Bats overstay their welcome in the belfry: Protected species or not, vicar says droppings in the communion wine are too much, writes Simon Midgley

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The Independent Online
THE Lord God may love all creatures great and small but the vicar, churchwardens and cleaners of All Saints in the village of Mattersey, north Nottinghamshire, have finally had enough of bats - or at least of the two colonies roosting in their 12th-century parish church.

For years now, brown long- eared bats and the much rarer natterer's bats have hung about the roof spaces of All Saints rearing their young and spattering the altar, brasswork and pews with urine and bat droppings.

Bat pellets have fallen into the communion cup during Eucharist, droppings have befouled bride's dresses during weddings and bat urine has etched into the church brasses and bleached oak pews white.

Dustsheets are used to protect the altar, the lectern and woodwork, and the brasses have been put away.

Now the Rev Alan Mumford and his parochial church council have reached the end of their collective tether. In order to protect the fabric of the medieval building and the health and size of the congregation they would like to move the colonies out of the church. But under the 1981 Wildlife and Conservation Act it is illegal to disturb bats or their roosts without permission from English Nature.

The North Nottinghamshire Bat Group, the Bat Conservation Trust, and English Nature argue that it would be very difficult and expensive to stop bats roosting in the church. There are too many crevices and holes to block up.

English Nature has suggested a stepped plan to encourage the colonies to move, either to new roosting sites outside the church or to other parts of the church where the droppings will be less obtrusive.

Dr Sheila Wright, bat adviser to the Diocese of Southwell, in which All Saints stands, said that exclusion from the church given the shortage of suitable places for colonies to roost would almost certainly lead to the bats dying. Bats, she adds, have tended to move into churches as their traditional woodland homes have disappeared.

The vicar and the parochial church council, however, want the colonies moved out altogther and the diocesan solicitor is in the process of applying to English Nature for an exclusion order.

David Nixon, one of All Saints' churchwardens, said: 'The problem is that we all love bats and animals, living in the country as we do. We have no wish to harm them. But the dirt and urine is causing damage to the fabric of the church . . . It's unpleasant and unhealthy. The droppings literally drop into the communion cup. Some people have stopped coming to church because of the problem.'

Lyndis Rowley, another churchwarden, who cleans the church before Eucharist on Sundays, said that the bats were 'like little mice with wings. We would not wish to harm them. They are sweet. They are God's creatures.' However, she felt they ought to be moved - safely and humanely - to a new roosting site.

All Saints is supported by the Movement Against Bats in Churches (Mabic), which was founded 21 months ago by Catherine Ward, a vicar's wife from Bale in Norfolk, and now has more than 100 churches supporting it. She is worried about bats destroying the fabric of Britain's historic churches.

'A church is a very special sort of building built for the worship of God and not as a bat sanctuary,' she said. 'A museum or an art gallery would not tolerate anything like that. I just don't think that a church should be held hostage to bats, rare or not rare. Which is more important, humans or bats?'

(Photograph omitted)