Not as batty as it sounds - millions to be spent on finding ways for bats to live in harmony with congregations with Norfolk church taking the lead
- Credit: Matthew Usher
Love them or hate them bats have an important role to play in our ecosystems and they are protected by law.
But they can also do a lot of damage to buildings, particularly in churches where they like to roost and breed, thanks to the mounds of droppings they leave behind.
Now a Heritage Lottery Funded project is aiming to find a way for bats to live in harmony with congregations.
And a church in Swanton Morley is one of three in the east of England to have been chosen to pilot a £3.8m scheme to solve the national problem.
All Saints Church in Swanton Morley joins Braunston All Saints in Rutland and Holy Trinity in Tattershall, Lincolnshire in the pilot scheme before a full project is rolled out to 20 churches across the UK in March 2018.
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Bats droppings can restrict activities, damage historic artefacts and put a strain on volunteers who look after the building.
So the funds will be spent on the trial of new techniques to lessen the problem, build up professional expertise and volunteer skill to share with hundreds more churches and bring together church communities and bat enthusiasts to create a shared understanding and appreciation of England's historic places of worship and our rare flying mammals.
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Ecologist Philip Parker has been regularly surveying All Saints and this week recorded between 80 and 90 bats in the church.
'At this time of year they have finished breeding so there are adults and young flying around,' he said. 'They are mostly natterer's bats and as some of the largest natterer's maternity roosts in the world are in Norfolk churches they have international importance.
'Research has indicated that these bats are very faithful to this church so trying to move them to other buildings, which can work with some species, is not going to work here.
'So we will try to find a way to accommodate the bats in the church but at the same time reduce the level of impact they may have on the users and the fabric.'
But he said that if they find a solution at Swanton Morley it may not work elsewhere. In some cases they have been able to build new roosting features into church walls when repairs are being carried out.
'It will be quite a challenge as bats use churches in different ways,' he said.
Twenty percent of all mammal species are bats.
Pipistrelle bats can live to between 10 and 12 years old, larger bats can live to 20 or even 30 years.
Bats breed once a year and usually have one young.
A pipistrelle bat can eat 3000 midges or other insects in one night.
Bats are more closely related to humans than they are to mice.
The last 20 years has seen the most catastrophic decline in bat numbers.
This is in part due to the decline and fragmentation of natural habitats such as hedgerows, woodlands and ponds.
Approximately 25 percent of the world's bats are threatened with extinction.
All bats and their roosts are protected by law.
What is thought to be the largest bat roost in England was discovered in 2015 in the roof space of two semi-detached cottages in Breckland with 2500 soprano pipistrelles and brown long-eareds present.
To launch Swanton Morley as a pilot church for the national HLF Bats in Churches project a Bat Night is being held on Saturday, August 12 at All Saints.
Visitors can find out about bats, how they use the church and churchyard, and some of the challenges that churches face when living with bats.
They can watch the bats emerge using state of the art infra-red cameras and may even see some captive bats up close.
Children can enjoy a treasure hunt to learn about the church, and take part in some batty craft activities.
There will also be talks by ecology expert Philip Parker and Deborah Colvin, engagement officer for the Bats in Churches project.
It starts at 6.30pm and is expected to finish at 10pm, entry is £5 for adults, children go free, and light refreshments are included.