Balancing history and habitat: An internationally significant renovation project Nick Steggall 25 June 2024


Nestled in the heart of Shrewsbury, a historic restoration project faced a unique challenge: preserving architectural heritage while protecting important habitat for five native bat species.

Built in 1797 as part of the textile industry that formed a cornerstone of the Industrial Revolution, today Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings is home to eight listed buildings, including the world’s first iron-frame building— a pioneering structure described as the ‘grandparent of skyscrapers’.

A lesser-known fact? Alongside its social and historic heritage, the site also has a rich natural heritage. It is home to colonies of at least five bat species, comprising the lesser horseshoe bat, common pipistrelle, soprano pipistrelle, brown long-eared bat, and a species of Myotis.

Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings © Daniel Hopkinson

Over the years, neglect and vandalism placed this historic landmark on the ‘Heritage at Risk’ register. The need for extensive, large-scale renovation was evident. So, when Historic England took on the restoration of these buildings, they faced a challenge: how could they preserve the nation’s industrial heritage while safeguarding the habitat of bats that called this place home?


Since 2012, we have been a key player in supporting Historic England as they embarked on this ambitious project. Drawing on our expertise, our team of specialists reviewed the historical bat data and completed a suite of new surveys to gain a thorough understanding of the status of bat populations on site. This enabled the design and implementation of a strategy that:

  1. minimised the impact of restoration on bat populations across the eight buildings, ensuring that the species had access to suitable habitats throughout the renovation project.
  2. supported the planning application for the site’s redevelopment and restoration.
  3. secured a Natural England Bat Licence for the First Phase of works.

Since restoration began in 2013, a range of mitigation measures have been implemented, including:

  • Design and construction of a bespoke two-storey bat barn to provide a range of conditions and microclimates suitable for various bat species at all stages of their life cycle. This included warm area suitable for maternity roosts and a cool underground area for hibernation use. The barn was designed to ensure it met habitat connectivity and lighting requirements for different species. To enable the bats to acclimatise to the new structure, a protective buffer was established, during which no restoration work was permitted for two years.
  • To compensate for the lost roosting spaces during extensive repairs on the main flax mill, including roof replacements and window installations, new crevice units were installed into the roof structure.
  • Bat mitigation features were installed in the former stables and storage areas, including a self-contained bat roost unit on the first floor of the stables.

Our strategy ensured that the favourable conservation status* of the bat populations was maintained, but beyond that, it aimed to enhance the value of the site to bats above the pre-restoration baseline.

The success of the project owes much to effective collaboration across the design and build team. Nick Steggall, Associate Director at Middlemarch, said: “The aim was to preserve these historic buildings while also preserving the natural habitat that found a home within them. Through collective effort, we were able to find solutions that accommodated both.

“The fact that the population of bats is being sustained despite the extensive works, over a twelve-year period is a testament to the passion for nature shown by everyone involved.

“When diverse stakeholders work in partnership towards a common cause, great things can be achieved for nature. The success of our efforts has become evident over time and we’re confident that the bat population will continue to be sustained and hopeful that it will grow in the coming years.

WE WORKED WITH: Historic England, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, Croft Building and Conservation, AKT II, E3 Consulting Engineers, LT Studio, Gleeds, University of Salford, Cooper 8, ION Acoustics, and Mather & Co.

An award-winning project
The Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings project recently won five awards at The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) 2024 awards, with the jury hugely impressed by the scale, dedication and ambition of the project.

↗ RIBA West Midlands Building of the Year
↗ RIBA West Midlands Regional Award
↗ RIBA West Midlands Client of the Year Award – Historic England
↗ RIBA West Midlands Project Architect of the Year Award
↗ RIBA West Midlands Conservation Award

The project also won the “AABC Conservation Award” at the Civic Trust Awards 2024.

Middlemarch has an industry-leading reputation for the design and delivery of high-quality solutions to complex challenges. Email us for an initial conversation about your challenge and how we can help at

Favourable conservation status is defined in terms of three parameters: natural range and distribution; population; and the extent and quality of habitat necessary for long-term maintenance of populations.