In the round-up for 30 June we made a fairly brief mention of the Westminster Hall debate on bats in churches which was initiated by the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry. The debate secured a moderately-helpful response from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Richard Benyon, in which he said that the Government was
- ensuring that guidance offered by Natural England and the national bat helpline is clear, proportionate and unambiguous;
- undertaking specific actions at several churches to find means of moving bats away from sensitive areas.
- ensuring that unnecessary costs are not incurred, and requesting Natural England to provide guidance on the nature of surveys that may be required or the sort of actions to prevent impacts on bats; and
- requesting Natural England to look into reports of over-zealous advice being given to churches.
The Second Church Estates Commissioner appears at Question Time in the Commons once a month and today Sir Tony found himself answering an oral question from David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con) on the effects of bats in churches. He suggested that “a small number of bats living in a church can be manageable” but pointed out that parish churches were having increasing problems with large roosts of bats – with significant costs in financial and human terms. Congregations had to raise the money for bat mitigation at considerable cost to their community and the sums involved could be large. For example, St Hilda’s, Ellerburn, had so far spent £29,000 on mitigation with no sign of resolution in sight.
Sir Tony gave a trenchant response to an intervention by Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab) in which he argued that the problem of bats was not one that could simply be “managed”:
“Large numbers of churches are being made unusable by large numbers of bats roosting in them. Churches are not field barns; they are places of worship. Following my debate in Westminster Hall, I had a number of letters from clergy up and down the country saying how distressing it was for them, before they could celebrate communion on Sunday, to have to clear bat faeces and bat urine off the altar and the communion table. That is not acceptable”.
Nor is it: but until the Government finds some way of mitigating the protection currently given to bats by the Habitats Directive without endangering the various bat populations it is unlikely that any satisfactory resolution will be found.