Advice & Guidance
Bats often use places of worship as a roost and the surrounding area to hunt for food. All species of bat are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Conservation Regulations 1994.
It is therefore an offence for anyone to kill, injure or capture a bat intentionally or to disturb a bat or a group of bats in their roost deliberately. It is also an offence to damage or destroy any breeding or resting place used by bats, or to obstruct access to any place used by bats for shelter or protection either intentionally or recklessly.
Whilst these acts have done much to protect the seventeen native bat species in the UK, bats are still very much under threat.
Their habitats continue to come under intense pressure and many colonies are being forced to make greater use of historic buildings such as churches.
Whilst many people welcome the presence of wildlife in and around our places of worship there can clearly be a problem when a large roost takes up residence in a faith building. If there are several hundred animals on one site the cumulative effect of nightly deposits of droppings and urine can cause considerable damage and disruption. This is obviously a serious issue for those who clean the building, especially where the affected objects are fragile or historically important.
Natural England and the Church Buildings Council are therefore working together on a joint project to research how to deal with the serious heritage and conservation issues around bats in churches.
Building works are a common example of an activity that might disturb bats or their roosts. For this reason projects such as work to roof areas, crypts and boiler rooms; the moving of furnishings; surgery and felling of trees; and floodlighting need to be carefully planned.
If you are thinking about carrying out works of this nature, make sure that you leave plenty of time to have a bat survey carried out beforehand, as this will determine how and when such works can be carried out.
If bats are found whilst building works are in progress, the legislation requires that work be suspended which may result in lengthy and potentially expensive delays.
Action point: Consider protective measures to prevent bat urine and droppings causing damage to fixtures and fittings. You might try covering vulnerable surfaces with porous materials such as linen or natural carpet but take particular care when placing or removing the covers to avoid mechanical damage. You can also use natural carpet or underfelt to cover floor brasses but make sure that any grit is regularly removed to avoid damage to the surface of the material.
Action point: Seek advice on how best to clean up bat droppings and urine. Whilst you can remove the droppings from robust and historically insignificant items as part of your regular cleaning regime, the advice of a professional conservator will be required for more vulnerable objects.
The Bat Conservation Trust helps bats through practical conservation projects and research; by supporting and educating people who find bats in their property; and by encouraging the greater appreciation of the species. It also provides advice and guidance to building owners and operates a Bat Helpline (0845 1300 228).
A helpful report entitled Bats in Traditional Buildings has been published by the National Trust, English Heritage and Natural England and is intended to provide guidance on the practicalities of carrying out building work when bats or their roosts are present.
Natural England has produced a leaflet, Bats in Churches, which aims to help those who look after church buildings understand their legal obligations in relation to bats. Natural England also publishes guidance on Bat Mitigation Guidelines and Bats and Human Health.
The images of bats are reproduced by kind permission of the Bat Conservation Trust.
© SPAB 2011