Bats in Churches Project Demonstration Day 
Stanford on Avon, October 2017 

Representatives from 100 project churches came together in October to share their experiences of living with bats at the first Bats in Churches Demonstration Day. They visited a successful bat mitigation project at St Nicholas' Church in Stanford on Avon, the first time many had seen how issues affecting churches with bat colonies might be addressed. 
Bats in Churches Demonstration Day October 2017
 Damage to historic Monuments at St Nicholas Church (Image by John Wiggins)
Damage to historic Monuments at St Nicholas Church (Image by John Wiggins) 
Bespoke interior bat roost at St Nicholas' Church
Bespoke exterior bat roost fitted outside St Nicholas' Church
The Bat in Churches team
Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund
Funded by AllChurches Trust

An introduction to the Bats in Churches project 

Gen Madgwick, former Bats in Churches Project Manager, described the progress of the Bats in Churches project, established to develop, test and share innovative solutions to manage the impact of bats in churches.  
The project has two phases: the development phase and the delivery phase. The development phase will run until June 2018, working with three pilot churches to test approaches to managing the impact of bats in churches and trial different ways of encouraging local people to get more actively involved in their built and natural heritage. This phase includes the pilot National Churches Study and development work with 100 churches. 
Subject to approval by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the delivery phase of the project is expected to run for five years from 2018-2023. The project will create bespoke solutions to enable bats and church congregations to live together, establish a national network of conservation volunteers and launch the National Churches Study to find out how bats use churches in England. The results will provide improved guidance for everyone needing advice about managing bats living in historic buildings. 

Living with bats at St Nicholas' Church, Stanford on Avon 
Judith and John Wiggins 

Grade I listed St Nicholas' Church in Stanford on Avon is an extreme case of a church that has 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 has caused significant damage to the fabric of the church, its historic monuments and interior fittings. 
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, “causing irreparable damage to our beautiful church”.  
Judith 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, which is yet to be done, due to lack of funds. 

Reducing the impact of bats at St Nicholas' Church 
Dr Charlotte Packman, Wild Wings Ecology 

At the highest count 677 soprano pipistrelles were present at St Nicholas' Church during an English Heritage-funded University of Bristol research project in 2014. In 2016 the church was chosen to trial the new 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 Dr Charlotte Packman (Lotty). 
Lotty explained why bats use churches and the impacts they can have. It is estimated that over 6,000 churches and chapels are used by bats in England, especially in rural areas as barns are converted and old trees disappear from the landscape. With the severe decline of the pipistrelle population only recently stabilising, the challenge was to reduce the impact of the bats in St Nicholas, while continuing to protect the maternity colony. 
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 work 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 concepts 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 – needed 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 - watch the film highlights here. 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 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 a key part 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 need to facilitate greater participation. 
Delegates shared rich and varied examples of the important role churches hold within local communities: they operate as nature reserves, provide educational activities, supply local facilities, deliver 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. 

What's next? Plenary session 

This open session shared useful ideas for the future development of the Bats in Churches project, including: 
Providing advice on working with your PCC and the processes churches need to go through to carry out building modifications including: Faculty applications, bat box designs and specialist cleaning 
Regular events 
Sharing guidance with other churches nationwide 
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. 
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