Notes from a season with Bats in Churches

Bat Conservation Trust volunteer engagement officer Michelle Parsons spent the summer on secondment with Bats in Churches and discovered a passion for our citizen science project, the National Bats in Churches Survey. Here, she explains how she got hooked on scouring pews for bat droppings....

Church interior

Shortly after starting my Volunteer Engagement role at Bat Conservation Trust, I was offered a position with Bats in Churches helping with the National Bats in Churches Survey.

Every week, we had to pack up equipment to send to survey volunteers – programmed peersonics (a type of bat detector), paperwork, vials, gloves, batteries, tripods and even lollipop sticks.

It started to get very busy, very fast, and we started to get the returned equipment in.

I uploaded the peersonics and saw the sound files, filled in questionnaires and got excited over every vial of bat poo destined to go to the the lab for analysis.

I started to wonder how many churches I have passed in my lifetime that could’ve had these special mammals in them?

How many bat poos have I misidentified or walked past? How many species are there using these places, and what would the data show?

From there, I knew that I didn’t just want to be involved from the admin support side, but also try out the surveys as a volunteer.

The project consists of two surveys: National Bats in Churches (NBiCs) and Church Bat Detectives (CBD)

I completed an NBiCs survey, which consisted of completing a questionnaire with a member of the church, taking photographs, putting up bat detectors and looking for bat evidence (collecting any bat poo if you came across any) - which was sometimes quite difficult.

I would get so excited thinking I found some, only after closer inspection to find out it was a woodlouse in a web, although I didn’t complain when I found this this Jersey Tiger Moth.

Image of a Jersey Tiger Moth on a concrete floor

Church Bat Detectives is much shorter, and no equipment is required.

I planned on doing one due to how easy they were, and this quickly turned into nine.

Any wedding or christening I was invited to turned into an opportunity to find out more, was this a CBD church? Would I get luckier here? – obviously after most of the party had left the church as I’m not completely bonkers.

I started darting around Southeast London trying to ‘’collect’’ all the churches I could and speak to as many people as possible - it was thrilling.

I never thought I’d ask myself ‘’is this the one?’’ and hand on heart be referring to bat poo.

Every church I visited had its own personality.

I started to inspect the work that went into the stone, woodwork and don’t get me started on the gorgeous ceilings!

This project was truly eye-opening.

These buildings are awe-inspiring works of art and history that are very much alive as well as being valuable places for bats to seek refuge in.

I was part of a remarkable team, mentored by Claire Boothby, who turned into more of an older sister than my line manager, and I got talking to loads of volunteers up and down the country, some of whom are now friends of mine.

Although the data collection side of this project is now over, the love I have for it lives on.

I am eternally grateful for this opportunity and cannot wait to hear what the data, that so many of us collected, will reveal!