According to estimates, up to 6,400 parish churches in England may be used by bats. All bats are protected species and Natural England, the Government's statutory wildlife adviser, needs to be consulted in advance of any work that might affect bats or their resting sites (roosts). Click here to go to their website. In most cases careful planning will allow work to be undertaken without causing delay to the project or disturbance to the bats. Click here to access our advice on how to deal with bats and their roosts.
However in some cases large roosts can cause major problems. The Church Buildings Council has been working closely with Natural England over the past year to find a way forward.
1. Natural England trialling a streamlined licence for bats
The five year campaign by the Church Buildings Council to reduce the burden placed on parishes by the presence of bats in Churches is at last beginning to show some results.
On 20th of March at a visit to Paston Church in Norfolk, by Dave Webster, the Chief Executive of Natural England, the Rt Revd Graham James, Bishop of Norwich and Anne Sloman, Chair of Church Buildings Council, a new low impact license was unveiled.
Natural England’s licensing system currently makes no distinction between large and important bats roosts and smaller roosts of common species containing only one or two bats. This means that licence applications concerning small roosts are required to contain a high level of detail which can add to the costs and time involved in preparation and assessment. Natural England are currently trialling a new type of licence (low impact bat class licence), the purpose of which is to streamline a means of permitting works that affect lower conservation status roosts. It is hoped that this will reduce costs for churches and allow greater flexibility when dealing with small bat roosts during renovations or building projects. The trial is scheduled to run until June 2014 and it is hoped the new licence will be formally introduced in Summer 2014.
Philip Parker, a local ecologist who has worked extensively on the project, said:
"The whole process [of approving licences for building work] will be much simpler, much quicker and much more cost effective."
However, although the cost of obtaining a licence will be cheaper under the new regime, only ecological consultants will be registered to apply for the new licences, and concerns remain about the financial burden on the parish on using professional consultants.
2. Research into bat deterrents
A three year Defra funded research project completed in March 2014, the key aims of which was to investigate techniques for reducing the impact caused by large Natterer’s bat populations in churches. The study concentrated on the careful use of lighting and ultrasonic emitting devices and the full report is available from March 27th 2014. A follow-on pilot study funded by English Heritage has now been commissioned to trial the deterrents in five churches and to develop a toolkit which should be available for use by qualifying churches in 2015.
Details of the research findings, covered by introductory text which includes details of the legal framework under the EU Habitats Directive insofar as it relates to bats, can be found by clicking here:
Anne Sloman, Chair of the Church Buildings Council said : ‘Bats in churches are no joke for those who have to clean up the mess behind. Their presence in large numbers is making it impossible for us to open churches for a whole variety of social and community uses as well as making life miserable for worshippers. We are also seriously worried about the irreparable damage bats are causing to so many of our priceless church artefacts. We are grateful to DEFRA for undertaking this research and to Natural England for listening to our concerns, but the research will only be value for public money if it leads to practical solutions to mitigate the impact of the bats being implemented as soon as possible’.
3. Parliamentary pressure
The Rt Hon Sir Tony Baldry, MP has been at the forefront at the churches battle to mitigate the effect of bats in out buildings. As Second Estates Commissioner he has both answered parliamentary questions for other members of parliament who share our concerns and has frequently put questions to the responsible ministers at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Together with the chair of CBC Anne Sloman he has also led delegations to ministers on numerous occasions to put our case .
Sir Tony Baldry says: ‘Persistently raising issues in Parliament pays off. Ministers genuinely want to be seen to be helpful and continuously raising an issue means that in due course it will be taken seriously. An important breakthrough on the whole bat saga was an acknowledgement by Ministers that they agreed and understood that churches are places of worship and not field barns. That turned the argument and ensured that this then became an issue that had to be resolved, rather than one where everyone was saying we cannot do anything about this because of the protection given to bats under the European Habitats Directive. So, persistent Parliamentary pressure works and I think shows that if people have concerns, then getting in touch and asking Members of Parliament to visit their churches, going to see them at their constituency surgeries, is all worth doing.’
4. Faculty simplification
Under the new Faculty Simplification process which will come before Synod in July 2014 there will be a nationally agreed list of minor works which will not need a faculty (List A) and routine works which will only need advice from the DAC and Archdeacon (list B). See Appendix A for the draft list attached. However until the revised measure becomes law and the rules committee has considered all the suggestions for additions, deletions and modifications to the list they are only an indication of what will finally come before Synod for approval in 2015, so in the meantime you will need to follow your diocese’s own list of De Minimis works.
5. New Bat Guidelines
The guidelines which follow have been drawn up in consultation with DEFRA and Natural England and must be followed when undertaking all works to a church building. For the full text please click here.