Bats in Churches is five-year project designed to enable church communities to find a place of peace with their resident bats through support, innovative solutions and impact-reducing measures.
Building on the latest research and engaging highly qualified bat ecologists, the project will work closely with over 100 churches living with bats, to create practical, tailored solutions to reduce the impact of bats without harming their populations, protecting church heritage and allowing church communities to use their church fully.
It is a unique, cross-sectoral partnership of organisations comprising Natural England, the Church of England, the Bat Conservation Trust, the Churches Conservation Trust and Historic England. The project is largely funded by the National Heritage Lottery Fund.
Each church provides a unique set of challenges and the measures trialled will be far from a one size fits all. Some churches will require large scale works like the creation of bespoke bat boxes and false ceilings, where others will require the re-routing of roost access points to stop the bats flying through the interior of the church where they cause damage and upset.
In less severe cases, the church might be provided with covers for threatened monuments that can be removed when the church is in use, or support connecting with a wider network of local volunteers to lighten the cleaning burden.
Large scale works that may impact bat roosts in churches in special cases are now to be permitted for trained ecologists through the use of Natural England’s specially created Bats in Churches Class Licence.
The licence gives highly trained ecologists more flexibility to trial bespoke methods that will minimise the damage that bats are having within badly affected churches particularly where the bats are damaging the historic items housed there and reducing the community’s use of their church.
The innovative techniques to separate people from the impacts of bats will be of interest to those caring for churches outside of the project and other historic buildings both nationally and internationally. We hope that the methods trialled and monitored in the project will help to inform a new standard on how bats are managed in historic buildings.
Additionally, the data from the volunteer-led Bats in Churches Study that is running from summer 2020 – 2022 will provide crucial evidence about which bat species are present and their impact upon communities and historic buildings, as well as building long term volunteer support for bats in churches.
The website and all of the downloadable resources housed there will also continue to be available as it will be maintained by one of the partner organisations.
England’s bat populations are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and EU law because of historic declines as a result of agricultural intensification and conversion of old buildings. Bat populations have started to recover, but continue to be vulnerable partly due to threats to habitat and also because of their fragile ecology as females are only able to have one pup a year.
Bats provide natural pest control, eating up to a third of their body weight in insects in a night and hey account for a third of all mammal species in the UK, often being cited as ‘indicator species’ as their population size is indicative of an area’s ecological health.
It is a criminal offence, punishable by fine and/or prison sentence, to:
- deliberately capture, injure or kill bats
- damage or destroy a breeding or resting place
- obstruct access to their resting or sheltering places
- possess, sell, control or transport live or dead bats, or parts of them
- intentionally or recklessly disturb a bat while it is in a place of shelter
Following urban expansion, land use changes and re-development projects, churches have become disproportionally important roosting sites for bats, all the more so because churchyards provide species-rich habitats in often ecologically impoverished areas.
Churches are stable, porous buildings with many entry and exit points and they offer a variety of types of shelter; in the roof space, under tiles, and in the many cracks and crevices. Importantly, churches can be used by bats throughout the year, but they will often use different areas of the same or alternative churches in different seasons.
The best estimates, which are now out of date, indicate that over 60% of pre-16th century churches in England could have bat roosts in the summer months. A new study from the Bats in Churches project, the volunteer-led Bats in Churches Study will update these figures over the next three years with the aim of determining the driving factors affecting the likelihood of bats roosting in a church.
Unlike in dwellings, where, hidden away in attics and between roof tiles, roosts often go unnoticed, in church buildings that are host to large populations of bats, the mess that they create can cause significant damage to historically important items and put an additional strain on those often overstretched individuals in charge of maintenance. Furthermore, this tension can affect the viability of the building as a place of worship and community engagement further polarising views. It is in situations like these that a conservation dilemma arises as it appears that a choice must be made between protecting our natural heritage or cultural heritage
From monumental brasses to painted rood screens, everything inside a church can be affected by its environment, and this includes the presence of bats. The most evident impact on the churches is the physical presence of bat droppings on floors and surfaces and the need for regular cleaning.
A bat’s diet consists solely of insects and therefore the droppings are mainly made up of their indigestible exoskeletons. This content is relatively harmless to historic surfaces, but small amounts of nitrogen, fats and oils are present, which can cause staining on porous materials such as stone. Droppings can also adhere strongly to surfaces, especially in damp or moist conditions, making them very difficult to remove, which can be a problem for vulnerable areas.
Bat urine contains 70% urea that forms ammonia when dry. This strongly alkaline substance is chemically aggressive and causes etching and staining in various materials. Urine spots can be considered to be of a higher cause for conservation concern, coupled with the fact that they are harder to detect and remove compared to the droppings. This means that the urine can often sit undetected on the surface of a historic object for a long period of time.
The risk to the public is extremely small. The only known human disease associated with bats in Britain is rabies caused by infection with European Bat Lyssaviruses (these are different from the classical rabies virus, which has never been found in a bat in Europe). Rabies caused by infection with EBLV has only been associated with one human case in the UK and EBLVs have only been found in a small number of bats despite more than 15,000 bats having been tested. EBLVs are transmitted via a bite or scratch therefore there is no risk to the public if they do not handle bats.
If you find evidence of bats in your church it is beneficial to have a bat survey done by a licenced ecologist as this will provide information on the type and size of roost present which will affect the timings of any development work. To avoid delays at a later date, it is better to have this done in advance of building work.
If you think you may have bats in your church it might be worth calling the National Bat Helpline for free advice on 0345 1300 228.
Churches suffering from unsustainable bat roosts are free to get in touch with any Bats in Churches Class Licence-trained ecologist who will be able to direct them to the best course of action.
If any non-project church would like more information on how to do this they can get in touch with the project for advice by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Unfortunately, after taking on several extra churches that were not initially part of the project, we are now working at full capacity. However, we would be more than happy to offer advice or to direct you to someone that can help if you email us on email@example.com
For churches that aren’t involved in the project but are looking for advice on their bat population, the Bat Conservation Trust helpline is free to use on 0345 1300 228.
We are in the process of putting the final touches to a comprehensive cleaning guide for churches supporting bat roosts. This will be available for free download from the resources page on the website.
Until then, you can get in touch with any specific queries by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
There are lots of ways to help out your local church. The first port of call would be looking up your church on the Church of England’s A Church Near You website for the contact details of a church representative and offering your services.
You could also survey your local church for evidence of bats as part of our Bats in Churches Study over the summer, no experience necessary!
If your church is one of our project churches, why not take a look at the map to see if there are any upcoming events that you could attend.