“Creation Window” from St Peter’s, Guestwick by Adam O’Grady

Bats in Churches

Medieval churches in England are often used by roosting bats. Bats are likely to be drawn to churches as enduring features of the landscape, providing stable conditions and a variety of roosting niches. In contrast, many other bat roost locations (dead/decaying trees, barns and the roofs of houses), are being lost through clearance of dead trees and roof works/barn conversions etc. While small numbers of bats living inside a church may cause few problems, bats sometimes form large maternity colonies in churches, which can lead to problems with droppings and urine creating a substantial cleaning burden and causing damage to items of religious and heritage importance. Consequently there is an urgent need to find solutions to protect both churches and their bats.

Insight Ecology Co-Director Dr Charlotte Packman (Lotty) first became involved in research into bats in churches as a Post-Doctoral Research Associate at the University of Bristol’s Bat Ecology and Bioacoustics Lab, headed by Professor Gareth Jones. Lotty led a team collecting data at churches in Norfolk and Northamptonshire, piloting methods to reduce the impact of bats in churches. The project, funded by English Heritage, involved radio-tagging and tracking 80 Natterer’s bats and soprano pipistrelles in spring 2014, to assess their responses to, and the effectiveness of, a range of methods including ultrasound, lighting and ‘boxing-in’. The full report, “Management of Bats in Churches – a Pilot” is available here. The project built on previous Defra-funded University of Bristol research and the findings of both projects were published in the scientific journal PLOS One, available here.

Using the findings of this research, Lotty implemented a trial solution at a church in Northamptonshire that was heavily impacted by its soprano pipistrelle maternity colony. As a Registered Consultant for the new Bats in Churches Class Licence, Lotty successfully developed a solution for the church, involving the provision of artificial roosts (at the church and along the bats’ commuting route) and ‘boxing-in’ a bespoke roosting area on the interior of the bats’ access point into the church. This provided the bats with a suitable roosting space but prevented their access into the church interior. Tiny ‘no glow’ infrared cameras were fitted at the entrance and inside different sections of the ‘boxed-in’ roosting area, providing fascinating insights into how the bats explored and used the new artificial roost.

Here we share some highlights of the video footage.

Soprano pipistrelles’ early exploration of the new roost entrance.

Soprano pipistrelle social interactions at the artificial roost.

Brown long-eared bat exploring the various artificial roost compartments.

Other roost visitors.