Free advice service for places of worship in England

Your place of worship may be eligible for free advice from Natural England if it meets the following criteria:

  • Its primary use is as a place of worship
  • It’s in active use (not converted)
  • You’re planning work to the main building or a lychgate – not an accessory building such as a parish hall or vicarage
  • The work doesn’t require planning permission from your local authority (although there is an exception if you’re replacing stolen lead on the roof)
  • You’re replacing the roof on one or less sections of the building
  • You’re not converting the building to a different us

If you don’t meet the criteria above, you’ll need to engage an ecological consultant instead. Very large places of worship, such as cathedrals, may also fall outside the free advice service’s remit, but do discuss them with us first.

Receiving advice will typically involve having a visit to your place of worship by a Volunteer Bat Roost Visitor working on behalf of Natural England. It’s best if we deal directly with the person who will be interacting with the volunteer, so if you’re an architect or contractor, please ask your contact at the place of worship to contact us rather than doing so yourself.

Planning work

We strongly recommend that you do not book contractors until you have received written advice. The process can take a while, and you may be told you can only do the work at specific times of year. It’s also worth bearing in mind that certain materials and techniques can be dangerous to bats and this needs to be considered. Please see our section on things to consider when planning work for more information.

Please gather as much detail as you can about the proposed work before you contact us. A specification of works will be especially helpful.

We won’t be able to provide free advice in all cases. When planning the budget for a project, it’s always worth bearing in mind that you may need to hire an ecological consultant.

How to request advice

As soon as you have details of the work, we recommend filling our the Church Roost Visit Request form linked below and submitting it to enquiries@bats.org.uk alongside your specification and any other information you think might be helpful (you can use this form even if your place of worship is not a church). The form will ask you whether the work requires planning permission. This refers to permission from your local authority. If you just need a faculty, or permission from a governing body of your faith, please select “no.”

Once we have received your request, one of our Helpline team members will discuss the work with you to see whether it’s likely to be something the advice service can help with. We deal with a large volume of enquiries every day, particularly in the summer, so you should expect to wait at least a few working days before receiving a reply.

If you cannot use the form for whatever reason, please contact the National Bat Helpline directly to request your visit. Please do not contact Volunteer Bat Roost Visitors directly, as they cannot arrange visits without authorisation from the Helpline.

Having a roost visit

We’ll look for a volunteer who lives reasonably close to your place of worship and has enough time to take the visit on. If you’ve had visits before, we’ll try to arrange for the same volunteer to take on the new visit, but this may not be possible.

The service relies on the generosity of these volunteers, who do this work in addition to full-time jobs and other commitments. Some areas have more volunteers and higher demand than others, so we can’t guarantee how long it will be before someone’s able to visit you, but we do try to ensure you have a date in the diary within two weeks of your request. In rare cases, we may have to recommend you hire an ecological consultant if no volunteer is available.

We can’t agree to provide a volunteer of a particular gender or faith. If this means certain areas of the building are off-limits to them, we’ll do our best to provide advice based on the areas they are able to survey. However, if they can’t obtain enough information for us to advise you, we’ll recommend that you hire an ecological consultant instead.

Getting your advice

Following the visit, you will receive official advice (via a letter or email) from Natural England detailing how and when you can carry out the work. It’s recommended that you don’t begin work or put up any scaffolding until you’ve received this. Only the letter counts as official advice. While the volunteer may tell you their recommendations during the visit, the official advice needs to be confirmed by Natural England.

If you need to apply for a faculty but haven’t yet had your advice letter, you can show the diocese the correspondence you do have from us, so they know the matter is in hand. This has been sufficient evidence in many cases before.

Your advice will often include dates when you can do the work. In these cases, the advice is only valid until the last date it gives for work has passed. If the work isn’t complete by then, or you need to do more work, you’ll need to contact us again for further advice.

We recommend that you keep your advice and other correspondence on file and pass them on to anyone who takes over your role, so they’re aware of the history and know to take bats into account in future.

Free visits during the pandemic

We are pleased to announce that from Tuesday 21st July 2020 we can now organize in-person visits to eligible places of worship, under certain strict conditions. As we rely on the generosity of volunteers to carry out these surveys, we will be limited by the number of surveys we can organise at any one time. We will endeavour to arrange your visit where strict covid-19 safety measures can be implemented.

We will not organize a visit where the site contact is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, self-isolating or shielding. Please do not contact the Helpline if this is relevant to you. Our Helpline staff are not able to provide any further information than can be found on the web page regarding the recommencement of visits. Changes to these conditions will be published on this webpage, so please do check back for updates.

This advice provided by the National Bat Helpline is only possible thanks to the generosity of people like you. Our vital advice service helps thousands of people by providing advice for free, this in turn saves thousands of bats every year. Partial funding from Natural England helps cover some of our running costs, but it does not cover everything. Your donation will help ensure our small team can continue to provide assistance and a lifeline for bats.

Please click here for more information and to donate.

Next: Free advice services in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland