All creatures great and smelly

A fundamental question that conservation keeps returning to is share or spare? Should we create spaces where nature is predominant – for example, nature reserves and at the extreme end “self willed” land. Or should we promote a harmonious interplay between people and nature? Bats in churches are a good example of the latter. Here’s a transcript of some discussion in Westminster last week, about bats  in churches. Find the whole debate here

Bats in Churches

1. Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): What recent assessment the Church Commissioners have made of the effects of bats in churches; and if he will make a statement. [163103]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Tony Baldry): A small number of bats living in a church can be manageable, but parish churches are finding an increasing number of bats taking up residence in large roosts. There are significant costs in financial and human terms to those who worship in these churches, and to the wider community. The present situation is simply unsustainable.

“” Mr Nuttall: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. As a church warden, I know that many members of parochial church councils live in fear of bats taking up residence in their church buildings, because of the damage bats cause and the difficulty they have in removing them because of EU rules. Will my hon. Friend give the House some idea of what costs can be incurred by churches that have to remove a colony of bats?


Sir Tony Baldry: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Parish churches have to raise the money for bat litigation at considerable cost to their community, and that can prevent their own mission and ministry. The sums of money can be large. For example, the church of St Hilda’s in Ellerburn in the constituency of my

4 July 2013 : Column 1053

hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) has spent a total of £29,000 so far, which is a significant sum for a small congregation to finance. As yet, there is no resolution in sight, but I was grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) for indicating in a recent debate in Westminster Hall that there might be a prospect of St Hilda’s, Ellerburn at last receiving a licence from Natural England to resolve this issue.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): I must say that I rise with some trepidation on this topic, given the explosive response from the Second Church Estates Commissioner to my gentle question in a Westminster Hall debate last week. Since then, I have been told that the Bat Conservation Trust and the Church Buildings Council were having productive conversations on the bats, churches and communities pilot project funded by Natural England until February this year when they stalled. Will the hon. Gentleman use his good offices to bring the two together to continue those conversations?

Sir Tony Baldry: My concern with the hon. Lady’s approach and the Bat Conservation Trust is that they seem to think that this is an issue that can somehow just be managed. I have to keep on saying to her that this is not an issue that can be managed. Large numbers of churches are being made unusable by large numbers of bats roosting in them. Churches are not field barns; they are places of worship. Following my debate in Westminster Hall, I had a number of letters from clergy up and down the country saying how distressing it was for them, before they could celebrate communion on Sunday, to have to clear bat faeces and bat urine off the altar and the communion table. That is not acceptable.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): May I take this opportunity to thank my hon. Friend the Second Church Estates Commissioner and the Under-Secretary for helping St Hilda’s, Ellerburn? It is a matter of urgency that the congregation can reclaim their church from the bats.

Sir Tony Baldry: Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes an important point. [Laughter.] This is not a joking matter. This is serious and people have to understand that. I am grateful for the attention paid to this issue by the Under-Secretary. We are making real progress, but we need to ensure that places such as St Hilda’s, Ellerburn can continue to be places of worship and are not closed as a consequence of bat faeces and bat urine. ”

This might look like simply a story about bats and church congregations, actually it’s illustrative of plans to revoke European Environment Policy. All British bat species are protected under European Law, the highest protection afforded to any biodiversity in the UK (and Europe.) Before doing anything to a bat roost, a bat survey must be undertaken and a licence obtained to carry out works.

Will the fury of the Church give more ammo to The Government’s aims to do away with a big chunk of European Environmental Policy? Perhaps – although it was interesting that Owen Paterson threatened to use to maximum effect the European-derived rules on Environmental Assessment (the EIA Directive), to stop HS2 from going ahead.  Remember this is the same Directive that Paterson’s cabinet colleague Eric Pickles vowed to weaken last year. Come on lads – sort yourselves out!

Simon Hoggart in the Guardian picked up the story in his inimitable way. The church was less than amusing on the subject earlier this year, calling the Bat Conservation Trust a “Bat Welfare” group.

Now it may be that bats are using churches because so many other buildings are now unsuitable for them, it may be that bats have always used churches and churchgoers were less squeamish in the past. Should churches have to live with bats and their wee and poo?

In true Anglican style perhaps I can suggest a compromise. The Church Commissioners oversee how the large area of farmland owned by the CofE is managed. Currently all too often this farmland is just managed to maximise profit (not exactly what Christ taught but thats another topic). How about the CC agreeing to manage a portion of their farmland (near to known important bat roosts) in a bat-friendly way – not using artificial fertiliser or pesticides, low intensity cattle- grazing in permanent pasture – its not complicated. They could also create some artificial bat roosts on same land. This would help provide alternatives for bat populations and the might choose to leave teh churches of their own accord.

Churches also often have large unused spaces eg in their roofs. It’s not beyond the wit of man or woman to create bat-friendly areas within unused spaces in church roofs and restrict them to these areas. Natural England could help fund this work in return for the land-use change the Church Commissioners would agree to.  NE and English Heritage have produced useful guidance on doing this.

Interesting that you never hear EH complaining about bat poo damaging their old buildings. Perhaps they will start to when they’re hived off into a new charity.


About Miles King

UK conservation professional, writing about nature, politics, life. All views are my own and not my employers. I don't write on behalf of anybody else.
This entry was posted in agriculture, bats, biodiversity, biodiversity offsetting, churches, deregulation, ecosystem services, environmental policy, European environment policy, farming, greenspace, Owen Paterson and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to All creatures great and smelly

  1. seasonalight says:

    An integrated landscape approach can work with tracts and corridors devoted to natural succession. Even small (linked) self-willed corners of farms and cities can be very rich in wildlife, no?

  2. Pingback: Super-Ridley blats the Bat-people: But will the evil Raccoon win out? | a new nature blog

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