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Five-year project and £5m for bats

24 February 2017

BAT CONSERVATION TRUST

HELP could be on the way for churches invaded by bats, after the announcement of a £5-million pro­­ject to investigate the problem.

The cash, which includes a £3.8-million grant from the Herit­age Lottery Fund (HLF), will support a five-year “Bats in Churches” scheme, in which her­itage, wildlife, and church organ­isations will find ways in which to resolve conflicts between bats and people in places of worship.

Britain’s bats are in decline, and have been legally protected since 1981, but many congregations are aware of the problems caused by droppings, which damage historic artefacts and threaten hygiene. In some cases, large colonies have forced buildings to close.

The project will test a range of techniques, from ultrasonic devices to deter bats to building bat boxes in which the bats can roost without causing damage. It will establish a national survey and provide support for churches across England, with professional expertise and help to develop volunteers’ skills.

The chief executive of HLF, Ros Kerslake, said: “Local communities who work hard to look after and use their churches, precious bat popula­tions, and historic church buildings are all set to benefit. The most im­­me­­diate outcome is developing proposals for 100 churches in Eng­land to put in place solutions to protect resident bat populations whilst preventing further damage to the buildings.”

The project will involve the gov­ern­­ment conservation agency Nat­ural England, the Church of Eng­land, the Bat Conservation Trust, the government heritage agency Historic England, and the Church Conserva­tion Trust.

The chairman of the Church Buildings Council, Sir Tony Baldry, said: “We are not opposed to bats; they are intriguing creatures and part of God’s creation, but they can do enormous damage in churches.”

The announcement comes as a Bill limiting protection for bats in churches awaits its second reading in the House of Lords. Introduced by Lord Cormack last June, it pro­poses extra protection for bats in the “non-built environment”, but re­­duces it in buildings.

It specifically declares that protection offered by the Habitat Regulations and Wildlife and Coun­­try­­side Act 1981 should not apply to bats or bat roosts in churches unless their presence has no significant adverse impact upon the buildings’ users. Church leaders have wel­comed the proposals, but conserva­tionists have said that it would be “disastrous” for bat populations.

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