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.