13 October 2011
A joint project by Natural England and the Church of England, researching how to deal with the serious heritage and conservation issues around bats in churches has set off to a flying start.
Most churches have resident bats, which often go un-noticed, but serious problems do occur in some churches - and can be exceptionally difficult to resolve. Natural England and the Church of England have joined forces to create the Bats in Churches Working Group to raise awareness of the issues. The project aims to provide those responsible for church buildings with guidance and advice on how best to manage resident bats, including how to deal with legal obligations.
A leaflet Bats in Churches: a management guide produced by the working group outlines findings from research projects currently underway, designed to improve understanding of bat behaviour and explore ways to minimize their impact on church buildings and congregations. One such project, funded by Defra and conducted by the University of Bristol and the Bat Conservation Trust, focuses on developing practical, affordable ways to deal with urine and droppings from Natterer’s bats in churches.
A Norfolk-based pilot project set up by the group, invited local environmental consultant and bat expert Philip Parker to survey bats in churches across the area. As a result, new techniques to encourage bats to migrate to other parts of affected churches are being explored, as are the use of bat boxes in the eaves outside churches.
Loss of traditional woodland habitat and intensive agriculture has seen bat populations decline dramatically in recent years and many species are now far less common than they were – some, such as the greater mouse-eared bat, are on the brink of extinction in the UK. Colonies have been driven to seek refuge in more permanent structures – and churches not only provide bats with large open spaces, but also represent a constant feature in a fast-changing modern landscape.
Natural England’s Regulation Director Janette Ward said: “We know what a serious issue bats can cause for churches and we have no wish to see congregations inconvenienced in their worship. I am delighted with the progress which the working group is making in producing pragmatic solutions to address the requirements of church users and bat conservation laws. The lack of solution to date has been a real threat to wider bat conservation and the church buildings affected and I hope that we are able to make use of the exciting research projects currently underway to further build on this success.”
Anne Sloman, Chair of the Church Buildings Council who leads the working group said: “I am delighted that the church is reaching a better working relationship with Natural England. We can only offer serious practical help to congregations who are suffering from the problems caused by bats by working together. The research projects are important because, although they offer no instant solution, the more churches understand about bat behaviour the easier it will be for Natural England to grant the licences which we apply for. Often it’s not a case of banishing bat colonies but encouraging them to move to less intrusive parts of the church or indeed to bat boxes outside.”
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There are 17 species of bat in the UK.
Bats are protected by the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (the Habitats Regulations) and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
A licence from Natural England is required to disturb bats or to damage or destroy their roosts.
Bats can live for up to 25 years. They are intelligent mammals, with a complex social life.
Most live in colonies for at least part of the year. Problems can occur when they gather together in large maternity roosts to give birth in the summer months. Once young become independent, the colony breaks up and bats generally move to other roosts.
Bat populations have declined dramatically in recent years and many species are much less common than they were - one species, the greater mouse-eared bat, is practically extinct and several others are very rare.
The decline in bats numbers is due mainly to:
- A loss of suitable habitat (woodlands and wetlands) and traditional buildings (conversion to modern dwellings, large developments)
- Intensive agriculture
- Increased use of pesticides (UK bats eat only insects, so pesticides reduce food availability)
Natural England is the government’s independent adviser on the natural environment. Established in 2006 our work is focused on enhancing England’s wildlife and landscapes and maximising the benefits they bring to the public.
- We establish and care for England’s main wildlife and geological sites, ensuring that over 4,000 National Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest are looked after and improved.
- We work to ensure that England’s landscapes are effectively protected, designating England’s National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Marine Conservation Zones, and advising widely on their conservation.
- We run Environmental Stewardship and other green farming schemes that deliver over £400 million a year to farmers and landowners, enabling them to enhance the natural environment across two thirds of England’s farmland.
- We fund, manage, and provide scientific expertise for hundreds of conservation projects each year, improving the prospects for thousands of England’s species and habitats.
- We promote access to the wider countryside, helping establish National Trails and coastal trails and ensuring that the public can enjoy and benefit from them.
For further information (media enquiries only), or a PDF copy of the leaflet Bats in Churches: A management guide, please contact:
Natural England Press Office
Melissa Gill on 0300 060 2983. Out of hours, please call the duty press officer on 07970 098005. For further information about Natural England please visit: www.naturalengland.org.uk
Church of England Press Office
Steve Jenkins on 0207 898 1326
For further information visit www.churchcare.co.uk