Solar panels on roofs - Avoiding potential impacts on birds and bats

Posted by James Tristram BSc (Hons) on 1/12/2010

Post to the government’s Feed In Tariffs (FITs) were introduced in April this year there has been rapid interest in installing solar panels onto roofs, with 2257 houses having them installed in August alone this year1.

The feed in tariff guarantees returns over a 25 year period of approximately 8-10% per annum2 combined with commercial companies offering to install the panels free of charge (subject to a 25 year agreement with the house owner).  The government set up the scheme as it is designed to be nil cost to them/the general public and yet has been shown in other European countries to massively increase the development of small scale renewables.

In most cases fixing solar panels to the roof of a single dwelling house is 'permitted development' under planning law, with no need to apply for planning permission3

The built environment forms a vital part of many species of British birds and bats’ habitat.  Disturbance that the installation process may cause to birds and bats using roof spaces for nests or roosts may be a worthy consideration.

Whilst planning permission may not be required for many solar power projects, birds and bats that may be using roof spaces destined for conversion into solar panels are still protected under the following legislation:


In Britain all wild birds are granted legal protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 19814 (as amended). This legislation protects birds, their eggs and nests while being built or whilst in use and ensures that developers take reasonable steps to avoid disturbance/destruction of active bird’s nests. House sparrows and starlings in particular make use of buildings for nesting habitat, both of which are Red Data Book species of which the built environment is playing an increasingly important role in their conservation5.


All species of British bat and their roosts are protected under British law by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). Bats are also classified as European Protected Species under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 20106.

Together, the legislation makes it an offence to recklessly or deliberately capture, kill or injure a bat; deliberately damage, destroy a breeding site or resting place; intentionally or recklessly obstruct access to any place that a bat uses for shelter or protection; intentionally, deliberately or recklessly disturb a bat while it is occupying a structure or place that it uses for shelter or protection.

The installation of the solar panels is unlikely to trigger offences such as destruction or damage to habitats; however, if not considered carefully, they may cause obstruction and disturbance.  

For those that breach this legislation the maximum fine is (at the time of writing) £5,000.00 per incident or per animal (some roosts contain several hundred bats), up to six months in prison, and forfeiture of items used to commit the offence, e.g. vehicles, plant, machinery.  Recent cases have resulted in fines of up to £3.500.00 + £2,000.00 costs for destruction of a bat roost7 and a £400 fine for the disturbance/destruction of bird’s nests8.

These outcomes can be often be avoided with baseline ecological surveys. Generally these surveys will result in advice on the timing of works to avoid the active bat and bird nesting seasons and if bat roosts are founds to be present, ecological advice should be sought on the licensing requirements of works and the level of mitigation required.

The Ecosulis team are happy to lend advice on what surveys are required to ensure that any solar installations fall within current wildlife legislation, as well as offering ideas of how best to accommodate birds and bats within the built environment.

Further reading


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