19th May 2021

Over half of historic churches thought to house bats, but it could be many more

(c) Patrick Keiller

It is thought that at least 60 percent of pre-16th century churches across the country contain bat roosts, but this is an out of date estimate, it could be many more and it’s likely to vary widely across the country.

For centuries, bats have been associated with churches and in some cases these historic buildings are home to national and even internationally important bat roosts.

The Bats in Churches Study aims to understand how and why these protected mammals use church buildings and is appealing for volunteers to come forward to help by searching for evidence of bats in their local church. The surveys run from the beginning of June to the end of August and are covid secure with guidelines provided for participants.

The study has already thrown up some surprising results, in its trial year, volunteers were delighted to discover the presence of grey long-eared bats in a Devon church. These are one of the rarest mammals in Britain, with an approximate population of 1000, there are few known records of this species using churches.

The study is led by Bats in Churches, a five-year project funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and bringing together partners from the conservation and heritage sectors to reduce the damage that bats can cause in churches while also protecting their roosts.

The project is helping to provide innovative solutions that allow bats and churches to occupy the same space without conflict and works closely with ecologists, church architects and communities.

Participants are encouraged to share their experiences on social media using #ChurchBatDetectives. Find out more and register to take part in the Bats in Churches Study here.

Adrian Bayley, Volunteer Surveyor for the Bats in Churches Study said: "I really enjoyed taking part in the Bats in Churches Study. I was pleased that some of the droppings collected proved to be those of a rare Grey long-eared bat! I am looking forward to surveying more churches this summer.”

Claire Boothby, Training and Survey Officer, Bats in Churches Project said: “We know churches are important for bats, but we are still in the dark about how many of the 16,000 Church of England churches are used by these protected mammals. We want to understand the factors affecting bats use of churches and also get a better picture of the impacts (both positive and negative) on those caring for these buildings. By helping unveil the mystery, by looking for evidence of bats and speaking to a representative of the church this summer, you’ll help us to provide better advice and guidance for both church and bat conservation.”

Phillip Parker, Director of Phillip Parker Associates environmental consultancy said:

“Out of the nearly 270 historic churches that I’ve surveyed in Norfolk, only 4 didn’t show evidence of bats, which is significantly higher than the current national estimate, but anecdotal information like this is patchy and isn’t available for most counties which is why this study is so important. It will be very interesting to gain a better picture of bats’ use of churches across the country so that we can understand the importance of individual roosts and tailor our approach towards conservation in those areas to benefit both bats and churches.”

For more information please contact: Ione Fitzpatrick: ione.fitzpatrick@churchofengland.org / Chana James: cjames@thecct.org.uk

The Bats in Churches Project

Bats in Churches is a pioneering project to empower church communities to thrive alongside their resident bats. The project, which began in 2019, was made possible by a £3.8 million grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Bats in Churches is a unique, cross-sectoral partnership of organisations with distinctive priorities, comprising Natural England, the Church of England, the Bat Conservation Trust, the Churches Conservation Trust and Historic England. The five-year project will conclude in 2023.

The project is working with church and conservation communities and professionals to find bespoke, sustainable solutions for over 100 of the worst affected churches across England. The National Bats in Churches Study aims to survey 1000 churches across England by the end of the project and, alongside the Church Bats Detectives survey, will help us better understand how and why bats are using churches.

The project seeks to safeguard the future of protected bat roosts sheltered in England's churches, whilst reducing the negative impact on the fabric of these historic buildings and the people who use them.

Find out more at: www.batsandchurches.org.uk, @BatsinChurches, @BatsinChurchesProject

About the National Lottery Heritage Fund

Using money raised by the National Lottery, we Inspire, lead and resource the UK’s heritage to create positive and lasting change for people and communities, now and in the future. www.heritagefund.org.uk.

Over half of historic churches thought to house bats, but it could be many more