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Bats and churches to benefit thanks to National Lottery

8 February 2017

The future of bats and the historic churches they can inhabit is looking brighter thanks to National Lottery support of £3.8m. 

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has approved the development stage* and initial funding for the 5 year “Bats in Churches” partnership project, bringing together wildlife and heritage conservation and church organisations to save bats and protect churches. 

The ground-breaking project will:

  • trial and perfect new techniques to enable bats and church congregations to live together
  • build up professional expertise and volunteer skill to share the best solutions with hundreds more churches
  • bring together church communities and bat enthusiasts to create a shared understanding and appreciation of England’s historic places of worship and our rare flying mammals 

Natural England’s Chairman, Andrew Sells, said: 

“This is a splendid result for both congregations and bats, who have shared churches for centuries but not always happily. We’ve been working very hard for a number of years with our partners to find ways to help bats and people coexist peacefully in these beautiful, historic buildings. This funding will allow us to capitalise on that good work and find innovative new ways of resolving the conflict. It will provide a lasting legacy for these wonderful churches and the people and bats that rely on them.” 

The project will provide help and support to places of worship across England where large bat populations can sometimes have a negative impact on historic buildings and the communities who use them. 

Julia Hanmer, Joint Chief Executive of the Bat Conservation Trust said: 

“Bats have suffered massive population declines and churches provide important safe spaces for nine species to shelter. We are delighted that with this funding from HLF, church communities and bat workers can together play a significant role in supporting these vulnerable and fascinating species, whilst at the same time protecting historic medieval church buildings and opening church doors to wider communities.”

HLF’s CEO, Ros Kerslake, said: 

“We welcome this unprecedented co-operation between church leaders and bat conservationists.  It’s a positive move forward and should provide a practical solution to what has become a national problem. 

“’Bats in Churches’ is being made possible thanks to National Lottery players’ money. The legacy of our £3.8m investment will be a major step change in how this issue is approached in the future.  Local communities who work hard to look after and use their churches, precious bat populations and historic church buildings are all set to benefit.  The most immediate outcome is developing proposals for 100 churches in England to put in place solutions to protect resident bat populations whilst preventing further damage to the buildings.” 

The UK has internationally important populations of bats, which are at risk, because of decreases in woodland where some species hunt for insects, conversion of barns, loss of natural roosting sites and changes in farming practices. Due to significant historical declines in bat populations in the UK, all bats have been protected under British law since 1981. Churches can be important sanctuaries for bats for maternity roosts and hibernation. 

Whilst small bat populations can occupy parts of a church without disturbance, in other cases bats can pose severe financial and social problems for congregations. At a time when churches are increasingly becoming community hubs with a diversity of events and uses, bat droppings can restrict activities, damage historic artefacts, cause hygiene issues and put strain on the volunteers who look after these beautiful buildings. In rare cases large bat roosts have even caused churches to close. 

Deborah Lamb, Deputy Chief Executive of Historic England said: 

We welcome every opportunity to help congregations that work hard to care for church buildings, providing public space for community activity and a wonderful treasury of historic monuments, brasses, woodwork and craftsmanship.  This project will offer practical help to those coping with the additional challenge of living with bats and encourage volunteers who are interested in bats to discover more about local churches. 

Crispin Truman OBE, Chief Executive of the Churches Conservation Trust said: 

Our national collection of 350 churches is home not only to great architecture, history and exquisite medieval art, but also to important natural resources including precious species of bats. The relationship between the two has not always been harmonious so we are delighted this project which celebrates both, has been awarded funding from the Heritage Lottery. It will enable us to better protect churches and their inhabitants, as well as supporting the communities who care for historic churches so that both can thrive.

Rt. Hon. Sir Tony Baldry, Chair of the Church Buildings Council, said: 

"This grant should help us better manage bats in churches. We are not opposed to bats, they are intriguing creatures and part of God’s creation, but they can do enormous damage in churches. I am delighted that this innovative project can now go ahead."  

The partnership includes Natural England, Church of England, Bat Conservation Trust, Historic England and the Churches Conservation Trust. 

Notes to editors: 

Bat Conservation Trust: Dr Joe Nunez-Mino, Comms@bats.org.uk

The project The project builds on Defra and Historic England projects which researched practical techniques and approaches to reduce the impact of bats, guidance, policy and a licensing framework (the Bats in Churches Class Licence). The project will run in 2 phases - a 13 month development phase followed by a five-year delivery phase running until 2023 – and will have the following strands: 

Putting in place solutions to help churches with bats Solutions to the problems caused by bats, shown through research to be effective, will be put in place in churches around the country. Knowledge and best practice generated from this work will then be used to offer solutions in many more churches with bats in the future. These include the use of ultrasonic emitting devices to deter bats from specific parts of a church, and building bat boxes into churches to contain the bats ensuring they can still roost at the church but no longer cause damage and disruption.

Build expert capacity: Professionals and volunteers will be given the skills and knowledge to better understand the problem and how they can help. A national network of bat conservation volunteers will be established during the project.

Recording: A national “Bats in Churches” survey will be established with data being collected by volunteers. We will find out just how bats use churches in England and create a database to share information with all key stakeholders 

Engaging people and communities: We need to help people to appreciate bats and churches.  Bats are unique creatures; our only flying mammal and each species has its own distinctive characteristics. The project will bring church and bat communities together and create a band of local champions, with a shared sense of ownership of the solutions.

Wider applications: The techniques used in this project will have wider uses for other organisations and other historic buildings, such as National Trust. We will work with these heritage groups from the outset.

Outcome for people, places and nature: Historic churches and bat populations of high conservation significance will be better conserved and communities strengthened, now and into the future. We will promote better understanding of built and natural heritage and a more harmonious relationship between people and bats.

Funding

Total project cost of £4.975m can be broken down as follows:

HLF grant: £3.8m

Total match funding (including in-kind contributions): £1.171m

Total development phase cost: £415k

Total delivery phase cost: £4.560m 

Churches in England are eligible for free bat advice provided by Natural England through the Bat Helpline 0345 1300 228 

There are 14,500 places of worship in England listed for their special architectural or historic interest, 85% of which belong to and are maintained by the Church of England. 45% of Grade I listed buildings in England are Church of England places of worship. These churches are supported by the efforts and financial support of local communities and are often the focus of community life and service. 

Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF)

*HLF’s Heritage grant applications are assessed in two rounds.  A first-round pass is given when HLF has endorsed outline proposals and earmarked funding. A first-round pass may also include an immediate award to fund the development of the project. Detailed proposals are then considered by HLF at second-round and as long as plans have progressed satisfactorily and according to the original proposal, an award for the project is confirmed. 

Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about - from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. www.hlf.org.uk.  Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #HLFsupported. 

About the Churches Conservation Trust (www.visitchurches.org.uk)

  • The Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) is the national charity protecting historic churches at risk.  We’ve saved over 340 beautiful buildings which attract almost  2 million visitors a year.
  • Established under Ecclesiastical Law on 1 April 1969 the charity receives its churches in the form of ‘vestings’ from the Church Commissioners. All the CCT’s churches remain consecrated and are often used for occasional worship .   
  • The CCT works with local people to bring historic churches back into the heart of the community and use as a social, tourism, educational or cultural resource. The CCT’s care of Grade I and II* buildings has given it an international reputation in heritage conservation and regeneration.      
  • Chairman of the Trust is Peter Ainsworth, who was appointed in 2016. Crispin Truman is Chief Executive.  

Bat Conservation Trust  www.bats.org.uk

Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) are the leading charity solely devoted to the conservation of bats and the landscapes on which they rely. We work closely with many organisations including over 100 bat groups across the UK. We are working to secure the future of bats in our ever changing world by tackling the threats to bats, from persecution to loss or roosts and changing land use. As the authoritative voice for bat conservation we work locally, nationally, across Europe and internationally. BCT have a vision of a world rich in wildlife where bats and people thrive together. 

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