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Churches with bats need to know help is at hand and UK bats do not pose a risk to public health

25 June 2013

The Bat Conservation Trust encourages churches to continue working with conservationists to find solutions following Tuesday’s Westminster Hall debate on Bats and Churches and the effect of the Habitats Directive. 

Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) recognises that large numbers of bats in some churches can cause significant issues. The Bat Conservation Trust would like to reassure churches with bats that, in many cases, their historic buildings and artefacts can be used, maintained and enjoyed the without excessive costs being incurred.  There is no evidence to suggest that in the UK bat urine or droppings carry diseases that are harmful to humans. 

British bats not a risk to public health 

The Bat Conservation Trust was dismayed by Sir Tony Baldry MP’s irresponsible statements about bats and disease in the Westminster Hall debate. He quoted from a paper published by the Royal Society out of context, citing bats as carriers of zoonotic viruses with reference to a paper that primarily focusses on bats in Africa and Asia and viruses not known in Europe.This is misleading and may cause undue alarm about the risk bats pose to human health.

Author of the Royal Society paper Dr Luis explains “I do find this use of our paper disturbing. None of these dangerous viruses are known to occur in the UK.”

British bats are not known to host zoonotic viruses with the exception of the Lyssavirus genus (a rabies-like virus) which, in 25 years of testing over 10,000 UK bats, has only been found in ten bats; and there is no risk to the public if they do not handle bats.

There is no evidence to suggest that, in the UK, bat urine or droppings carry any diseases that are harmful to humans. 

Bats in churches

To help alleviate the problems some churches face, the Bat Conservation Trust wants all churches that have bat roosts to access the free advice and support available from the Bat Helpline 0845 1300 228.  BCT are calling for more funding to train more volunteers in areas where they are needed and for the valuable co-operative work currently being undertaken by many churches, and both volunteer and professional bat workers to continue

Parish churches are treasured places of worship and enduring features of our landscape. Since many churches house bat roosts, churches are also important to bat conservation. Bat populations suffered huge declines in the last century, as important features of our landscape were lost or degraded and consequently all bats and their roosts are protected by law in the UK by both domestic and European legislation.

Around 60% of pre-16th century churches may be home to bat roosts. At least 8 species are known to use churches as roosts, (resting places to rear young, or shelter from predators), including some of our rarer species. Many churches happily co-exist with the bats roosting in their buildings. Some don’t even notice bats roosting with in the building.

As highlighted in the State of Nature report this summer, Britain’s wildlife is in critical condition and needs the help of everyone to safeguard vulnerable species for future generations to enjoy. The Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) values the contribution made to society by the many churches that support or tolerate the conservation of bats.

However, the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) recognises the severe problems that some churches experience when large roosts of bats are present inside church buildings and that droppings and urine can affect not only the church fabric and furnishings, but the ability of church congregations to worship and use the church building for the full benefit of the church community.  BCT is deeply sympathetic to the church communities that experience this problem.

Protecting bat roosts in churches

The Bat Conservation Trust believes it is vital that the current levels of protection afforded to vulnerable species like Britain’s bats should be maintained. Certain species of bats will always seek sanctuary in churches. We believe legislation alone cannot address the problems that some churches experience. Practical solutions for churches lie in developing, researching and sharing information on approaches that work and improving access to specialist support services.

On-going research to find solutions includes research at the University of Bristol. This looks at understanding how bats use churches and trials techniques to mitigate their impact on church users, by deterring bats from the most sensitive parts of church buildings. Research at University College London to understand how bat faeces and urine affect artefacts, with the purpose of addressing problems is also on-going.  BCT is also encouraging the sharing of information on practical solutions that have been used by ecologists.

Calls for exclusion of bats from inside church buildings, often do not recognise the technical challenge of preventing very small animals accessing very large old buildings with many tiny gaps.  Were exclusions to become common place in churches, bat populations could be harmed. However BCT accepts that in some situations it may be necessary to use interventions to restrict the activity of bats or even, in rare situations to exclude bats if the bats have an alternative roost site, but in many cases other solutions can be found. BCT is collaborating with two research projects that seek to mitigate the impact of bats where severe problems occur.

Removing bats or preventing bats from roosting is illegal without a license. Bats should not be prevented from roosting (excluded) except where all other options have been exhausted and the conservation status of the bats will not be affected.

In 2012 volunteer bat roost visitors visited 200 churches to give support and advice. 

To help churches with bats the Bat Conservation Trust is working on the following areas:

  • The Bats, Churches and Communities pilot project is working with churches, communities and volunteers to build partnerships, develop the available help and support and explore practical, cost-effective solutions. It is a pilot project due to end in August - a longer term large-scale programme is needed to ensure all church communities get the help they need.  This project has developed draft guidance for parishes, written solution-focused studies for the Church Care website and supported new bat worker training.  The continuation of this project is a key strategy for helping churches but we don’t have the funding needed.
  • Bat Conservation Trust wants more churches to take advantage of the services and support already available.  We want to see improved awareness of the support available to churches through the Bat Helpline 0845 1300 228 (run by the Bat Conservation Trust on behalf of Natural England). Many churches don’t realise they can use this service which provides free advice and volunteer support to churches. In 2012 there were 362 calls from churches resulting in 205 free site visits where guidance and support was offered. We would encourage more churches call the Bat Helpline 0845 1300 228.
  • Bat Conservation Trust is calling for more support for volunteers to be given specialist training to help churches in areas where the problems seem greatest.
  • Bat Conservation Trust is calling on the Government to help provide clear guidance on the support available to parish churches about bats in churches.

Julia Hanmer, Chief Executive Bat Conservation Trust, says:

“As both a committed Christian and conservationist I have been lucky enough to see churches putting into practice the Church of England’s mission of “striving to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustaining and renewing the life of the earth.’’

’’Many churches have the potential to play a key role in conservation if given the right support; it is fantastic to know so many churches already embrace this role, sometimes even in challenging circumstances.  In 2012, volunteer bat roost visitors visited over 200 churches and gave more than 250 volunteer hours undertaking free church surveys. We would encourage more churches to make use of the support available and we want to get more funding to train more volunteers to give churches the advice they need. In our experience even complex situations can be solved if you get the right advice, practical solutions can be found with perseverance and cooperation”.

 

Bat Conservation Trust’s proposals in more detail:

  • Bats are protected by the Habitats Directive because of the severe declines they have experienced in the past through habitat loss, agricultural intensification, roost destruction, pesticides and deliberate killing. Bats are currently one of the wildlife groups that appear to be responding to the protection afforded by the Habitats Directive and the sustained effort government, the public and conservationists have made to conserve them.  To enable bat populations to continue to recover, we need the help of churches. The Habitats Directive provides an essential mechanism for safeguarding vulnerable species and habitats. Diluting or requesting exemptions to this legislation will not help churches, but it will harm wildlife conservation.  
  • Making better use of the Bat Helpline: Natural England’s free advice service run by the Bat Conservation Trust.  We would encourage more churches call the Bat Helpline. We want to make sure that considering bats in building works is straight forward, easy to integrate with existing processes and not a burden, or excessive expense and we want those churches that are struggling with droppings and urine to have a route to help. We want to make more people aware of this service.
  • Training more volunteers to give advice to churches.  In some parts of the country there aren’t enough bat experts with the skills to help churches.  With the right support we can recruit and train more skilled volunteer bat workers to help churches in places where there is a shortage.  This shortage of trained volunteers has led to some churches not getting the timely help and support churches desperately need.
  • Providing more support to churches: Our Bats, Churches and Communities pilot project is working with churches, communities and volunteers to build partnerships, develop the available help and support and explore practical, cost-effective solutions. But a longer-term, large scale Bat, Churches and Communities programme is needed to ensure all church communities get the help they need.
  • Helping meet the costs of conservation.  Could there be more support for churches by establishing a fund churches could access to allow them to participate in wildlife conservation? In some cases where churches want to undertake complex building work, there may be costs involved from employing an independent professional ecological consultant and from the measures taken to accomodate bats. In much the same way that a church will pay an architect or building conservation expert to ensure building works are in keeping with heritage protection, sometimes an independent professional ecological consultant needs to be employed to ensure repairs and alterations safeguard nature and preserve the features that native species depend on for their survival.  A fund would help churches meet the costs of bat surveys or additional cleaning due to the presence of bats.

Further information on BCT’s work with churches

As a conservation charity our vision is a world where bats and people thrive together in harmony. We have a membership of over 5,000 and 15000 online supporters. We work in partnership with government agencies, professional and volunteer bat workers and we represent nearly 100 bat groups throughout the UK.

Providing more support to churches: Our Bats, Churches and Communities pilot project is working with churches, communities and volunteers until August to help develop guidance and solutions. But a longer term large scale Bat, Churches and Communities programme is needed to ensure all church communities get the help they need.  Care for creation is embedded in the Anglican mission.  We know many church congregations care deeply about their natural environment, as well as their cherished place of worship and heritage.  Many churches across the UK support or tolerate bats.

Our past and ongoing work with churches includes:

  • BCT’s original Bats and Churches Project (1991-1994) which ran the first national coordinated bat volunteer field survey, and is still the only national picture we have of bats in churches.
  • The National Bat Helpline.  Answers approximately 400 enquiries from churches/year and coordinates around 200 free volunteer visits. Around 70% of those calls relate to guidance sought in relation to building and maintenance work.
  • Bats, Churches, Communities Pilot.  Established to improve guidance and support to churches with bats and improve batworker knowledge of churches.  During the first 5 months this project has developed draft guidance for parishes, written solution-focused studies for the Church Care website and supported new batworker training.  The continuation of this project is a key strategy for helping churches but we don’t have the funding we need.
  • Church training courses for volunteer roost visitors. To address lack of batworkers with experience in churches in the areas most needed.
  • Project partner in two research projects to mitigate the impact of bats in churches where they are a problem: Bats, churches and the landscape (SITA Trust) and the Defra project WM032 addressing Natterer’s bats and Churches
  • In addition to the above, bats are monitored at over 100 churches as part of the National Bat Monitoring Programme (NBMP).

 

Case studies, images and further information are available on request.

CONTACT INFO : Please contact Abi McLoughlin 07974 779 521 and Heather McFarlane: 0207 8207168 for further information / interviews.

 

 

 

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