Earlier this month, Natural England announced new funding for their project to help churches that house large populations of bats. The UK bat population has historically suffered decline, leading to the decision to protect these mammals by law. Despite this ruling, bats are still very much under threat; British charity Bat Conservation Trust list some contributing factors as building and development work, loss of habitat, new roads and even wind turbines. The £3.8 million new round of funding for the project, granted by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), will go towards a five year partnership that will not only help the bat roosts but also conserve churches.
Bats have not always resided in churches, their usual roosting places of choice such as caves and old trees have been disappearing due to habitat loss. Instead, bats have taken to using old buildings, with churches certainly fitting the description. Bats need certain features for their roosts, for example extra warmth, cracks and crevices and space for take off; churches seem to provide these requirements whilst many modern buildings don’t. It is quite hard to imagine bats flying around an office block, after all.
With increased risk to bats’ former roost spots and churches seeming to tick off everything on a bats’ rubric, churches can become home to some quite large roosts. Some problems have been encountered, with bats’ waste diminishing the historic fabric of the church and their presence potentially causing distress to people. What will be accomplished? The new bats in churches project uses ‘recently approved techniques and a new licence’ to ‘improve both the natural and historic environment’. The Bats and Churches Partnership website (https://www.batsandchurches.org.uk) states that the project will ‘find practical solutions to enable 102 of the most severely impacted church communities to reduce the impact of bats on the church, without harming the bats’. ‘A new network of fully trained volunteers who can undertake bat surveys and support congregations’ will also be created with ‘up-to-date data from over 700 churches across England’ also being arranged.
It’s clear what churches provide for bats: safe havens when their habitat is at risk. Any chance to be able to establish homes for these mammals as well as keeping harmony with the church communities that graciously accept them should be celebrated. All 18 species of bat in the UK became protected by law in 1981, leading to some evidence of recovery. Yet within the population some have experienced little change. As well as loss of feeding habitats it’s well known that less roost sites is thought to contribute to lack of recovery and at this time of year it seems fit that hope is on the horizon for these bats.
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