THE discovery of bats at a fracking site has emerged as a key plank of a challenge by campaign groups against North Yorkshire County Council’s decision to allow shale gas extraction there.

Friends of the Earth claim the county council failed to fully assess the impact of shale gas extraction on wildlife at Kirby Misperton in Ryedale before it granted Third Energy planning permission in May this year.

The environmental charity says a survey documenting hundreds of the protected mammals passing the perimeter of Third Energy’s site at Kirby Misperton contradicts the council’s planning report, which stated the area was “known to be devoid of bats”.

Friends of the Earth, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and Frack Free Ryedale argued that the council should not grant planning permission until a proper bat survey had been carried out – but they claim this was not done.

Third Energy were required to produce a Wildlife Protection Method Statement as part of the conditions attached to planning permission.

That has now been carried out and the resultant bat surveys have shown that a number of species of bat pass the site perimeter each night – although the level of bat activity was classed as relatively low.

Friends of the Earth’s Yorkshire and Humber campaigner, Simon Bowens, said: “The council and the public were told that the fracking site was devoid of bats.

“This was vital information, now shown to be inaccurate. How could it not have been misleading, now that surveys show hundreds of bat movements every night?

“It’s clear that the council adopted the wrong approach – as pointed out by consultants as well as Friends of the Earth – and this latest evidence exposes council failures to assess the impact on wildlife.

“Next week in the High Court we will argue that they also failed to consider the climate impacts of fracking, and the need to protect communities financially.”

A spokesman for North Yorkshire County Council said the authority notes the conclusions of the Wildlife Protection Method Statement required by the planning conditions, which reads: “The low levels of bat activity found at the site supports the conclusions of the ecological impact assessment, which appraised the survey area to be of low value to foraging and commuting bats."

The spokesman added: “The ecological impact assessment was appropriately considered by the planning committee and therefore the council does not accept the committee had adopted the wrong approach.”

Third Energy said the bat survey was "consistent with the assumptions made in the Environmental Statement" which said the site had negligible suitability for roosting bats.

A spokesperson for the company said: "It is worth remembering that this well site has been operating for 30 years.

"The public can be confident that the mitigation measures proposed for operations which will take less than three months at the KM8 wellsite are designed to avoid disturbance to bats that commute or forage in the area around our well site."

The judicial review into the council’s decision to allow fracking will begin on November 22.