Holy crap! Bats are driving the faithful from UK churches

Holy crap! Bats are driving the faithful from UK churches February 1, 2016

A while back the National Churches Trust ran a poll that said ‘bats in churches is an issue which divides opinion. What do you think?’

Bats are a protected species. But many churches are wonderful historic buildings. Now a vicar has said that bats ‘showering’ parishioners with faeces and urine at a Norfolk church appear to have ‘more rights that the worshipping community’.
A 300-strong colony of Natterer’s bats roost in the roof of St Andrew’s Church in Holme Hale but cannot be removed as they are a protected species. Rev Stephen Thorp said the bats are ‘off-putting’ and have made couples look elsewhere for their wedding.

But voters came down firmly in favour of the bats, as this graph shows:
The poll was based on this 2014 BBC report in which Conservative peer Lord Cormack agreed that bats were a “particular menace” to church-goers.
He described an instance – titter ye not! – in which:

The vicar had to shake the bat faeces out of her hair while celebrating holy communion at the altar.

The report also pointed out that as many as 6,400 churches and chapels in England have bat colonies, which means that they far outnumber parishioners.
I was prompted to visited the National Churches Trust website as a result of a lengthy press release sent to me on Friday by the trust’s Eddie Tulasiewicz, and I was hoping to find a link to it on the trust’s site. No joy; the only thing that caught my attention was the batshit poll.
So, what was the press release about? Well, here are some extracts:

The overwhelming majority of British adults (84%) think that the UK’s churches, chapels and meeting houses are an important part of the UK’s heritage and history, according to the findings of the ComRes poll, which interviewed 2,038 GB adults online between the 16th and 17th December 2015.

Claire Walker, Chief Executive of the National Churches Trust is cock-a-hoop, and quoted as saying:

This poll shows that there is overwhelming public support for church buildings, despite the decline in the numbers of people in Britain identifying themselves as Christian in recent years.

The British public thinks that churches, chapels and meeting houses are an important part of the UK’s heritage and history and that they are also important for society as they provide a space in which community activities can take place, as well as worship.
Looking to the future, our poll shows how even more people could be encouraged to visit churches. That includes making sure that visitors receive a friendly welcome and providing better facilities such as toilets, a café or refreshment area.  WiFi was seen as particularly important by young adults.
It’s a fact of life that keeping church buildings open costs money, in most cases way beyond the means of congregations themselves.  That’s why it is good that the UK has a strong partnership of funders for church buildings, with money coming from Government and national organisations such as the Heritage Lottery Fund, charities including the National Churches Trust, and local people and congregations.
I hope that the public backing for financial support made available from Government for church buildings shown in this opinion poll, which over the past two years has totalled over £130 million, will help ensure that this funding continues to be provided.
There are around 42,000 churches, chapels and meeting houses in the UK. Faced with changing patterns of worship and demographic change, it is sometimes tempting to think that there are simply too many churches and that many should be closed.

Have we got pews for you? Yes – and they are empty virtually all year round.
Have we got pews for you? Yes – and they are empty virtually all year round.

However, the huge support for churches demonstrated by this poll will, I hope, encourage local communities and church authorities to keep their buildings open. In good repair and with the right facilities to allow greater community use, churches, chapels and meeting houses can continue to play a vital role in the life and well-being of the nation for many, many years to come.

Update: I hadn’t realised that the press release was embargoed until January 31, hence it non-appearance on the Trust’s site on Friday, the day I tried to find it. It’s up now.

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  • jay

    As cool as bats are, they (and their droppings) carry a number of diseases including rabies. My grand daughter had to go through rabies shots because of casual contact with a bat (in this case it was being extra cautious)

  • Justin Badby

    I was in a small Northamptonshire town with my 13 year old son a few weeks ago. We had finished our errands, just had a wide ranging chat over an agreeable lunch and had about thirty minutes to burn off before our next appointment. Much to my son’s surprise I guided him into the small parish church … its a very old one with features going back to Roman times. We were just admiring the architecture when the lady vicar who had heard us talking appeared from the vestry in eager anticipation of engaging with a follower. She marched up to us and asked if we had come to pray, or if we were seeking consolation or guidance, did we want to light a candle ???? She had an air of desperation. “Hardly anyone comes in here these days .. its wonderful to see you both”
    She was starting to gush by now convinced that her day was not going to be totally devoid of meaning. I was forced to put a sudden damper on her delight … “Look, I am resolute atheist, I have no need of godly intervention or advice”. Crest fallen she turned to my son and asked if he was atheist too. “Of course” he exclaimed. I suspect he wanted to say “Yeah … duuhhhhh”. “Oh Dear” she said “Such a shame”. “Please sign the visitors book on the way out”.. So I did … noting that apart from a few blocks of signatures which must have been for funerals and baptisms there were very few entries indicative of people just visiting. Times are changing for the better.

  • Justin Badby

    The bats are doing to the congregation what the pious have been doing for years.

  • Brummie

    The report confuses community centres,and buildings of great architectural merit, eating establishments etc. which are good for the population, with places to worship a fictional sky-fairy and discriminate against others.
    Chalk and cheese.

  • Angela_K

    Bats prefer places where there is little human activity, hence moving into churches. The religious could pray harder and ask their god to move the Bats out – I expect they’ve already tried that with a predictable non result.

  • gedediah

    Why don’t they just pray for a solution? Doesn’t prayer work or something?

  • gedediah

    Damn. Angela_K beat me to it 🙂

  • Graham Martin-Royle

    At least bats don’t rape children.

  • David Anderson

    There you go. The religious have had bats in the belfry for centuries.

  • AgentCormac

    Sorry to go OT, but there’s an interesting article on the BBC News website about the BHA and NSS ‘s war of words with Nicky Morgan over religion in schools. Comments enabled, so feel free to add your two-penneth.

  • L.Long

    Finally the churches are performing a public service!!!!
    Bats eat insects, churches do??? AAHHH? something?

  • Adrian White

    In reply to Jay;
    Any dead bat is sent for screening for rabies in a national scheme. Since IIRC 1987 when the scheme started only three bats have had rabies out of the thousands tested. The disease was confined to one species, Daubenton’s Bat, which is highly unlikely to roost in churches or homes. They feed over open water. The chances of catching any diseases just by handling bats in next to zero. Whoever recommended shots was wildly overreacting.
    If you want to find out more visit the Bat Conservation Trust website.
    If you are afraid of bats in your home phone the National Bat helpline (details on the above site). They will be happy to send out somebody to deal with your bat(s).
    Remember that bats are completely protected species by law and there are severe penalties for destroying roosts, disturbing roosts and harming bats.
    Sorry to go on but there is a pressing need to correct all the misinformation about bats as they need all the help they can get, their populations are declining alarmingly. As mentioned above they eat thousands of insect pests which will need more pesticide poisons to control without our bats.

  • Adrian White

    First word should read “any”. The edit function won’t let me correct it. Sorry again.

  • Broga

    @Adrian White: Great post, Adrian. The human response to so many wild creatures is that they are pests so let us kill them. Grey squirrels, for example, far from being pests, are a positive force in the renewal of woodland. I forget where I read that. Might have been “New Scientist.”

  • Julie Ellison

    Rabies and Bats
    Rabies is a potentially deadly disease, so a precautionary approach is taken towards it. However, it is not present in the droppings, nor the urine, and has only been found in one species of British Bat (the Daubenton’s Bat, as mentioned above), which is not a species you are likely to come into contact with, unless you are doing bat work. In all the decades that dead bats have been routinely tested for rabies, it has been found in only 13 Daubenton’s bats. It has not been found in UK Pipistrelles (which are the species most likely to roost in houses), and these have been declared free of rabies. It is considered that not enough individuals of other species have yet been tested to be sure it is not present in them, so the testing goes on. This is why members of the public who have come into direct contact with a bat are advised to have the rabies jabs, and why people are always advised to use gloves or a cloth if they need to rescue a grounded or injured bat. Rescuing a bat is the only legal way that a member of the public may handle a bat, or can normally come into close enough contact with a bat to possibly get bitten, which is the way rabies is transmitted.
    Bats in Churches
    There has been a very vocal anti-bat movement within the church for a long time, and they continually try to get churches exempted from the conservation laws relating to bats. This is extremely sad as churches can be particularly suitable “bat caves”, which is how bats see churches, and is why bats roost in them. Churches are very important to bat conservation, and I am always dismayed by negative attitudes of Godly people towards God’s creatures, but I’d best not get started on that…
    Yes, bats can cause problems within churches, but there are a great many things that can be done within a church, to make happy co-existence between bats and worshippers possible. The main problems are usually bat urine damaging brass work, and droppings causing additional work to clean up. These can usually be solved, often with covers and/or screening. Work to install these may have to be done at a suitable time of year (to avoid disturbing the bats), but with co-operation and good will, amazing things can be achieved. Tattershall Church in Lincolnshire is a great example of this, where they have 5 bat species and many hundreds of bats. Of course, without good will, very little is possible.
    In Lincolnshire, bats are declining in churches as much as they are declining everywhere else. A couple of years ago the Lincs Bat Group were asked to give details of 10 churches with bat problems. In the past, it would have been difficult to choose just 10. A couple of years ago we could not find 10. This is due to several reasons: the bats are no longer there; there are now so few bats that they are no longer a problem, the problems have been solved and the bats co-exist happily with worshippers now – or maybe the people have learned to love their bats, and no longer see them as a problem. Fortunately, attitudes generally towards bats seem to be changing for the better, as demonstrated by the poll at the start of the article.
    If you find a grounded or injured bat (any bat you find settled anywhere you can see it in the day, or at rest on the ground at any time), please call the BCT Helpline and in most areas a bat carer will come and collect it. A lot of them are simply under weight and are releasable after a few days of feeding.
    Anyone with a bat roost in their property, who wants to do work on their property, should contact the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) Helpline 0345 1300 228. A volunteer (a Volunteer Bat Roost Visitor, or VBRV for short) will usually come to assess the situation, after which an advice note is issued from Natural England, detailing when and how work can be done without disturbing the bats, and to maintain the roost. (I am a trainee VBRV.)

  • Robert Stovold

    Why not just pray for the bats to go away? Oh. I think we all know the answer to that one!

  • Robster

    Bullshit, batshit, it’s all BS anyway. Be funny if they renamed the pews stools.

  • Cali Ron

    Thanks for the article. Now I know what the term bat shit crazy means, although, I’d say the vicar and their flock were bat shit crazy before the bats shit on them. I’m responding on my phone and it won’t let bat shit be one word. Keeps changing it to bats hit and it’s driving me bat shit crazy. Arrrgh!

  • jay

    @Adrian White
    Be assured that I fully support protection of bats . During summer they regularly cruise through our yard looking for snacks. However if guano is actually contacting people, there are risks which should be addressed.
    Thinking about it now, I am guessing you are in UK where rabies is very rare. Here it is more common, though avoiding close contact with potential carriers (bats, racoons) is a sensible approach.

  • Adrian White

    Hello Jay
    Rabies is a disease of the nervous system not the digestive system. Bat guano is composed of dry, hard insect parts not liquid like mice, rats etc. There is little danger of disease from the guano, not even allergic reaction.
    I’m not sure which bats you get in, I assume, the US but unless a bat has teeth that can penetrate the skin to transfer the rabies into the blood stream this is a very low risk.Handling bats with gloves on is a safeguard against this.There is a slight risk from transfer of saliva but no confirmed cases by this method.
    I admit that there are one or two deaths a year in the US from bat rabies but as bat rabies occurs in about 1% of the US bat population and only in a few species the risk is small. Proper handling and awareness of the danger is the best way of avoiding rabies.
    I’m sorry to go on about this but bats in particular have had a very bad press which is mostly unjustified. There seems to be a fear factor at work that needs countering whenever possible.
    I am not in any way belittling the trauma or the precautionary shots your daughter obviously experienced and I hope she is fully over the encounter.

  • jay

    @Adrian White
    Bites are the primary cause but there are documetned cases of inhallation of quano, as well as contact with eyes and other porous membranes (my wife used to be an animal control officer who also had to deal with quite a few racoons during our epidemic a few years back).
    It’s not a big deal if we keep ourselves away, but in the US at lease, guano falling on hair would be considered very risky exposure would certainly get the building shut down until corrections were made, and any person having contact would be urged or required to be vaccinated.
    Again I like bats, and enjoy seeing them around my yard. I’m not at all paranoid but certain good sense rules are better for both them and us.

  • Julie Ellison

    Hi Jay, by way of reassurance, the best research I have read relevant to you in North America is from the recently published book “Bats And Viruses: A New Frontier of Emerging Infectious Diseases” Lin-Fa Wang & Christopher Cowled:
    “…information on RABV distribution in tissues of 130 naturally infected Mexican Free-Tailed bat [Tadarida brasiliensis] collected in Texas caves. The virus was detected as follows: brain 100%, salivary glands 79%, lungs 30 %, and kidneys 12%. In further tests on 50 of those 130 bats, brown fat of two (4.0%) contained RABV, but all were negative for virus in liver, spleen, pectoral muscles, intestines, and fecal pellets.”
    If it were to be in urine, this would need to come into contact with a mucous membrane or get into the blood via an open wound.
    Airborne infection may occur in caves where there are literally millions of a bat species, such as the Mexican Free Tailed bat, that are carriers of a rabies virus, but only bat workers should be in such environments anyway. I would expect that this is more likely to come from saliva droplets getting into the air from animals in the furious stage of the disease,then coming into contact with membranes of the respiratory tract or the eyes, or an open wound, of another animal, including a human, but I cannot prove this.
    I would suggest that there is no risk from droppings of insectivorous bats as these are dry, and the virus has not been found in them.
    As a bat worker, I am all in favour of taking sensible precautions – I like living very much! – but I am also aware than I am far more likely to die from a road traffic accident on the way to a bat roost, than from rabies contracted from a bat – and I handle bats almost every day.
    To give a bit of perspective, there are an average of 33 deaths per year in the US from lightening strikes (figure from the National Weather Service), but only 1 – 3 cases of rabies in the US annually (not bat specific). There have been 34 cases of human rabies (not bat specific) in the US since 2003, of which 10 were contracted outside the US (figure from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). So you’re far more likely to die from a lightening strike than a bat! 🙂
    Bats aside, over 99% of all human rabies cases worldwide are from dogs.

  • I came away realising how lucky we are in countries where free speech is not only tolerated but is celebrated, where although the catholic voice is venomous, it is at least small and I felt a close affinity to the wonderful atheists in Poland who will always have  a big place in my heart!