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Driving us batty! Bat droppings leave us 'demoralised', say villagers

PUBLISHED: 09:11 12 September 2019 | UPDATED: 14:33 16 September 2019

Bats are causing problems for churchgoers in Suffolk villages. Picture: HUGH CLARK/www.bats.org.uk

Bats are causing problems for churchgoers in Suffolk villages. Picture: HUGH CLARK/www.bats.org.uk

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Bats living in Suffolk churches who continuously leave droppings for parishioners to clean up are causing a headache - because laws mean the creatures cannot be removed.

Cathy Smith, member of the Suffolk Bat Group and local resident, with some of the mess inside All Saints Church in Wetheringsett. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYCathy Smith, member of the Suffolk Bat Group and local resident, with some of the mess inside All Saints Church in Wetheringsett. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Church cleaners are said to be left "demoralised" by the constant incoming fire from the nocturnal creatures, with dozens of the animals taking up residence in roof and loft spaces.

Even when they have left their aisles looking spotless one evening, they return for Sunday morning services to find them soiled once again by their unusual house guests.

Bats are a protected species and thus cannot be removed - meaning organists and others have no choice but to check their seats for nasty surprises, wiping them clean every time they sit down just to be sure.

Yet after years of misery, hope may now be in sight - for a project to protect historic churches while safeguarding the symbols of Halloween might be about find a win-win solution.

Bat droppings have even damaged Bibles at All Saints Church in Wetheringsett. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYBat droppings have even damaged Bibles at All Saints Church in Wetheringsett. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Natural England, which is leading the project, is currently working with the Bat Conservation Project and churches in Wetherden and Wetheringsett to conduct bat surveys and find out what the long-term answer is.

If it works, the solutions could be rolled out to other holy buildings - for 60% of medieval churches are believed to experience the problem.

'A bit demoralising'

"There is an active bat population in Wetheringsett which is a particular problem in May and June time, when they're breeding," said Cathy Smith, a resident of the village who is helping with the Bats in Churches project.

Bat droppings on the windowsill by one of the stained glass windows inside All Saints Church in Wetheringsett. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYBat droppings on the windowsill by one of the stained glass windows inside All Saints Church in Wetheringsett. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

"There are a general scattering of bat droppings throughout the church, with particular problem points.

"It's a fairly small congregation and the cleaning team amounts to three people.

"They can clean on a Saturday and there are bat droppings there on Sunday morning. It's a bit demoralising for those ladies.

"The organists, before they sit down, have to sweep away the bat droppings."

Bat droppings inside All Saints Church in Wetheringsett. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYBat droppings inside All Saints Church in Wetheringsett. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Protecting the bats

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Yet despite the obvious irritation, Mrs Smith says there are no hard feelings against the Dracula-like animals.

"It's a beautiful church building set in arable countryside and the bats really benefit from the habitat," she said.

Bat droppings inside All Saints Church in Wetheringsett. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYBat droppings inside All Saints Church in Wetheringsett. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

"The bats are lovely and we hope the majority of people appreciate that.

"But we also need to be able to enjoy the church because it's quite a quiet village and it plays a really important service in the community.

"It's about making the situation more manageable for everyone. We hope the experts who've seen similar situations elsewhere will be able to put their thinking caps on."

All Saints Church in Wetheringsett has already had one bat survey and will have another more detailed one carried out by a national bat expert next year.

The kitchen area at All Saints Church in Wetheringsett, where bats are causing damage and mess from their droppings and urine. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYThe kitchen area at All Saints Church in Wetheringsett, where bats are causing damage and mess from their droppings and urine. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

While it is too early to tell what the solutions might be, Mrs Smith says covering to protect key areas such as the kitchen from bat droppings might help.

Honor Gay, from the Bats in Churches, said: "Bats are a highly protected species in decline everywhere. Bats are really vulnerable, especially in Suffolk.

"Churches are the only the buildings where people and bats are sharing the same space, because the of the construction and because the roof space is open.

"Bats are seeking sanctuary in church because the church is a stable place. Churches have always been important for bats, but they are really important at the moment.

Bat droppings on one of the doors inside All Saints Church in Wetheringsett. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYBat droppings on one of the doors inside All Saints Church in Wetheringsett. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

"However bat faeces can damage the fabric of the church. If you don't clean up bat dropping, they pile up and it become inhabitable. It's a hygienic risk and it's not pleasant at all.

"It impacts on the church community. The church needs a lot of cleaning and a lot of the cleaners are volunteers - often there is only one person doing the cleaning.

"If you want to welcome children or hold a service, you've got a problem.

"This project is an attempt to find practical solutions. Every solution needs to be one that works for the bats and the churches.

All Saints Church in Wetheringsett, where bats are living, causing damage and mess from their droppings and urine. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYAll Saints Church in Wetheringsett, where bats are living, causing damage and mess from their droppings and urine. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

"If you disturb them, it has a catastrophic impact on the bat population - that's why the legislation is so robust."

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