12th October 2018

St.Mary's church in Selborne

Rob Farrow

A ground-breaking project to help churches that host large bat roosts has recently been granted £3.8 million of funding by the Heritage Lottery Fund. (HLF)

This new round of funding will help deliver a five year partnership project, bringing together wildlife, heritage conservation and church organisations to save bats and protect churches so that future generations can enjoy and benefit from both.

The UK’s bat population has suffered some significant historical declines which is why they are protected by UK law. The loss of their natural habitats means that some species have been forced to find safe havens in buildings including historic churches. Many church communities live harmoniously with their bat roosts but in some cases bats are causing irreparable damage to historically significant church monuments and memorials as well as impacting upon the people who use the buildings. Without appropriate management, large bat populations can damage artefacts, placing a huge burden on the volunteers who fund, clean and care for these buildings. Church volunteers find themselves having to cancel events, covering and uncovering monuments and cleaning on a daily basis.

This project will bring together church communities with bat and heritage organisations to provide support and find shared sustainable solutions. Recently approved techniques and a new licence developed by Natural England to permit necessary work will be trialed to improve both the natural and historic environment and the people who care for both.

The bats in churches project will:

  • Find practical solutions to enable 102 of the most severely impacted church communities to reduce the impact of bats on the church, without harming the bats
  • Create a new network of fully trained volunteers who can undertake bat surveys and support congregations who have bat roosts at their church
  • Train professional ecologists and historic building specialists in new techniques and knowledge to improve their advice to congregations
  • Collect and collate up-to-date data from over 700 churches across England, helping to build a specialist knowledge base bats and their use of churches
  • Strengthen local communities so people value and engage with their local natural and historic built heritage

Natural England is working in partnership with The Church of England, Historic England, Bat Conservation Trust and Churches Conservation Trust to deliver this ambitious and innovative project.

Natural England chairman, Andrew Sells, said:

“England’s bat population has suffered historic decline which has forced many to find refuge in some of the nation’s historic churches.

“The funding announced today will give great impetus to the partnership of heritage, wildlife and church organisations which aims to resolve conflicts. Together these groups are demonstrating astonishing passion and drive in working together to save these wonderful animals and protect cherished churches across the country.”

Ros Kerslake, Chief Executive of the Heritage Lottery Fund, said:

“Places of worship and nature are both priorities for us, but they don’t always coexist harmoniously. Finding ways to solve this problem is beneficial to bats, churches and their congregations and is a really good use of National Lottery players’ money.”

Kit Stoner, Chief Executive of the Bat Conservation Trust, said:

“We are absolutely delighted with the news that HLF will continue to fund the Bats in Churches project. This means we can build on the collaborative and innovative approach we have taken so far in finding sustainable ways to support churches with large bat roosts in a way that will benefit bats and people.

“Church and conservation communities can continue to work together to protect historic medieval church buildings, artefacts and bats.

“Protecting our natural and historical heritage will create a lasting legacy that will benefit present and future generations.”

Peter Aiers, Chief Executive of the Churches Conservation Trust, said:

“I love churches, iconic buildings of England and I love bats, however, humans and bats are not always happy pew fellows!

“Many of the CCT’s historic churches have co-existed in harmony with bats for a long time. We want that to continue, but we also rely on volunteer support to keep our churches open and used by the community.

“Increasingly volunteers find it a struggle to look after a church with large numbers of bats. This project is critical to our understanding of how we can support them and better look after our heritage, and we are delighted that the HLF has decided to back this creative partnership project.”

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

“Bats are part of God’s creation and this project will enable churches to maintain their primary role as Places of Worship whilst ensuring the sustainability of both our historic and natural heritage.”

Dame Caroline Spelman, Second Church Estates Commissioner, said:

‘This ground-breaking partnership project means that at long last churches will be empowered to tackle the issues that have caused tension between churches, communities and bats leading to benefits for all involved’

Deborah Lamb, Deputy Chief Executive at Historic England, said:

“Volunteers caring for historic places of worship face a great challenge. When they also have to share the building with bats the situation can be overwhelming.

“I am delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has agreed to support the Bats in Churches partnership so we can apply the outcome of a decade of research to places that need help. This should make life easier for everyone who uses or loves historic churches that host bats.”

ENDS

Notes to editors:

The Bats in Churches Project

  • The project builds on Defra and Historic England projects which researched usable techniques and approaches to reduce the impact of bats, guidance, policy and a licensing framework (the Bats in Churches Class Licence). The development phase of the project ran between February 2017 and June 2018 to test different approaches to manage the impact of bats in churches, trialling solutions in three churches: All Saints Braunston-in-Rutland, All Saints Swanton Morley and Holy Trinity Tattershall. www.batsandchurches.org.uk
  • The delivery phase of the Bats in Churches Project will run from 2018-2023 and will:
    • Find practical solutions
    • Motivate communities to appreciate and understand their built and natural heritage
    • Create a national network of skilled volunteers
    • Build relationships
    • Share knowledge to help management of other historic buildings
    • Collect nationally important data
    • Churches in England are eligible for free bat advice provided by Natural England through the National Bat Helpline 0345 1300 228
    • Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF)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. For further information, please contact Katie Owen, HLF Press Office, Tel: 020 7591 6036/07973 613820
    • 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