Cover the furniture and map the droppings, says bat guide

23 April 2008

by Bill Bowder

A NEW GUIDE on bat management, which could affect at least 6000 English churches, has been published this month by the Government’s countryside agency, Natural England.

The guide was produced after more than one in ten parishes in a bat survey expressed concern about the presence of bats in church. The guide suggests that there is little that incumbents can do without a licence: all 17 species of bat found in the UK are legally protected.

Bats in Churches: A management guide states that it is an offence deliberately to kill, injure, or capture a bat, or to disturb them in such a way as to affect their breeding. It is also an offence to change the distribution of bats in a particular area; damage or destroy their resting places; or “intentionally or recklessly obstruct access to any place used by bats for shelter or protection”.

The management guide suggests that often the best that an incumbent and congregation can do is to clean up the bat droppings before a service, and move the furniture out of the way.

“Record the distribution of excreta on to a scale plan of the church. Divide the plan up into one-metre-square sections, and count or estimate the number of droppings or urine spots in a sample of these, focusing particularly on those areas of the church that show the most evidence,” the guide suggests. A church would then have a good idea of the extent of the problem.

“Fortunately, bats co-exist in harmony with clergy and congregations in most cases: 75 per cent of respondents to the Bat Conservation Trust survey welcomed bats, with only 12 per cent expressing concerns about their presence,” the guide says.

It explains that in summer, while the female bats collect in colonies for a few weeks to bear and suckle their babies, the male bats will fly into a church, where the cool roof reminds them of the canopy of a tree. Later, the whole bat family will arrive. Because they can squeeze through a two-centimetre gap, it is hard to stop them. Pictures can be protected, however, and furniture can be covered.


The head of Places of Worship for English Heritage, Diana Evans, said that the legal position was now clear. “That is very helpful, because many architects, builders, and churchwardens would not have been aware of the position, and it is important that they are; for that’s the law, and the law has teeth.”

But she said that the guide did not resolve the issue for those churches that were concerned about bats, and this would need attention “in due course”.

Stephen Bowler, the acting secretary of the Council for the Care of Churches, said on Wednesday: “So much is site-specific. Let’s see if, when the guide is applied, we still come up with some real challenges. I would like to examine that 12 per cent who say they have a problem, and see if it is solvable or not. Bridges still need to be built between the churches and Natural England.”

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