27th June 2014
Over the last two weeks a number of articles have appeared in the media portraying the presence of bats in churches in a negative light. Bat Conservation Trust recognises the problems that some churches experience with bats. When large roosts of bats are present in churches their 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 works with a number of different organisations and individuals to find solutions in these difficult situations and we will continue to do so.
With the right support there are solutions already available to the problems faced by some churches and we work with researchers and others to find more alternatives (http://www.batsandchurches.org.uk). There are excellent examples in which working together has been very productive in overcoming particular issues (http://www.bats.org.uk/pages/church_case_studies.html ). For instance the congregation of Holy Trinity Church at Tattershall in Lincolnshire is finding ways to live alongside large colonies of bats and even turn the presence of bats into a visitor attraction for the 35,000 people who visit this church each year, achieving this through hard work, creativity and partnership with the local bat group, BCT and Natural England. .
The National Bat Helpline (0845 1300 228) offers free advice on behalf of Natural England to anyone who encounters a bat, be it a house holder who suspects they have bats in their attic, through to someone who encounters a baby bat (pup) in distress. In 2013 the helpline answered more than 12,000 enquiries about bats, and arranged 1,514 free volunteer visits on behalf of Natural England for householders and churches. The majority of enquiries from churches to the Bat Helpline relate to advice on building works. In 2013 there were 414 calls to the helpline from churches resulting in 248 free Natural England site visits where guidance and support were offered.
Julia Hanmer, BCT Chief Executive, states "We would encourage any church that has a concern about bats or a bat roost to call the National Bat Helpline. With the right support and by working in partnership with conservationists, churches can often find solutions to the challenges of living alongside bat colonies."
Many individuals and organisations have taken the same approach as BCT in calling for a reasoned response to this issue. Among these Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon spoke eloquently on behalf the government during a recent Lords debate on the matter (Full transcript in notes). Christian conservation groups such as A Rocha and the Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals (Church Times letter - see notes) have also called for a more reasoned and balanced approach.
At least 60% of pre-16th century churches are home to bat roosts although in many cases the roosts are small or may even go unnoticed. At least 8 species are known to use churches as roosts including some of our rarer species. At BCT we are committed to finding solutions for bats and churches issues that support people, bats and churches.
- Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon [House of Lords, 12th of June 2014]
Turning to bats, I will share a confession with noble Lords. This is one of those issues about which, when I sit down as a Minister for my briefings, I have very limited knowledge. I certainly remember bats of a cricket kind, and my memories of bats in childhood also refer back to Batman and Robin. Being the younger of two brothers, I always ended up playing Robin, but took some consolation from the fact that Robin was often called the Boy Wonder - I leave the rest to your Lordships' assessment. As for bats specifically, most medieval churches will have bats, and Norfolk churches seem to have particular problems in this respect. In fact, historic buildings, especially churches, play an important role in helping to protect the conservation status of native bats. In a changing landscape, churches can represent one of the few remaining constant resources for bats, thus giving them a disproportionate significance for the maintenance of bat populations at a favourable conservation status. If churches wish to undertake works to address this problem, they can call the bat helpline - I am sure noble Lords will rush to it - where advice is given for free on timing and on whether investigation may be required. Under this service, 202 visits were made to churches last year.
I know there were different opinions about bats, but I am also mindful that noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, talked about music in churches, while the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, talked about the role of the church beyond the faith of Christianity. I look back to my Church of England education and remember a hymn: "All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small ...The Lord God made them all". Perhaps we can reflect on the conservation of bats in that light.
I am pleased to say that many places of worship may be able to secure funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund for conservation or repair works. This could include, on a serious note, bat surveys or mitigation works as part of a wider project. Defra has funded a three-year research project to develop bat deterrents for use in churches and English Heritage is now funding the development of a toolkit for churches based on those research results. This will be available by early 2015.
- Letter from Helen Hall (ASWA) in The Church Times (20th of June 2014) - http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2014/20-june/comment/letters-to-the-editor/case-by-case-approach-to-bats-in-churches
Notes to Editors:
- 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 the relevant licensing authority.
- 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. www.bats.org.uk
- Of an estimated 30,500 churches of all denominations in England, we receive enquiries from around 400 (1%) churches to our helpline each year. Most of these relate to advice on how to take bats into account during building works and most callers are positive or neutral about bats.
- UK bats do not pose a risk to public health. British bats are not known to host virus's that affect people with the one exception of a rare rabies-like virus (European Bat Lyssavirus). In 25 years of testing over 10,000 UK bats this virus has only been found in 10 bats; and there is no risk to the public if they do not handle bats.
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