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Church Commissioners

Volume 494: debated on Thursday 18 June 2009

The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Bats

4. What assessment the Church Commissioners have made of the cost to parishes of dealing with bat populations in churches in the last five years. (280573)

We do not collect the figures, but I know that a significant number of churches—mainly rural ones—are coping successfully with bats, as they have done for centuries. Cleaning and protecting contents costs volunteers time and money; in some cases even that is not enough, and the bats cause damage and create hygiene problems.

Before I get swamped with letters about this, let me make it clear to all those outside the House that I like bats, I love seeing bats flying and I want bat populations to flourish. However, there is a serious issue about the damage that is being done by bats, particularly to historic and beautiful old churches and other buildings. Could the Church Commissioners get together with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, English Nature, Natural England and English Heritage to come up with a holistic approach? Bats do not have to live in belfries; they can go and live elsewhere. They are natural animals; they do not need us to produce churches for them. This needs sorting out, because it is costing parishes a great deal of money and damaging our historic structures.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. He is a great authority on bats. I can share with the House the fact that he is also a great authority on newts—but the Church Commissioners are not responsible for newts, although they may be responsible for bats in the belfry. He mentioned DEFRA, English Heritage and Natural England, but he omitted to mention the Bat Conservation Trust. We are working with all those organisations to strike a sensible balance. I will be pleased to feed in the points that he makes, which are very pertinent to these discussions. In the past, we have had a good deal of success in accommodating bats, but the fact that we continue to raise the issue in this House reflects the fact that it is a problem in churches up and down the land.