Features

Bats vs people

They are a protected species – we’re not

3 August 2013

9:00 AM

3 August 2013

9:00 AM

Imagine: it’s Sunday morning, and the warden of a medieval village church arrives to get the place ready for communion only to find the altar covered in bat droppings.

As he gets scrubbing, he reflects on how he rang the officials at Natural England to request help getting rid of these bats — ‘Perhaps they could be relocated somewhere?’ he asked innocently — but their response was to read him the riot act about his responsibilities to the bats under EU law.

To fulfil its obligations, the church had to install a leaded ‘bat flap’ to let the creatures in and out — a dedicated window the bats can use to come and go as they please. And because the church is a Grade I listed building, it had to have one made up in the same material as the rest of the windows, at a cost of several hundred pounds.

Worse, the church has had to pay thousands to have an official bat survey done, to assess the extent and nature of their bat population. The vicar has been on the phone to the Bat Welfare Society helpline for more hours than he cares to remember to ensure he doesn’t incur a fine or prison sentence for disturbing the creatures. He now sets aside part of his week to liaise with the Church of England’s ‘bat working group’. The proceeds of the collection plate are pretty much entirely spent on bat management.

The bats, meanwhile, show no signs of gratitude and are urinating and defecating on the medieval wall paintings. The ammonia from their waste is eroding the precious brasses. The people who use the church — the congregation, playgroups, old people’s lunch clubs and evening classes — are not all that keen on having bats fly above their heads as they do pilates or sing ‘Jerusalem’, but what do they matter? While the bats are covered by the ironclad EU habitat directive, there is no equivalent law protecting heritage artefacts, community buildings, or indeed people.

In the battle of the species now raging in this sleepy little village, winged creatures trump humans. It is survival of the cutest, I’m afraid, and if I were a betting woman I would put my money on the bats.


This is not the script of a comedy vampire saga I’m working up, by the way. This is what is happening in churches all over the country, and to householders too, if they find bats in their roof space. All bats are protected species and Natural England, the government’s statutory wildlife adviser, needs to be consulted in advance of any work or action that might affect them. The law prevents you not only from getting rid of bats directly, but also forbids any stuffing up of the holes they are entering and exiting by (‘intentionally or recklessly obstructing access to a bat roost’) or attempts to shut them into a confined space where they won’t thrive.

There were 339 incidents of bat-related crime in 2011. That doesn’t sound a lot to me, but what do I know? According to the Bat Conservation Trust’s Bat Crime Annual Report, the rate is very worrying. As part of attempts to crack down, a man in Bolton was fined £700 earlier this month for disturbing bats in a house he was renovating. David Dalton, 33, had engaged the services of a surveyor who found a roost of brown long-eared bats. To allow the building to be developed legally, a European Protected Species Mitigation Licence costing thousands of pounds would have been required outlining how the ‘needs of the bats’ were being considered. Some householders have spent £10,000 or more trying to get one of these, which requires the complex analysis of a licensed bat consultant, charging by the hour, and ongoing bat monitoring that takes years, in some cases.

Mr Dalton demolished the building without a licence and destroyed the bat roost, naughty boy. Lancashire Police’s wildlife crime unit stepped in. The Bat Conservation Trust welcomed the prosecution, but said the fine was too lenient, which it was in the sense that it was only a fraction of what it costs to deal with bats legally.

But while developers are sometimes gung-ho enough to run the gauntlet of bat laws, churches scrupulously abide by the rules with the result that they are being crippled by the cost of playing host to batty. It is estimated that 6,400 parish churches in England are currently occupied by bats that have been granted indefinite leave to remain.

A recent Commons debate highlighted their plight. Tony Baldry, the MP who represents the Church Commissioners, says: ‘Bats are God’s creatures. If you are a bat and you are looking for somewhere to live, a church is a pretty attractive place. But churches are enduring invasions of bat colonies and it is becoming very difficult.’ One church in Yorkshire has spent £29,000 trying to deal with the problem. ‘The churches ring up Natural England for help and are told they have to manage the problem themselves. The authorities handle the issue from the perspective of the bat. It is Kafkaesque.’

Campaigners ‘against’ bats acknowledge that bats are under stress. They have a legitimate grievance. Their habitats have been destroyed by people converting barns into trendy houses. They deserve to be cared for, just not at the expense of human beings, although this over-protectiveness of a threatened species does seem to be part of a wider trend.

Putting aside the issue of foxes, which we must park or I will get seriously diverted, the wildlife lobby gives the impression of becoming increasingly strident. In particular, there appears to be a neurotic obsession with the three Bs, by which I mean bats, bees and badgers. It sometimes feels, for example, as if the wildlife brigade would prefer that all cattle perished of TB rather than farmers harm one hair on the head of a badger, and that fields full of crops can shrivel and die so long as insecticide isn’t used that might kill bees.

All of this is rather detrimental to food production, of course, but the wildlife groupies don’t seem to worry too much about that. They don’t bat an eyelid, pardon the pun, if their determination to protect a species of animal is compromising the ability to thrive of the human species.

Sir Baldry, who will continue the campaign at Westminster in the autumn, says: ‘I blame Beatrix Potter, frankly. It is the anthropomorphisation of Peter Rabbit.’

And Bertie Bat, as he likes to be known.

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Show comments
  • meandthedog

    The church warden should have installed a large wind turbine. That would soon get rid of the bats.

  • Kiri Green

    There is plenty advice on how to live with bats in home or in churches, sheets can be put up to collect the droppings. I don’t know the details but why would you need a bat flap when they can clearly get in and out? Bats can be excluded under licence if their is a genuine need for over-riding public health reasons such as someone with a phobia and a bat roost but they do have to cover costs. We need to protect our wildlife. Bats are God’s creatures too….

  • Samantha

    Sad that the write did not spend time getting to know more about bats and how the advise system works before going ahead with this article. Too much miss information is regularly passed on by reported which is damaging to bats and is not helpful to those who suddenly find themselves with bats and don’t know what to do. All gods creatures deserve support, care and understanding be that bats or humans (especially from the church). If only people could work together more to keep the balance instead of constantly wanting to destroy or exclude animals when our human actions are what has caused them to be there in the first place.

    • george

      What part of ‘human habitation’ don’t you understand?

  • Bridget

    It’s a shame that the author fails to understand that, without bees and bats, we would not enjoy much of the food that we do. Most tropical fruits rely partly or wholly on bats for polination and, in this country, almost all of our fruits and vegetables rely on bees and similar insects. If she would prefer to live in a concrete city and do without these food stuffs, let her – but most of us prefer to have some greenery around us and enjoy the products of animal pollination!

  • Bilbobaggings

    Honestly I think the human race has thrived enough.
    Because of the pressures of animal conservation groups, research has brought up some ingenious ways controlling pest species so pesticides need not be used.
    The fact you are moaning about Bees being over protected leads me to believe you have cherry picked your knowledge on all things great and small. They are essential to food production.

    Ms Kite has a very uninformed, arrogant view of conservation and I am sure a lot of people will agree with her.

    If we hadn’t dominated every square inch of the British Isles, there would be no need to protect these animals so meticulous, but alas, this is the world we have created for ourselves, our offspring and all of the so far successful species we find today.

    They cannot evolve to cope with us. They cannot learn to thank us. They cannot pack up and live somewhere else. It is us who need to change and we need to do it yesterday.

  • Elaine

    What a load of nonsense. Poor research results in poor journalism. If a bat roost is already established, I very much doubt that the church would be required to add “bat flaps”, except as mitigation for other works being carried out. Plus if an ecological consultant can charge thousands for a routine bat survey, I am in the wrong section of ecology!

    Ps good luck in getting any crops once the bees have died out.

  • Martin

    Rather stupid to have a photograph of tropical fruit bats in an article about British insectivorous bats, and Ms Kite then proceeds to show her ignorance of the whole topic.
    Effectively endorsing the use of pesticides that might kill bees, vital insects responsible for the pollination of a high percentage of our crops, again shows the writer’s ignorance and a rather stupid attitude to the plight of our ever-declining biodiversity.

  • Ahobz

    Stirred up a hornets nest here Melissa

  • Hawk

    Was this load of garbage written by an intern? Does the author actually know what a bat is? Because judging from the piece written above, they did very little, if any research into the subject and this clearly shows in the drivel that been typed above.

  • AndrewMelville

    No external enemy could defeat Britannia. Her sons will never be slaves to a foreign foe. But sadly they have all be made serfs of the insane who run the governments and the quangos.

    Time for a revolution. F@ck the bats & their keepers, the swarms of cheeky parking wardens and all their foul ilk. Rise up, my fellow Britons! Put the bureaucrats to the sword and regain your freedoms.

  • Is the world not big enough?

    If ever there was a time to use the word ignoramus I think this is it… You are clearly one Melissa Kite. If it weren’t for pollinators such as bees and bats you might be complaining about the lack of tropical fruits to put on the cereals that you can no longer find on the shelves of the massive superstore you visit to do your grocery shopping in. Or you might even complain that you are overwhelmed by mosquitoes and midges. There is a fine balance in life and everything is more intricately linked than clearly you realise (watch some David Attenborough on your goggle box for everyone’s sake not just your own). Pieces like this make me wish that I was a bat just so that I wouldn’t have to say I was part of the same mammal group as people who think like you are. Please find the time between writing complete drivel to read some books and learn something useful about the planet that supports you.

  • george

    Great article and thanks for highlighting the anti-human attitudes of the animals-first lobbyists. Humans, and the dwellings we have built for our needs, are not here to accommodate the needs of other creatures — unless we want it that way. Wild animals have their places (though human habitations may be more convenient), and we must have ours (and no place provided by nature can ever be adequate, never mind convenient). This is a foundational assumption of any civilization. Why give in to those wishing to undermine it?

  • The Red Bladder

    Obviously it’s more than churches that have got bats in the belfry!

  • CW

    Did you write this in crayon?

  • FMR78

    It is sad that ‘journalist’s’ are allowed to write such one sided, biased, Ill-informed rubbish.
    Knowing various of the cases involved, I can assure you that the facts of situation have not been laid out in this article. Surely it is the job of the writer to present all the facts and then argue why their opinion is right. Not to pick and choose what information to use, in order to try and add weight to a skewed argument.
    Go away, learn how to present a balanced argument, then research the facts and come back and write a better article.

  • Phil Rusted

    Seemingly written by an idiot, but one that had one friend – George, below. Perhaps they are both currently at pre-school together?
    Ill informed, poorly written driven. Enough said.

  • disqus_q8kG9c93No

    We have just had to pay a chap £3,000 to count the one bat in order to replace our church roof.

    • Jacquie Billington

      Then you were clearly ripped off. Make it clear to all you know who are in a similar position to avoid using this consultancy again. This kind of thing makes me angry as I am a bat consultant and have been working with bat conservation for over 30 years and it does not help conservation at all to over charge a client like this. Please do not tar all consultants with the same brush.

  • disqus_q8kG9c93No

    By the way, the MP is Tony BALDRY.

  • Zinfandelorganic

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    Bats in Melissa Kite’s Belfry!

    Melissa Kite, who wrote this arrogant ill
    informed nonsense, certainly has bats in her belfry!

    Humans don’t need to be a ‘protected
    species’ because they are the ones that cause the damage to our planet and its
    biodiversity.

    So glad you didn’t divert onto foxes, as we would hate to know your
    views on them and their persecution by neurotic obsessional cretins who hunt
    foxes to death for ‘sport’

  • The man on the Clapham omibus

    Sitting in our house in France Profunde we have countless bats about the place which have been moved about by our renovations without any regard for the “iron clad EU directives” and no we have not had any “bat surveys”. I don’t believe we have done them any harm.

    The problems in the UK come from jobsworths gold plating EU directives combined with the absolute contempt found amongst the so called “elite” for anything rural.

  • Jacquie Billington

    what a shame that this poor quality journalists jaundiced view on wildlife conservation has been allowed to be made so public by publishing this heavily biased ill informed piece aimed at a species of mammal which is in decline. Maybe she has a personal axe to grind here? If conservation measures connected to planning laws had not been put in place many years ago – and adhered to – the world would be a far poorer place with a new species going extinct every week in UK alone by now. Conservation is not about Beatrix Potter or anthropomorphism at all, it is about protecting the environment and maintaining bio-diversity. also I would point out that I certainly am not paid thousands for my bat consultancy work, this is malicious scaremongering tactics

  • Richard Coundley

    It seems to me that we are punishing those who give santuary to the bats. Whereas it is the farmers in response to our demand for ever more cheaper food that have cut down all the trees and eradicated the bats’ food source with herbicides and pesticides. This country needs to change its farming practices to help the bats, the bees and all living creatures survive. The people of this country need to fund this, and the government and the bureaucrats should stop punishing those who give sanctuary to the remaining bats that have been driven from their natural habitats into houses, farm buildings and churches.

  • Tom August

    What a poorly researched piece. I particularly like this bit:

    ‘…and that fields full of crops can shrivel and die so long as insecticide isn’t used that might kill bees.’

    The writer clearly has no understanding of the topic since the whole point of protecting the bees is to prevent the crops from failing.

  • bertie bat

    If it’s ‘Us verses Them’ people are winning and bats are losing. I’d suggest a bit of shoe-swapping here. Imagine having someone come in, uproot your home, spray poison on your food, coat areas you like to sleep in in chemicals that make you ill and have the gall to paint you as the invasive species. Bats have suffered in recent history at our hands. These crepuscular critters numbers have been declining as a result of human misbehaviour: careless development, changes in farming practice, use of pesticide and downright persecution. Bats can munch through as many as 3000 midges per pipistrelle per evening – and can make a meal of farm pests too. Owing to an absence of alternatives, many bats now live quietly and unobtrusively with humans, under roof tiles and in attic spaces or in barns. Some bats do make their presence felt and sometimes this is upsetting or frustrating to home owners or users of churches/barns/village halls… When they roost in large numbers in buildings like churches there can be problems -but this is very rare. And there are experts (granted -not enough – there should be more !) on hand to help. Local bat groups can offer advice and a Natural England/BCT helpline 0845 1300 228 exists, and can sometimes arrange FREE site visits and advice. Do as I learned to do – if you know or think you have bats – you call the helpline BEFORE you start planning your development then you can schedule things to work for both ‘you’ and ‘them’ with consideration bats needn’t be costly or frustrating. And check out several consultants, if you take on an architect you shop around. Do the same with ecological consultants and get a goodun and don’t get charged over the odds!
    There are also many churches up and down the country with bats who are positive experiences about wildlife or who at least can offer possible solutions and the benefit of their work. Ms Kite is wrong it’s not us v them, It’s about us and them, and all of nature finding harmony in churches, buildings and forests of England. Help is on hand, I just wish more people would know where to look for it and not begrudge the little winged fellas their space too. Yours ‘bertie the bat’ indeed.

  • If you kill ’em; you have to eat ’em.

  • Al Blake

    Sounds like a bit of a hard core renovation if he’s knocked the house down. I wouldn’t want him renovating my house if that were really the case!

    There seem to be a few exagerrations going on in this article.

  • DooEye

    Actually, if you look at this article, it could be more revealing…

    Ill throw a few thoughts down…a full bat survey was commissioned, probably taking several days, with two or more consultants either side of the church, costing several thousand pounds, possibly some DNA analysis of droppings. What for? Some maintenance work? In other cases maybe just for a £10k lean to extension? Probably. The article and discussion which so far has been emotional and in-specific should illustrate the true costs of this stuff.

    Some church repair works probably should have instigated all of the above, plus some mitigation design process, perhaps monitoring during the subsequent repair work, more charges, and the application for the licence to do it, ie to potentially disturb the bat(s). Just how many is “a few bats”? What exactly is a “disturbance” event in this country versus another? There are guidelines … The law has been ‘interpreted’ for us.

    In some cases, if you want to avoid a rejected licence, there may also have been a £1000 pound charge to ‘pre-check the probable acceptability of the mitigation/ licence request’ prior to entering the planning process, so should you trust your consultant? Do they have the references? did they offer this info to you? How much money should you throw at the survey, and at the mitigation? (included somewhere, in all of this, would have been an expensive methodology statement, to confirm that the approach to the survey was adequate. )

    A great deal of customisation affects this area. No two sites are the same. i am guessing you should budget about £5k, for the whole thing, and perhaps not a conservative estimate?

    Delays too.. You would need to wait till around a year from now, may, to start any new survey work, and given the duration of the survey, then a month for the planning design drawings etc, and another for the planning approval, then the licence application turnaround process, so till september or october for the green light …plus work will only be allowed at a preferred time when the bats are probably not in residence. Couple of times a year. Late October is good, otherwise…

    Time is money. Sometimes big money.

    By the way good luck to the person who discovers all of this easily, indeed even when you’ve had your first consultants quotes, for that first survey, or spoken to the volunteers. The info drips out a bit slowly..chat by chat…case by case…

    Ok it’s good to protect bats, but the costs are high. Very high. And the process opaque. It’s not even the spaces they hang out in..it’s their flight paths too.

    Almost regardless of what a householder wishes to build, the survey is treated as a way of building up a knowledge base of bats in detail across the country. I suppose you’re subsidising this.

    Councils are only just becoming aware of how many properties should be surveyed. Just when the planning regime is softened in one area, it gets harder in another. The flow charts provided by english nature suggest to me that almost any site should be subject to a basic survey. I totally recommend getting into the business. And they’re only valid for two years. Sometimes just a few months.

    Some of my best friends are bats, and surveyors, but I wonder if the UK is ‘leading the world’ in this burgeoning area, and wether we are unique in the extent to which we implement the law.

  • Tim

    I’ve seen the hopes and dreams of hardworking families dashed by bat enthusiasts who insist that the roof space of one’s home is a natural habitat. It’s not. It’s a manmade space that should be protected from nature’s parasites as well as the
    parasitical conservation industry that thrives on the income of spurious consultation
    reports. USE YOUR COMMON SENSE.

  • Louise

    I agree completely with this article. living in far north Queensland, Australia, bats are a major problem with Hendra virus and the destruction of rainforests. they are pests in every way possible from pooing on cars in the main street of a city to spreading diseases that can lead to death. but yet people are t

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