Bats are having a ‘detrimental impact’ on Holme Hale church, hears Lord de Mauley

PUBLISHED: 15:24 25 April 2014

Holme Hale Church has a very bad probem with bats and their droppings - Lord de Mauley. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Holme Hale Church has a very bad probem with bats and their droppings - Lord de Mauley. Picture: Matthew Usher.

© Archant Norfolk 2014

A colony of 260 bats is having a detrimental impact on one of Norfolk’s historic churches, a government minister has heard.

Defra minister Lord de Mauley paid a visit to St Andrew’s Church in Holme Hale, near Swaffham, yesterday to hear the problems caused at the 14th century building by Natterer’s bats.

During the visit it was heard how the bats were putting people off from going to the Grade I-listed church or using it as a wedding, funeral or christening venue. It was also heard how the protected bats were putting a financial strain on the upkeep of the building.

An English Heritage-funded pilot project, using light and ultrasonic means to deter bats, is soon to get under way and it is hoped Holme Hale’s church - which has the highest proportion of bats in a church in Norfolk and one of the highest in Britain - will benefit from the scheme.

Rev Stephen Thorp, who has been the vicar at the church since 1996, said: “As warm as the church is in terms of people and atmosphere, people are put off by the bats; it’s having a detrimental effect on our ministry.

“People have to put up with dirt and mess and people don’t want to have their weddings, baptisms or funerals here.

“In the breeding season, you get young bats toppling out of the roost and falling into the main part of the church. A hardly-developed bat at your feet is a most unpleasant experience and people only have to see it once and it puts them off from coming in.

“We couldn’t consider having any activities for young people in this church, we’re anxious about mothers with babies and we couldn’t have any fundraising events involving food.”

Mr Thorp explained how condensation caused by the bats, which live in the apex of the church, huddling together rots the wood in the roof.

He also said all the brassware had to be covered up to avoid irrevocable damage caused by bat droppings and that they could not invest in new hymn books as they would be ruined.

“There are financial implications to it,” added Mr Thorp. “It’s costing the church an awful lot of money to have it cleaned and to maintain the fabric and fittings of the church. We’ve had weddings here but the cost of cleaning the church is more than the fee of having a wedding here.”

Research has been undertaken at St Andrew’s Church by the University of Bristol which has been used to inform the pilot project. The churches where the project will be carried out are yet to be confirmed, but there is a strong possibility that St Andrew’s will be part of the scheme.

Lord de Mauley said: “I’m very pleased to have come to Holme Hale and to have seen for myself the damage and the mess caused. I’m pleased that we will be doing a series of pilots to mitigate the effects of the bats.”

Anne Sloman OBE, chair of the Church Buildings Council, said: “We are delighted that the minister took the trouble to come and see the problem.

“Churches which have large colonies of bats have been struggling for a long time and we hope solutions are now being actively sought.”

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  • Thank you Rev Thorp fore explaining and expanding your motives for dealing with this large colony of natterers bats in the 'only' way you suggest. The church is listed and the bats have an equally unwielding status in law, so who is to give way, who is able to do different? The bats can't find another home nearby, so the solution suggested is not in their best interest. Listed status, designed by humans who frequent churches in lesser numbers than ever, can be adjusted to deal with this situation, a ceiling could be built that would preserve the fabric below, once cleaned and restored. Who is able to think and adjust their actions? Is it the bats or us humans? And Reverend, the story of a cash strapped church who gave all their money to the poor does not reflect reality, it never has, but thats a different issue. I refuse to think for one moment, that anti church feelings colour this debate. Its the reluctance to admit that humans can change this equation, if they wanted to, which slightly riles us.

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    ingo wagenknecht

    Tuesday, April 29, 2014

  • In response to 'ingo' this large maternity roost of bats has most certainly not been there for 'as long as the church has existed' but only since the 90's when local barns were converted to private dwellings forcing the bats to relocate. The local church doesn't have very much in the way of means to lever money from ministers only petitioning like any other body or group of citizens. The Norfolk Bat in Churches Research Project which has taken place at HH over the last couple of years in conjunction with Bristol University & The Bat Conservation Trust has shown that there are very few options available other than those being pursued by the research group - not if the church is to be a proper resource and space available to the community. To Mr T there are no double standards here - this is a significant problem that is causing real damage to the nations heritage. HH is a grade 1 listed building and deserves consideration as much as any other ancient & historic building. The fabric & fittings are being damaged in a manner which is in many cases irreversible & costly in others. The project seeks to find a solution for all afflicted churches and not just the congregation at HH & indeed the lessons learnt might be applicable to any bat infested building (religious or secular) - so many more people will benefit and many more jobs protected than Mr T suggests. In response to Birdman, Natterer bats are indeed a protected species and nobody including ourselves want to see any harm come to them, but it's proven that they don't need to be in the church to survive or thrive - they can naturally roost in trees. This is a case of a law having unintended consequences where the balance between animal conservation and human beings has swung too far in the favour of the animals. If human beings are not able to use their buildings as they were originally designed or intended then they will not be looked after or preserved as they should be which actually might be even more detrimental to the bats than if it were occupied. To alecto - fortunately HH is not the only church that I minister to and it may surprise you to know that our church congregations are growing & even despite the bats at HH we have had on occasion some wonderful services with a good attendance. I'm sure that you would feel differently if a relative of yours found that they couldn't hold a funeral in a church because it had been closed to bats. Surely, the point is that the church should be there for the community when they want it or need it. It's easy to be anti-church if you can't see, don't appreciate or understand what it's really there for. My Christian faith is intellectually robust and gives me a real sense of who I am and what I'm here for. Why don't you come along one day - if you can do so with an 'open mind' - you might be surprised

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    Monday, April 28, 2014

  • Such a large Natterers bat colony has propably lived there for as long as the church has existed, in small numbers first, but then growing to this quiet important sized colony. The church, with its means to lever money from ministers, even get them to visit the church, will find that there are a myriad of options available to them that will guarantee the use of the church for those who want to use it. I don't think that displacing them to.... where exactly? by electronic accustic measures, similar to the mosquito noises that disperse young teenager, will help, it is warfare to their intensely sensitive navigation organs. We should refrain from using such measures.

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    ingo wagenknecht

    Friday, April 25, 2014

  • Double standards here somewhere, a few bats and newts can have a major impact on the development of the NDR that millions of people will benefit from and it looks like there will be major discussions and problems on dealing with them, then we get bats in a church that in the grand scheme of things, very few people benefit from, and will certainly have little, or no impact, on future prospects for jobs etc. and we get a result in doing something. Priorities all wrong again as usual...

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    Mr T

    Friday, April 25, 2014

  • Natterer's bats are not common. The whole point of protection is just that - leave them alone!

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    Thursday, April 24, 2014

  • They are protected. Get over yourself. Hardly anyone uses your church regularly anyway. The bats are the biggest congregation you have had for decades.

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    Thursday, April 24, 2014

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