England – Bat conservation is damaging churches not just physically but financially and cannot be sustained, Environment Minister Richard Benyon MP was told today.
The cost of replacing one small piece of a leaded window, for example, increased from £5 using plain glass to £140 when fitting a lead ‘bat flap’ was required by the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) – four weeks’ collection in the rural parish church of Wiggenhall, St Germans.
Leaving interpretation of the law on bat conservation largely to the BCT is bringing the European Habitats Directive into disrepute to the detriment of endangered species more generally, warned a Church of England delegation led by Second Church Estates Commissioner Sir Tony Baldry MP, with representatives of Natural England.
“I remain puzzled as to why our churches are treated as if they were uninhabited barns. They are not,” said the Rt Revd Graham James, Bishop of Norwich.
Welcoming current research sponsored by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the delegation said they looked forward to results that would mitigate the impact of bats on buildings. Churches are places of worship, centres of communities and heritage sites, not sites of special scientific interest, they reminded the Minister. The Royal Society recently raised the issues of health and safety and the role bats play in the spread of disease.
The Ven Paul Ferguson, Archdeacon of Cleveland, highlighted the problem for one of his parishes, saying that: “£29,000 has been spent so far by the congregation of St Hilda’s Ellerburn on two bat problems, and, although a licence to do something is now promised, it is by no means certain. Meanwhile, the cost in financial and human terms to those who worship there continues.”
“We have been working on this with DEFRA and Natural England for two years and I am deeply depressed by the lack of progress,” said Anne Sloman, Chair of the Church Buildings Council, after the meeting. “The Minister was clearly sympathetic but the challenge is to convert sympathy into action. There has been over-delegation to the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) which approaches the issue as a bat welfare group and not the impartial scientific organisation that should be giving advice on how to interpret the law.”
Sir Tony Baldry MP said: “We need action now. Many of my colleagues in the House of Commons are as frustrated as I am by the lack of progress. I’m sure they feel, as I do, that we can’t go on, year after year, saying something will be done when it isn’t.”