Bats in Places of Worship

Places of worship are a traditional roosting environment for bats but there seems to have been a gradual increase, in some parts of the country, for greater numbers of buildings to be used and for increasing colony sizes. The impact of these colonies on places of worship, and the people who care for them, can be significant.

Bats in Churches Project

Following a 2016 conference on managing bats in church buildings, a five year project ‘Bats in Churches’ was set up by Natural England, the Church of England, Historic England, the Bat Conservation Trust and the Churches Conservation Trust with funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the partners and the All Churches Trust.

The project brings together experts and volunteers to investigate and put in place practical solutions to the problems caused by bats in historic churches and to help church communities to live alongside their bat populations.

The project team posts the latest news on training, events and research progress on their website and also on Twitter #BatsinChurches. The project runs until 2023.

Are bats protected in law?

All species of bats and their roosts are protected. It is an offence to disturb, capture, injure or kill bats, or to damage, destroy or obstruct access to roosts. It is also important to note that the damage or destruction of a roost can be prosecuted even if unintentional.

What impact can a bat colony have?

Most churches are home to unobtrusive resident bats but in some cases they can be difficult to live with. Their potential impact on a church depends on the species, size of the colony and the location of the roost.

Urine and droppings create the most problems; in large quantities they can make a church unpleasant to use and damage wall decorations, stone, wood and metalwork. Significant build-up of droppings can cause an increasingly unpleasant environment.

Cleaning up after bats should focus on removing excreta, not stains or scarring. When cleaning up quantities of bat droppings, a dust mask can be used to reduce the risk of inhalation.

When cleaning historic material, you are strongly recommended to avoid the use of chemical cleaning products, including standard products you would use at home, as these may inadvertently cause more damage than bat droppings. Cleaning of stains and scarring should only be undertaken by professional conservation cleaners who understand the vulnerability of historic materials.

For further advice on what you can do yourself we have produced a short guidance note Dealing with Bat Droppings.

How can we live with bats?

If you do have a bat colony you will still want to use your place of worship. Historic England and Natural England recognise that in some places bats present a challenge. In particular their droppings can be unpleasant on any surfaces, unhygienic in kitchen areas and around the altar and damaging to historic fabric throughout the building.

The risk to human health through exposure to bats or their droppings is very small. A small number of bats in the UK carry a rabies type virus called European Bat Lyssavirus (EBLV) although this is rare. EBLV is only contracted through a scratch or a bite from an infected bat.

When dealing with bats the following precautions should be taken:

  • Wear gloves and a mask when cleaning bat droppings and urine
  • Wash hands after exposure to bat droppings
  • Avoid inhaling dust from dry bat droppings
  • If a sick or injured bat is found, advice should be sought from the Bat Conservation Trust (0345 1300 228)
  • In most situations there would be no reason to handle a bat but if necessary thick gloves should always be worn
  • If you are scratched or bitten by a bat seek medical advice immediately. Public Health England’s leaflet Bat Contact and Rabies Risks provides more information. If you can, show this leaflet to your health professional.

Can we do work to the building when bats are present?

It is best to assume that bats (or evidence of their roosts) will be present in your historic place of worship, particularly in confined or inaccessible roof spaces. Do not assume you will not disturb the bats. Anticipating the presence of bats and planning accordingly can avoid expensive delays to works and potential prosecution.

Any proposed work to your place of worship that might affect bats, including roof repairs, will require a licence from Natural England in addition to permissions sought from the relevant authorising body.  

A free roost visitor service is available from the Bat Conservation Trust and can help you to assess the licence requirement. The free service will provide guidance on best practice and how to plan the work around the bats.

The only way to be certain whether bats use the building or not is through a specialist bat survey. 

We provide more detailed advice at Building works and bats including:

  • Why Bats Use Buildings
  • British Bats and Their Life Cycles
  • What To Do if You Find a Bat
  • Buildings, Bats and the Law
  • Bat Mitigation Licences
  • Bat Surveys
  • Planning Changes to Buildings with Bats
  • Timber Treatments and Pest Control
  • Works to Roofs, Walls and Building Services