A general view of the entrance to Cwmffrwdoer Primary School in Pontnewynydd, Pontypool Credit: Google Street View

Story by Twm Owen, local democracy reporter

A COUNCIL was sanctioned by Wales’ environmental regulator after it failed to follow strict laws to protect bats when a school roof was replaced.

Bats enjoy the highest level of protection under UK and European legislation and breaking the law can result in fines of up to £5,000 for every affected bat and even imprisonment. 

Torfaen Borough Council admitted it was guilty of failings under the legislation by harming bat roosts as a result of work carried out at Cwmffrwdoer Primary School in Pontnewynydd, Pontypool. 

It escaped prosecution through the courts after making the admission and accepting a “community resolution” which contains tough requirements to ensure the council now follows the law. 

A spokeswoman for Natural Resource Wales, which with police support, investigated the council said: “The local authority admitted their guilt and received a community resolution with strict terms to alter their practices and to ensure that they carry out future building works correctly, with ecological support, the support of Species Licencing, and in accordance with European Protected Species legislation.” 

The offending, which dates back to autumn 2021, only appears to have come to light as a result of a planning application made this year for a standalone classroom with a bat loft above it in the school grounds. 

The application states the bat house is “required to compensate for bat roosts that have been negatively impacted by former work at Cwmffrwdoer Primary School.” 

The classroom will have a slate roof to match the existing school roof and is intended to provide “suitable access” for bats that roost in the school eaves and ridge access points. 

Work, including an extension, was first carried out at the school in 2017 and 2018 when all relevant laws were followed and at that time it was known to support at least three species of bat, common and soprano pipistrelle and brown long-eared bats, making the school a “structure is of importance”. 

Monitoring after the work in 2019 suggested a fourth species could also be present, after a whiskered bat was spotted emerging. But a further follow up visit, by the same specialists ecologists, in 2021 discovered the roof had been replaced and that some mitigation work, provided under the licence to protect bats, was no longer present and only a common pipistrelle bat was recorded and no other species found. 

The ecologists discovered there had been a total replacement of the roof over the whole school and mitigation features provided under licence in 2017 and 2018 had been removed but not replaced or re-fitted.  

It was also confirmed that non-bitumen coated roofing membrane had been used which isn’t acceptable for bat roosts. 

As a result of various surveys the ecologists have concluded the school continues to support male or nonbreeding female bat roosts of at least two species of bat despite the re-roofing works resulting in the lofts becoming unsuitable for long term use. 

PC Mark Powell, who is seconded to Natural Resources Wales industry regulation team, said a “breakdown in communication between the school and their contractor” resulted in the roof being replaced without a European Protected Species License and ecological assistance in place. 

“Fortunately, following the work, the bat roost at the school was still very active and no harm had been done to the bats in situ. 

“The school and local authority fully cooperated with the investigation.” 

Torfaen Borough Council was contacted for comment and the planning application is currently being considered its planning department.