Long life

The only good thing about Halloween is that it makes people hate bats

The Church of England wants us to love them. I'm starting to feel the opposite position is better

1 November 2014

9:00 AM

1 November 2014

9:00 AM

I always dread Hallowe’en. It may have originated in Europe as a Christian celebration for remembering the virtuous dead and wishing them on their way to heaven, but its origins have been long forgotten. Now, more even than Christmas, it is a secular festival sustained by commercial greed. In its modern form, it is an American import, its main inspirations being Count Dracula and horror movies (and perhaps now also Harry Potter).

Hallowe’en is a time for the exploitation of children’s love of ghouls and magic and dressing up. Long before the day arrives, the supermarket shelves are stacked with pumpkins carved with the grimacing features of Jack-o’-lanterns, once meant to frighten away evil spirits, and with black witch’s costumes of cheap polyester fabric. Other symbols of Hallowe’en include skeletons, cobwebs and bats, all of them depressing.

But nothing equals the depression of the evening itself, when the doorbell rings time after time and groups of children, hideously attired, demand a ‘treat’ as an alternative to a ‘trick’. Maybe they never mean to trick you. Maybe it’s just an elaborate form of begging. But most people never wait to see what refusal of a ‘treat’ would entail, for they have furnished themselves in advance with supplies of sweets, coins or other goodies in order to hasten the children’s departure from the doorstep. Contributing to the gloom of Hallowe’en is its coincidence with the onset of winter and of the ghastly build-up to Christmas. From now on it will just be cold, darkness and futile extravagance.

The only thing to be said for Hallowe’en, really, is that it perpetuates the demonisation of the bat. I’m not saying that the bat deserves to be demonised. In some cultures it is revered. The Chinese, for example, believe that it betokens happiness and good fortune. But in the legends of the West it has always been a symbol of death, fear and evil.

There is no convincing reason for this. Of the 900 species of bat, for example, only three feed on blood, and none of these lives in Europe. The rest, including all the European ones, feed only on fruit and insects. Nor do bats make a habit of getting tangled up in people’s hair. Nevertheless, even from the early days of Christianity they were regarded as evil. Angels would be depicted with bird-like wings; demons with bat-like ones.

I read in a newspaper that a group of Church of England bishops and clergymen is now seeking to rehabilitate the bat, to re-brand it as one of God’s creatures, and to promote its conservation. It is claimed that bat numbers have declined dramatically in Britain during the past century, thanks to the destruction of its roosting sites and feeding grounds, and to the spread of pesticides.

Perhaps this is true, at least of some of its many species; but I come across bats all the time, sometimes in the bath or the kitchen sink, so there are certainly still a lot of them about. Yet the ferocity of existing bat protection laws, far exceeding any measures of which the bishops might be capable, are matched only by the intense dislike that most people feel for these odd little flying mammals.

It is already a criminal offence not only to capture a bat (which you certainly want to do if you find one in your bath), but also to damage or block access to a bat’s roosting place, even if this is inside your own house (and even if there’s no bat currently using it). If you want a steady and well-paying job, you should try to get one as a bat protection officer, for no alteration to any building in Britain can go ahead without a bat survey first being conducted there.

When some old bat droppings were found in an derelict bungalow that my Northamptonshire neighbour wanted to pull down, he was made to put temporary roosting boxes on some trees beside it, and to incorporate bat access routes into the roof of the new building with which he planned to replace it. Why should a new house not yet built be designed to accommodate bats as well as humans?

Whatever you think of bats, you won’t like them better if you have to pay to accommodate them in your own home. Pace the bishops, the most effective response to this scandalous imposition is probably to demonise them more.

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Show comments
  • UnionJihack

    Yet another American cultural import is adopted unquestioned.

  • Davey

    So run that past me again! Why is hating bats a good thing? What’s the deal here? Do the journos have some sort of quota to fill. Penny a word is it? I can think of no other justification for churning out tripe like this. Another steaming pile of bat droppings!

  • English_Independence_Movement

    “The only good thing about Halloween is that it makes people hate bats”: how is that a good thing?

  • Simon Hewitt

    Halloween is neither American nor Christian, but a far older Celtic celebration of New Year’s Eve, with the added bonus of meeting the dead and departed. Like most festivals it is also an excuse for eating, drinking and being merry. But I must agree with the earlier posts; not only is the article historically misinformed, it’s lame.

  • Roy

    The bat helps keep flying insects within bounds, controlling infestations and the ruining of crops.

  • charles churchyard

    Anyone who dislike bats should view the following on YouTube:


    And then take a look at this:


    • little islander

      Now I dislike bats more. Make some people go wacky.

  • Gerschwin

    Place tongue firmly in cheek chaps. A.C. is a legend and worth 20,000 Parrises, Takis or Rifkinds.

  • Demetrios Hadjinicolaou

    Bats will typically carry the same bacteria, germs and viruses as mice, including cholera, typhoid fever, and -the worst and deadliest of all, leptospirosis. That’s why one should stay away from them and they ought to be kept away from humans, not accommodated._

    • edithgrove

      Not forgetting ebola. I can’t wait for the local council’s conservation officer to come to terms with that.

    • Catherine Waterman

      The diseases you list do not apply to bats native to the UK. The only species in Britain which very occasionally carry disease is the Daubenton’s bat. If you get bitten by an infected animal you might get rabies. As this water bat species lives solely in the wild, not in roof spaces, catching rabies from this particular species is highly unlikely. In the UK, I don’t think there has been a single recorded case of anyone having contracted rabies from a bat bite. If there are any recorded cases, they must be extremely rare.

      British bat species are insect eaters. Their droppings (bone dry) and their urine do not carry diseases which can be transmitted to humans. You might get a stomach upset, however, if you put the droppings or urine in your mouth! You might need to wear a dust mask if you wish to sweep up the droppings, as breating in any type of dust may irritate the lungs.

      It’s essential not to lump all bats together in the same cauldron.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Halloween, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings… Is Britain finished as a Christian country? I do hope so.

  • Andy B

    My kids love it , good excuse for a party and better than the one tomorrow that seems to be about burning Catholics . I think a few people have also mentioned here its actually pre-Christian like Yuletide.

  • Catherine Waterman

    I’ve only just found this thread, after commenting on another bat related article by Camilla Swift. There is a lot of nonsense and scaremongering being perpetuated in this thread. If we are talking British bats living in British roof spaces, there is no need to worry. They do NOT carry disease, their droppings are disease free (to humans) as they eat only insects. The droppings are bone dry and turn to dust.

    For sensible advice, here’s a link to the Bat Conservation people in the UK. If you think they are wrong, simply drop them a line, enclosing scientific/medical evidence to prove that British bats living in our roof spaces pose a threat to human health.


    • edithgrove

      “The droppings are bone dry and turn to dust.”

      and as has often been the case, enough dust to bring a ceiling down.

      • Catherine Waterman

        Goodness me, that’s one hell of a lot of dust! Who’s ceiling has come down – and how long were the bats been living there to have created such a lot of dust? It must have been several thousand years worth.

        • edithgrove

          Your flippancy does you no credit. I, myself, have seen it.

          • Catherine Waterman

            That’s not flippancy, it’s because never in my long life have I seen a collapsed ceiling caused by powdered bat poo! In the UK, our bats are insect eaters. And thus, their poo is bone dry . The only time it has any weight is when it gets wet. This could happen if, say, there is a hole in the roof space for the rain to get in. For the ceiling to collapse under the weight of bat poo, the house must have been grossly neglected in the first place.