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Conference tackles problem of bats in churches

17 November 2010

by Ed Beavan

BATS roosting in church buildings are deterring people from getting mar­ried or baptised in church, and parochial church councils (PCCs) are struggling to understand complex legislation on dealing with the issue, delegates heard at the first ever “bat conference” to be held by the Church of England, on Tuesday.

“Conservation Forum 2010: The Conservation Issues Caused by the Presence of Bats in Churches” took place at Lambeth Palace, and in­cluded presentations from the bat working group of the Church Buildings Council (CBC).

The Revd Stephen Thorp, a Nor­folk rector, one of whose churches — St Andrew’s, Holme Hale — is part of a pilot scheme in Norfolk examining the problem, told delegates that bats in his church did “untold damage” not only to artefacts, but also to the fabric of the building.

He disagreed, he said, with a report by Natural England and English Heritage that “made it clear it’s per­fectly acceptable for bats and people to share indoor enclosed space”. “We’re forgetting what is the primary purpose of church. A church is there for its community and worshipping community. It is not providing a haven for bats, however endearing they may be.”

He said that he was “not against bats”, but the roost at St Andrew’s was “a very serious problem affecting our ministry”, and children’s work was inhibited by the health-and-safety risk of bat droppings. The bat colony also created a smell, which made people “reluctant to have their wed­ding in our church”.

The Dean of the Arches, the Rt Worshipful Charles George QC, explained the complex­ities of the Habitats Directive on bats, which meant that the “onus was against the church” in the law when PCCs attempted to gain a licence to deal with bats.

He said that Natural England was accountable to Brussels when it granted licences, and that PCCs had difficulty in providing the evidence necessary to gain a licence.

Nigel Cooper, Chaplain of Anglia Ruskin University, in Cambridge, and chairman of the CBC bat working group, described bats as “both little horrors and little darlings”. He said that they were trying to find a common strategy to move forward, drawing on the expertise of the various groups at the conference.

Stephen Rudd, of Natural England, said that bats were a “unique group of animals”, and that there were 17 species in the UK. He highlighted how the cost of surveys, reports, and re­medial work for churches with bats was a “stumbling block”, but said that they wanted to “make it easier for churches to make a licence action

in cases where bats cause severe damage”.

He acknowledged that churches “may not find the licensing system sympathetic towards them”, but he men­tioned the Bat Advice helpline, which last year had 352 enquiries from churches, which prompted 262 visits from volunteers from Natural England.

Dr David Carrington, an architec­tural conservator who runs Skilling­tons Workshop, which carries out repairs and restorations on many church monuments throughout the UK, told the conference how bat droppings stained marble monuments, and how, occasionally, monuments were used as roosting sites by bats.

He gave the example of St Nicholas’s, Stanford, in the diocese of Leicester, where monuments have been badly damaged by bat drop­pings. Dr Carrington said that to clean and reapply wax to each monu­ment cost £15,000. There were 14 monuments in the church, and this was “not a viable option” for PCCs.

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