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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