Monday MAdnEsS: Bats in the Belfry! Guano on the Altar?

Part of the ruins at Bolton Abbey.
Image via Wikipedia

A church closed by roosting bats
Sacred mysteries: Bats have driven worshippers out of a 1,000-year-old church in Yorkshire – and it is an offence to kill, injure or handle the creatures.
By Christopher Howse

Bats have driven out the worshippers from the 1,000-year-old church of St Hilda, Ellerburn, in Ryedale, North Yorkshire. For a decade volunteers have striven to keep the altar and woodwork clean, but the droppings from the bats have proved too powerful.

“The smell is appalling,” Liz Cowley, a churchwarden told the BBC, “it’s a combination of ammonia from the urine and a musty smell from the droppings that catches at the back of the throat.” The roosting bats have soiled the interior, damaging the furnishings, including the altar. “You can see the urine marks on the altar, they won’t go away,” Mrs Cowley said.

It is an offence for anyone intentionally to kill, injure or handle a bat, to disturb a roosting bat, or to damage, destroy or obstruct access to any place used by bats for shelter, whether they are present or not. It is even illegal to be found in possession of a dead bat.

Bats are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and by regulations on conservation of habitats that came into force last year. The law is even fiercer than it was in 2004 when I last wrote about the bat-scourge of Ellerburn. The provisions of the law are now administered by the quango Natural England.

It is not as if St Hilda’s has been unkind to its bats. In 2008 Natural England granted the church a licence to entice the bats to a better roost. Parishioners raised £10,000 to construct sites in a nearby barn and a heated lych-gate. But the bats decided not to move. Natural England refused to allow their entry to be blocked until it was satisfied they would settle in the new roosts.

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