History 
Demonstration day at St Nicholas Church, Stanford-on-Avon
Demonstration day during the devleopment phase at pilot church St Nicholas in Stanford on Avon 
 Damage to historic Monuments at St Nicholas Church (Image by John Wiggins)
Damage to Lady Sarah monument at St Nicholas Church (Image by John Wiggins) 
Bespoke interior bat roost at St Nicholas' Church
Bespoke bat box at St nicholas Church presented by ecologist Dr Lotty Packman during a demonstration day in the development phase. 
Bespoke exterior bat roost fitted outside St Nicholas' Church
Bespoke exterior bat roost fitted outside St Nicholas' Church 
Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund
Funded by AllChurches Trust

The Bats in Churches Issue 

The cultural, historical and social significance of our churches and the unique fabric that they hold is unequivocal, and their continued protection is of high importance. Bats also warrant protection for the critical role they play in the natural environment. They account for a third of all mammal species in the UK and are used as ‘indicator species’ as their population size indicates an area’s ecological health. However, when these figureheads of the rural landscape occur together, a conflict can arise causing stress and upset to church communities, heritage experts and bat ecologists. 
 
The UK’s bat population declined precipitously during the last century; primarily due to habitat loss for roosting and feeding as a result of agricultural intensification, land use changes, and building development. However, some of our native bat species have started to slowly recover as a result of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and EU law, under which they are robustly protected.  
 
Following the loss of traditional habitat such as native woodland, churches have become important roosting sites for bats. However, unlike in residential and commercial buildings, where bats and people are separated by the roof cavity, the open architecture of churches means that bat faeces and urine can damage unprotected, priceless artefacts and cause suffering to the rural church communities that use and maintain the building. 
 
As a response to this long-standing issue, which requires cross-sector expertise, the Bats in Churches project partnership was concieved and granted funding in 2018 by the National Lottery Heritage Fund with a further sum coming from the project partners: Natural England, the Church of England, the Bat Conservation Trust, the Churches Conservation Trust, and Historic England.  
 
This funding, alongside a specially designed Bats in Churches Class Licence issued to highly trained ecologists by Natural England, has allowed ecologists to work with church architects and heritage experts to trial and implement systems to manage the issues specifically caused by bats in churches, and to secure a peaceful future for chuch and bat. 

Living with bats at St Nicholas in Stanford on Avon 

Grade I listed St Nicholas' Church in Stanford on Avon was an extreme case of a church that experienced significant impacts from bats being present for many years. The church has a particularly large soprano pipistrelle maternity colony and the position of the roost caused significant damage to the historic monuments and interior fittings of the church. 
 
Despite trying a number of measures to prevent these issues, balancing the needs of protecting the historic building and a protected species has proved challenging for the church community who lament the 'irreprable damage to [their] beautiful church'.  
 
Churchwarden Judith Wiggins described how contractors were employed at great expense to drive back and forth to cover the interior with protective sheeting; volunteers had to clean daily during the summer and were upset at encountering sick and occasionally dead bats. Volunteers wanted to be relieved of their roles and events had to be cancelled, with guests being ‘showered from above’ by bat droppings. Weddings at this beautiful historic church started to dwindle. The church community spent £61,000 restoring the monuments in the 1980s and now faces a bill of £19,000 to restore the Lady Sarah monument damaged by uric acid erosion. 

Reducing the impact of bats at St Nicholas' Church 

At the highest count, 677 soprano pipistrelles were present at St Nicholas' Church during an English Heritage-funded (now Historic England), University of Bristol research project in 2014. In 2016, the church was chosen to trial the newly designed Bats in Churches Class Licence, a pilot project funded by Natural England and being used to inform the development of the Bats in Churches project, led by ecologist Dr Charlotte (Lotty) Packman, Wild Wings Ecology. 
 
Given the large size of the roost and considerable impacts on the church, it was felt that the only way to sufficiently reduce the impact of the bats was to partially exclude them from the interior of the building, whilst providing them with a range of alternative roost opportunities.  
 
Radio-tracking the bats in 2014 had revealed a linked maternity roost in the area and ‘commuting route’ along the river. First, the project team erected bat boxes adjacent to the church and along the river to improve roost provision in the bats’ landscape. They also approached Cabinet Maker Keith Sealey to help create two bespoke roosting areas, on the inside and outside of the church. The exterior roost was fitted on the outside of the church, adjacent to the bats’ access point into/out of the church, one year before the partial exclusion and fitting of the interior roost was carried out. 
 
Immediately prior to the installation of the interior roost, the bats were fitted with transmitters to enable their movements to be tracked. The interior roost was installed after the bats had left the church for the evening, on the inside of their main access point, providing the bats with a large roosting area but preventing them from passing into the rest of the church. The radio-tracking revealed the bats have a complex network of linked roosts, both maternity and smaller roosts, and the bats are now regularly visiting both the interior and exterior roosts, as well as using the bat boxes along the river. 

A bespoke solution 

Keith Sealey, from Sealey Furniture, is a skilled furniture craftsman based in Leicestershire. He never imagined making an artificial bat roost before getting involved in the project but has embraced the project with gusto. Keith described how he took up the challenge of making the team’s concept for the internal and external boxes into reality – and the many considerations and complexities encountered along the way. 
 
The exterior roost was erected first using a scaffold tower and an electrician installed the electrical supply to the box for the heat pad as the box was on the cooler north side of the building. The interior box was installed the following spring in May 2016. The interior roost provides space for at least 700 bats, has removable internal slats, temperature monitors, tiny infrared cameras and, crucially for listed buildings, is covered in materials which match the interior of the church. 

Did it work? 

Lotty warned that it can take many years to encourage bats to try a new roost, so we were excited to see that the soprano pipistrelles, and several other bat species too, are already regularly visiting the interior artificial roost. The soprano pipistrelle maternity colony is no longer located inside the church and damage from droppings and urine has stopped. 
 
While early indications are positive, the artificial roost and bat boxes will need to be closely monitored in the coming years to find out if the project has achieved long-term success. Lotty also warned that this intervention may not work for other churches. Understanding how bats are using the church and surrounding landscape and creating a bespoke approach is key to finding an effective, sustainable solution. The congregation at St Nicholas' are delighted with the results and they are embarking upon a programme of cleaning and restoration. 

Engagement and learning 

Engaging with local people is key to the success of the Bats in Churches project and the project team were keen to hear more about the wide variety of ways church buildings are used locally and what support volunteers needed to facilitate greater participation. 
 
At a demonstration dayt at st nicholas' delegates shared rich and varied examples of the important role churches hold within local communities: nature reserves, educational activities, local facilities, community events, and are of significance to local and national history as well as places of worship.  
 
They also emphasised the challenges facing custodians of listed church buildings, dealing with a lack of basic facilities and prohibitive maintenance and restoration costs. Read the summary of the session here. 
 
The proceedings at the Bats in Churches project pilot church, St Nicholas', helped us secure funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to help over 100 nationally important and historic churches across England manage and engage with their bat populations for a bright future.  
Thank you
About us: the Bats in Churches project is a partnership between Natural England, Cathedral and Church Buildings Division of the Church of England, Historic England, Bat Conservation Trust and Churches Conservation Trust. We work together to support communities, bats and historic churches with funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and AllChurches Trust.  
 
Acknowledgements: Judith & John Wiggins; Dr Charlotte (Lotty) Packman; Keith Sealey; Nick Fothergill & Stanford Hall team. 
Designed and created by it'seeze
Our site uses cookies. For more information, see our cookie policy. Accept cookies and close
Reject cookies Manage settings