VOLUNTEERS are being asked to sign up for a nationwide bat survey this summer, to help to discover how many churches are providing a home for bats.
The Bats in Churches project is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and brings together conservation and heritage experts to find ways to reduce the damage that bats can cause, while also protecting their roosts.
A study by the Bat Conservation Trust in 1995 suggested that 60 per cent of the pre-16th-century churches in the UK were also home to bats, but, in some areas, where there are fewer trees and alternative roosts, it is possible that the figure is much higher.
A pilot survey in 2019, and a citizen-science survey last year looked at 115 churches. Seventy per cent showed evidence of bats, including one in Devon which found evidence of grey long-eared bats, one of the rarest bat species in the UK. Some churches have provided a safe haven from habitat loss for bats for generations.
An environmental ecologist, Philip Parker, said: “Out of the nearly 270 historic churches that I’ve surveyed in Norfolk, only four didn’t show evidence of bats, which is significantly higher than the current national estimate, but anecdotal information like this is patchy, and isn’t available for most counties which is why this study is so important.
”It will be very interesting to gain a better picture of bats’ use of churches across the country so that we can understand the importance of individual roosts, and tailor our approach towards conservation in those areas, to benefit both bats and churches.”
The study seeks to understand how and why bats use church buildings, so that it can find ways of mitigating some of the damage that can be caused by large roosts.
Volunteers are asked to search for evidence of bats in their local church. The bat surveys run from the beginning of June to the end of August, and Covid-secure guidelines have been drawn up for everyone who signs up.
Those taking part are encouraged to download their experiences on social media using the hashtag #ChurchBatDetectives. To volunteer, register at batsinchurches.org.uk.
The project hopes to survey 500 churches over the next two years.