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Bat Bill put forward to protect churches

17 June 2016

iSTOCK

Hanging around: a small horseshoe bat

Hanging around: a small horseshoe bat

A BILL limiting protection for bats in churches was introduced in the House of Lords last week.

The Bat Habitats Regulation Bill, brought by Lord Cormack, en­­hances protection for bat habitats in the “non-built environment”, but limits it in the built environment, “where the presence of bats has a significant adverse effect upon the users of build­ings”. It states that the pro­visions of the Habitat Regu­lations and Wildlife and Country­side Act 1981 “shall not apply to bats or bat roosts located inside a building used for public worship unless it has been established that the presence of such bats or bat roosts has no significant adverse impact upon the users of the building”.

Under this Act, it is an offence intentionally or recklessly to disturb a bat at a roost, or intentionally or recklessly to obstruct access to a roost. This clause of the Bill con­tains the proviso “Notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972”. Bats are also covered by the EU Habitats Directive.

A similar Bill was introduced in the House of Commons last year, by the Conservative MP Christopher Chope (News, 23 January, 2015). Parliament was prorogued before it completed its passage.

The Second Church Estates Com­m­issioner, Caroline Spelman, said this week that she was “sup­portive” of Lord Cormack’s Bill, and that she had talked to ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs “about what can be done to prevent churches being put out of use by bats”. She had also investigated “how other EU countries interpret the Habitats Directive to ensure worship can continue in buildings built for that purpose”.

On Wednesday, the joint chief executive of the Bat Conservation Trust, Julia Hanmer, said that the Bill was “impractical, and would be disastrous for bat populations. . . Bats are protected by the Habitats Directive because of the severe declines they have experienced in the past through habitat loss, agri­cultural intensification, roost de­­struc­tion, pesticides, and deliberate killing. It is vital that these efforts are kept up.”

The Trust “recognises the prob­lems that some churches exper­ience with bats,” she went on. “We are committed to finding solutions that address the concerns of churches, whilst ensuring that bat populations are not damaged. We are working with partners to find sustainable long-term solutions, and to raise funding to implement these.”

A report on a workshop held in partnership with the Church and other partners will be published later this month.

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