Bats causing problems in a church
While small numbers of bats can go unnoticed in a church, larger roosts can pose a range of challenges to those looking after the church building.
Some of the most common issues include concerns over bat droppings and urine and bats flying inside the church. In addition churches that are planning renovation or building projects, need to take bats into account.
Bats and their roosts are protected by law but help and advice is available, and churches are encouraged to seek the support of bat workers when dealing with bat issues. With the right help and support, practical solutions can often be found to problems caused by bats in a church.
Droppings and urine
Most commonly bat droppings accumulate underneath the roost, and below the points bats use to access a building or a roosting area. Scattered droppings are left behind by bats when flying, which they sometimes do in the nave and aisles of a church they use for roosting.
Bat droppings are made up of dried insect remains, and crumble easily. The droppings themselves rarely cause damage. However, if left they can encourage algal growth which can damage surfaces, especially marble and alabaster.
Bat urine contains high concentrations of uric acid which can corrode metal. Bat urine also causes etching of polished surfaces and staining of light-coloured fabric and porous stone such as marble and alabaster.
A study at the University College London (UCL) is investigating the effects of bat droppings and urine on historic fabric. The researchers are carrying out experiments to quantify the impact bat droppings and urine have on different materials. The study is also developing methods to prevent and to reverse the damage caused.
There are no known human health risks from UK bat droppings or bat urine.
Bats are very clean animals. In the UK, no known harmful bacteria, viruses or fungi are present in bat droppings or urine. It is recommended that hands are washed with warm water and soap after handling bat droppings. Food preparation areas can be protected by installing a cover over them. In Anglican churches, this will require obtaining permission through the Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC).
Some European species of bats carry a rabies-type virus, the European Bat Lyssavirus (EBLV), but this is very rare in British bats. The virus is transmitted through a bite or scratch by an infected animal. Effective treatment is available and the minimal risk of contracting EBLV is completely avoided if you do not handle bats with bare hands.
Flying inside the church
If bats have access to the interior of the church, they can sometimes be seen flying in open spaces before leaving to forage outside after dusk. Sometimes bats are seen during services or concerts in the church, possibly woken up by the sounds.
Flying bats do not collide with humans and pose no danger to people. They can however deposit droppings or urine, which are harmless but can cause distress. For support and advice churches can contact the National Bat Helpline (0345 1300 228).
Bats and building projects in churches
Bats in the UK declined dramatically in the past and all British bats are now protected, much in the way historic buildings are protected by legislation. This means that plans for building work in churches that have bats needs to be carried out sensitively to ensure bats and their roosts are not harmed.
Taking bats into account in building projects is an extra consideration, but help and support is available. Churches are advised to consider bats as early on in the planning process as possible. This can avoid costly delays later on during the building project.