CHURCH roofs are a target not only for metal thieves, but for
all sorts of other dangers, both natural and man-made.
Fires are the biggest hazard for roofs of old churches.
Insurance claims after a roof fire can run into many millions of
pounds. The cause is often an electrical fault, but sometimes it
can be arson. An arson attack on St Barnabas's, Erdington, in 2007,
gutted the church, and it had to be almost entirely rebuilt at a
cost of £5 million.
In cases such as these, it can be hard for a church to protect
itself. But PCCs can safeguard against fires caused by electrical
faults by ensuring that the wiring of the church is checked every
five years by a qualified electrician.
Fires can also be caused by lightning conductors that are not
maintained, Kevin Thomas, of Ecclesiastical Insurance, says. "If
they aren't maintained, they absorb the lightning, but don't
discharge it, causing a fire." General storm-damage, from falling
trees and strong winds, is also an ever-present risk to church
Church roofs have also been subject to stone-thefts,
particularly in areas such as the Cotswolds, where stone roof-tiles
are expensive, and there is a thriving second-hand market for them.
Cotswold-stone tiles are a traditional roofing material, but to
cover a 10ft × 10ft area would cost between £2000 and £5000. Some
churches have been stripped of £20,000 of tiles.
Insurance figures suggest that thefts of stone tiles may have
peaked in 2010 at £200,000; and, owing to alarms and increased
vigilance from the police, they subsided to £15,000 in 2012.
But there are also other threats to church roofs which it is not
possible to insure against: beetles, dry rot, and damp. These
"gradual" threats should be picked up in quinquennial inspections,
and rectified over time, before the problem has become too
Churches and other heritage buildings frequently suffer from
damp and decay as a result of fluctuating temperatures, caused by
the buildings' being infrequently used, and water penetration from
poorly maintained drains and gutters.
Damp leads to fungal decay in wood, and provides the perfect
habitat for infestations such as woodboring beetles. Oak is the
most vulnerable timber. If it is not discovered in time, the bill
for beetle infestation can amount to hundreds of thousands of
pounds. St John-in-Bedwardine, in Worcestershire, had to remove its
eight bells, and stop its clock, after death watch beetles were
found in the tower. The restora- tion work, which was paid for by
fund-raising, cost £250,000. Restorers discovered that a roof that
had leaked for years had created the perfect conditions for the
The important thing for churchwardens who think their church has
a problem with damp, or beetle infestation, is not to call in an
expensive specialist immediately, but to speak to the DAC first.
English Heritage, and ChurchCare - set up by the Cathedral and
Church Buildings Division of the Archbishops' Council - have plenty
of advice on their websites.
Number and cost of roof-tile-theft claims from Church of
2010 nearly 30 claims, costing more than £200,000
2011 more than 20 claims, costing nearly £40,000
2012 more than ten claims, costing more than £15,000
Number and cost of fire claims from Church of England
2010 more than 30 claims, costing more than £2.7
2011 25 claims, costing more than £360,000
2012 more than 20 claims, costing more than £440,000
2010 more than ten claims, costing more than £1.7
2011 more than ten claims, costing more than £1.8 million
2012 fewer than ten claims, costing more than £85,000