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Bill reignites dispute over bats in churches

23 January 2015

iSTOCK

A PRIVATE Member's Bill designed to exempt churches from regulations covering the conservation of bats will return to the Commons to complete its Second Reading today. MPs debated the Bat Habitats Regulation Bill at a Second Reading last Friday; but ran out of time before the matter could be put to a vote.

The Bill has two clauses: one would prohibit the construction of new buildings and wind turbines on undeveloped sites with bat habitats, unless an artificial roost is constructed near by; the second provides the exemption for places of worship.

The Bill's sponsor, Christopher Chope, the Conservative MP for Christchurch, said during last week's debate: "The Church Monuments Society is collectively tearing its hair out at its inability to do anything to address effectively the problem of bat damage that is affecting the conservation of furniture, liturgical objects . . . and so on, in buildings used for public worship."

Asked why the Bill exempted only buildings used as places of worship, Mr Chope said that "the mere prospect of legislating on bats has already created an almost hysterical reaction among some members of bat conservation societies. I am therefore loath to make the Bill wider than is necessary to deal with the immediate problem."

The Bill was opposed by the MP for Brent North, Barry Gardiner (Labour), who said that "Bats and people have been sharing dwellings for thousands of years. In the UK, this is most notable, of course, in our churches and cathedrals, as natural roosting sites have become scarce, due to development and land use change."

The Bat Conservation Trust opposes the Bill. It acknowledges that "bats can cause problems", but it criticises the "blanket prohibition" on places of worship. It "does not take account of either the potential importance of some churches to vulnerable bat populations, or the work that the Government are doing to alleviate the impact in such places when bats are causing a nuisance or distress".

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