15th October 2013

Bat Conservation Trust is pleased to see Natural England seeking a way to allow people and bats to co-exist in St Hilda's Church, Ellerburn.

Extensive research has been undertaken at Ellerburn this summer to find a solution that hopefully benefits both people and bats. Following this research by the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA), Natural England has now issued a licence to block bat access to the interior of the church whilst maintaining access for the bats to roost in the roof area. It is hoped that by preventing bat access to the interior of the church, the congregation will be able to make full use of the building for worship while the bats that depend on the building to rear their young, will keep their roosts.

The church in North Yorkshire is home to a large and important breeding population of Natterer's bats as well as at least three other bat species, and the church community has faced challenges as a result of the bats' presence. The combination of issues at St Hilda's is considered exceptional by Natural England.

The surrounding landscape is perfect bat habitat which means a large number of bats are present in this small historic church and cleaning up the droppings and urine has proved far too onerous for the small congregation. During the summer months, when bats are breeding in the church, they have found it particularly difficult. Church buildings are important to bat conservation because in a landscape in which many wildlife habitats have been destroyed, they have a long history of providing roosts for bats including several rarer species. While most churches experience few problems, or may not even be aware of the bats they help, some like St Hilda's experience serious problems and it is important to find solutions that help both people and bats.

Julia Hanmer, CEO of Bat Conservation Trust:

"I really feel for the congregation at St Hilda's and the challenges they face at their church from the presence of bats. I sincerely hope that this solution works for the church community, solving the unusually significant issues they face, and for the bats, maintaining their fragile conservation status. We welcome the fact that intensive monitoring will take place in 2014 and 2015 and beyond to ensure the conservation status of these protected bats will not be significantly affected by the changes to access.

BCT welcomes news that Natural England feels "some confidence" that the bat colonies will not be adversely affected by the work and that "safeguards will be put in place to secure the long-term survival of the bat populations using the church." There is still much we don't know about Natterer's bats. The work undertaken in Yorkshire has improved understanding of St Hilda's bats. While we very much hope that a workable solution for people and bats has been found, it is still too early to judge whether it will be successful. It is very important to monitor what actually happens and to respond quickly if it is found that the work has not helped the congregation or that the colony has been harmed."

Notes to Editors:

  • The bats of St Hilda's Ellerburn, and indeed all British bats, are protected under British law, because of severe declines in bat numbers during the twentieth century. Loss of roosting habitat to development and construction, loss of foraging habitat as farming practice has changed (using pesticide and losing meadows and hedgerows) and loss of hedgerows, waterways and commuting routes linking the two all contributed to the declines in bat populations.
  • Because of widespread population declines and continued vulnerability, all British bat species are European protected species and afforded a high level of protection under both the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Deliberately capturing, disturbing, injuring and killing bats is prohibited, as is damaging or destroying their breeding sites and roosts, except under a licence issued by Natural England.
  • The Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) is the only national organisation solely devoted to the conservation of bats and their habitats in the UK. Its network of 100 local bat groups and more than 1,000 bat workers survey roosts and hibernation sites, and work with householders, builders, farmers and foresters to protect bats.
  • The Bat Helpline 0845 1300 228 is for anyone who needs help with bats, including churches. If you find a grounded or injured bat, believes bats to be at risk or think you may have bats or want to let us know about a bat roost site please call the Bat Helpline 0845 1300 228

Natural England statement here: http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/regulation/wildlife/sthildaslicencefeature.aspx

For more information, interviews or comment please contact Abi McLoughlin 0207 8207183 / 07974 779521