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Bishop of Norwich backs Bill limiting protection of bat colonies that are ruining churches

04 May 2018


A sign at All Saints’, Braunston, near Oakham, in Rutland, in 2014. More than 500 bats roosted there after a chimney that they were living in collapsed

A sign at All Saints’, Braunston, near Oakham, in Rutland, in 2014. More than 500 bats roosted there after a chimney that they were living in collapse...

BATS are ruining churches after moving in after barn conversions, the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, has warned.

Speaking in the House of Lords on Thursday of last week, Bishop James said that he knew of congregations that had been pushed “to the end of their tether”, and where a “glorious building” had become “increasingly unusable” because of bats.

He was supporting Lord Cormack’s Bat Habitats Regulation Bill, which was originally introduced in the Lords in 2016 (News, 17 June 2016). It seeks to enhance the protection available for bat habitats near to building sites, and to limit the protection for bat habitats in buildings used for public worship.

Lord Cormack said: “There really is a sense of urgency. Over this weekend, tens of thousands of bats will defecate and urinate in over 6000 churches. We must achieve a balance between the way we protect bats and preserve churches.

“Nothing less than one of the most important parts of our heritage is at risk, because, once destroyed, great works of art created centuries ago cannot be replaced. A replica never suffices.”

Sixty per cent of medieval churches now had bat roosts, and bat droppings can harm altars, monuments, pews, and fonts, Bishop James told peers. “But it is the impact on what a house of God should be and do that is the most important,” he said.

“All over Norfolk, there are barns once used by bats that have been turned into beautiful homes for human beings, and their new owners do not want to share their property with them; so the bats have moved to medieval churches. . .

“I sometimes think that we tolerate that because we think that houses of God are not inhabited, but they are — and not only by God. They are inhabited by people.”

Lord Cormack insisted that his Bill was not “anti-bat”. “It is right that they should be adequately protected,” he said. “However, it is right, too, that churches should be protected from incursions that threaten their condition and purpose.”

The Bat Conservation Trust rejected the need for the legislation. In a statement released last week, it said that the Bill was “unnecessary, impractical, and, as drafted, it fails to take into account both the complex nature of bat ecology, and the legislation and processes that are already in place”.

The Private Member’s Bill is not supported by the Government or by the Labour Party. Lord Gardiner of Kimble, a minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: “Churches play a vital role in the survival of bats.”

Last year a “Bats in Church” £5-million project was announced to find ways in which to resolve conflicts between bats and people in places of worship (News, 24 February 2017).

Bishop James said: “It is a tribute to our congregations that they are engaging with the bats-and-churches project, which the Church of England is partnering with Natural England, Historic England, the Bat Conservation Trust, and the Churches Conservation Trust.”

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