensure that contractors hired to repair bridges carry out surveys for bats. But because maintenance work doesn’t require planning permission, there are no independent checks.

When developments need planning consent, local authorities check whether bat surveys have been done and guidelines followed. This helps prevent bat roosts from being overlooked and accidentally damaged.

According to Network Rail’s website, it looks out for bats. “We take care to look out for these special lineside neighbours,” it says.

Another page adds: “Our in-house ecologists work alongside external experts to carry out detailed surveys helping us to identify the animals, insects and plants in the area that might be affected by our railway maintenance and upgrade work.”

A Network Rail spokesperson said: “We are committed to minimising our impact on wildlife and are increasing the number of ecologists and environmental specialists within our business to help continually improve our processes.

“Our contractors should always be briefed to undertake surveys prior to significant structural works and we are reviewing our processes to ensure our records of surveys are accurately kept.”

Scotrail Alliance, which brings Network Rail together with the company that runs the trains in Scotland, Abellio ScotRail, declined to comment.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The enforcement of the law is a matter for Police Scotland.”

The Ferret is an editorially independent, not-for-profit co-operative run by its journalists and subscribers. You can find it at and can subscribe for £3 a month here: