The regeneration of Worcester City's waterfront is a feather in the cap for the City and the County of Worcestershire.
The River Severn is an incredible asset to the City and an increasing focus for high-quality built development. But did you know that the historic city is also home to nationally rare wildlife?
Ecologist Cody Levine describes the Lesser Horseshoe bats recently found to be roosting near Worcester Cathedral as a fascinating and quite vulnerable species: "These bats are uniquely beautiful and provide a vital function in supporting our agricultural economy by removing vast numbers of crop pests. This is the only urban colony of the species I'm aware of."
Lesser horseshoe bats have become extinct in the north midlands and northern England within the last 50 years because of changes to the way we manage our natural environment.
Levine said: "To find them in the heart of Worcester City is testament to the fantastic and high quality natural environment we have here."
Worcestershire is probably near the north-eastern edge of the lesser horseshoe bats range, but the bats are particularly vulnerable to disturbance and sensitive to high power lighting, having evolved to hunt in the darkness using sound to find insect prey. When the regeneration of the riverside along Severn Way included new bollard lighting, the bat colony under the Cathedral would have been obstructed from returning to their roost or dispersing into the countryside.
"The County Council has a legal obligation and a moral duty to help conserve this colony for the benefit of our natural environment for future generations" Levine notes.
Initially, officers thought there could be a conflict between new street lighting and helping the bats enter and exit their legally protected roost. But, with expert advice, the County Council is undertaking a lighting experiment which should pose no risk to the public safety but will significantly help the bats.
A short section of the bollard lighting, just outside the bat roost near the Cathedral, will be turned off around sunset and before sunrise (only during the summer months while bats are awake) to allow the bats safe passage. To ensure the safety of the Public, railings to match those used further up and down the riverside are to installed to prevent any falls (replacing the current temporary orange barriers). Novel low-power solar lighting will be used to help mark the corridor extent to pedestrians and a new information board will provide details about the bats.
Levine notes that "unfortunately we're unable to adjust or alter the lights in any way, so we have to turn them off for short periods when we know that bats will be trying to leave their roost. The County Council hopes that riverside pedestrians can appreciate both our rare wildlife and the fantastic high-quality built environment which complements Worcestershire's outstanding natural environment".
Worcestershire County Council's Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member with Responsibility for Environment, Anthony Blagg said: "Worcestershire County Council is proud of Worcestershire's natural environmental and keen to ensure that the vital urban regeneration of Worcester City's waterfront is compatible with maintaining our natural assets too. In this case, the County Council recognises it has a legal and moral duty to appropriately consider protected species alongside its obligation to maintain a safe, well-lit and attractive public environment."
"We understand that these lesser horseshoe bats have likely used this roost for generations and we're pleased that this pragmatic solution will help ensure that the bats will be here for the benefit of generations to come. This is a proud contribution towards Worcestershire's credentials for sustainable development."