photo. from the Bats Conservation Trust .
Bats are declining and all species are now protected by law.
At least eight species of bat use churches for roosting including common and soprano pipistrelles, brown long-eared bats, Natterer’s bats and serotines.
They have long used Churches to roost, with the same roost being used by generations of bats and Harpley Church has one of the largest maternal colonies locally.
Church buildings provide quiet sheltered places for bats to live for roosting and rearing ther young. Churchyards, too, tend to be chemical free meaning they are good places to feed on insects.
They often roost at eaves level, particularly in the corners of the naves and aisle or in the porch, and sometimes under roof tiles or lead-covered boarding. Contrary to popular belief, belfries are often too draughty, dusty and noisy for bats!
Bats usually return each year to squeeze into the same favoured crevice where they feel safe; behind a beam or occasionally behind pictures or other hangings. Bats are mainly active between spring and autumn, but may also spend the winter hibernating in unheated parts of a church. Bats may perceive the spacious interior of a church to be somewhat like the canopy of a woodland. They may fly around inside before emerging to feed or on returning. Some bats will use porches or other areas as shelters between bouts of feeding, even if they roost elsewhere. Churchyards can be a good source of nearby food, essential when young bats are first learning to fly or when the weather is unfavourable.
Church renovation work can unwittingly disturb and endanger bat colonies. In midsummer the young are at particular risk of being abandoned by their mothers if the roost is disturbed. In any season, the bats can be entombed or excluded from their roosting site accidentally. Such events can be avoided by consulting bat experts for advice well in
advance of undertaking work. It is also important to avoid placing lights where they will shine directly onto the roost entrance as this can delay emergence so that the bats miss the peak insect time when feeding.
Facts about Bats.
All bats and their roosts are protected, whether they are present or not.
Bats are not blind but their eyesight is aided by their sophisticated echolocation system which enables them to catch insects and find their way in the dark.
Bats are not rodents, they do not gnaw wood or cables and they do not build nests, instead they roost in existing spaces such as crevices in stone walls, gaps behind beams or under roof tiles.
All 18 of the bat species known to occur in the UK feed on insects. A tiny pipistrelle can consume up to 3000 midges and other small insects each night, so in active months bats are a natural control on insect numbers.
When insects are scarce during winter, bats hibernate, lowering their body temperature to conserve energy and waking only periodically.
In summer, females form maternity colonies where each gives birth to a single young. Local populations take a long time to recover if damaged.
Bat droppings consist mainly of insect remains and are usually very dry and crumbly. They present no significant health hazard in the UK.
Bats do provide problems for Churches but the relationship between bats and Churches goes back a long way. As Britain was gradually deforested over thousands of years to make way for settlements, roads and crops, bats adapted to use buildings as roosts in addition to trees and caves. Parish Churches have been enduring features of the landscape and some have provided valuable roosting sites for many generations of bats, particularly in areas where alternative roosts are scarce.
Around 60% of pre-16th Century Churches contain bat roosts. Therefore, Churches play an important role in helping to protect our native bats.
To learn more about bats visit the Bats Conservation Trust here.
or you can ring the National Bat Helpline phone number (0345 1300 228) for advice.
and there is also The Bats and Churches website http://www.batsandchurches.org.uk.