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 church buildings
Managing bats in church buildings was the focus of a one day conference on 13 May 2016 of national and local representatives from the church, built heritage and conservation sectors. The event was organised by a partnership of Natural England, the Church of England, Historic England, the Bat Conservation Trust and Churches Conservation Trust to give interested parties the chance to discuss the outcomes of recent research, practical ideas about living with bats and priorities for the future.
Are bats protected in law?
All species of bats have equal protection. 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.
Bats and their roosts are protected by two pieces of legislation:
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 called Dealing with Bat Droppings.
In partnership with Natural England, The Church of England and the Bat Conservation Trust we are working to provide solutions that can make living with a bat colony a less onerous task and ensure that your place of worship is a welcoming environment for all.
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 Natural England or the Bat Conservation Trust (0845 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
In conjunction with DEFRA, Natural England, the Bat Conservation Trust, the National Trust and the Church Buildings Council we have developed guidance for coping with the presence of a bat colony and how to live with bats. We also have guidance available on how to safely deal with bat droppings.
Can we do work to the building when bats are present?
If you are planning any work to your place of worship, including repairs or adaptations, and bats are present it is likely you will require a licence from Natural England. There are several places where you can find further advice including our note on Working Around Bats.
It is safest 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 Anticipating the presence of bats and planning accordingly can avoid expensive delays to works and potential prosecution.
Do not assume you will not disturb the bats. A free roost visitor service is available and can help you to assess the licence requirement. The free service will provide a Method Statement which gives 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. The Bat Conservation Trust Helpline (0845 1300 228) can give advice on the types of work likely to affect roosting bats and help find a specialist to carry out a bat survey.