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Churches spend to save bats

16 August 2013

SHUTTERSTOCK

Endangered: a horseshoe bat

Endangered: a horseshoe bat

THE lesser horseshoe bat may not be familiar to many people, but parishioners in south-west England are becoming well versed in its requirements. Their church is among many that are making special provision for the animals.

As the lesser horseshoe is a species in decline, relocating it can cost a significant sum, as the congregation at All Saints', Nunney, in Somerset, can attest. Having raised £200,000 to replace the church's ceiling, Friends of Nunney Church must now raise £10,000 to rehouse a colony living in the roof.

"You can't just barge in and start upsetting their habitat unless you have made provision for them," David Scrutton, a member of the Friends, said on Tuesday of last week. "We have a maternity colony of bats." He was unaware of any damage they might have caused, but in June, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry, warned MPs that bats were threatening the future of churches.

He said that bat faeces and urine had the potential to cause "enormous damage" to churches, corroding monumental brasses, and disfiguring medieval paintings. The cost of cleaning, monitoring, delays to building work, and bat-mitigation measures was "significant".

He warned: "Many of the churches affected by bat infestation are approaching a situation where their buildings may be unsustainable as places of worship. . . There is every chance that church congregations will find themselves homeless and without a place of worship, with listed buildings left unoccupied."

Bats are a protected species in the EU and, in most circumstances, it is a criminal offence to disturb them. The Environment Minister, Richard Benyon, said that the Government was working with Natural England to address "misunderstanding" about how to comply with the law, and investigate reports of "over-zealous" advice to churches.

Last month, churchwardens in Lincolnshire attended a conference at Holy Trinity, Tattershall, organised in partnership with the Bat Conservation Trust. David Mellenger, a churchwarden at Holy Trinity, which is home to more than 600 bats, described how coverings had been used to protect the building, and how visitors now came to see the creatures. Working with local bat volunteers had been "essential", he said.

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