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Volume 497: debated on Thursday 15 October 2009

5. What recent discussions the Church Commissioners have had with Natural England on the protection of rare bats in church roofs. (293070)

The Archbishops Council is working with not only Natural England but the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, English Heritage and the Bat Conservation Trust to strike a sensible balance between the protection of church buildings and their contents, and the protection of bats.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a number of Norfolk churches have had their roof repair programmes delayed as a result of intervention by Natural England, which has insisted on the undertaking of lengthy and costly bat surveys? He is obviously aware of the problem, given his reply, so can he tell the House how many churches have been similarly affected? Does he agree that however important it is to conserve the bat, it is even more important to make an absolute priority of conserving our great heritage?

Yes, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Salisbury (Robert Key).

The commissioners are aware of Natural England’s requirements on such occasions and of the problem faced by the several hundred parish churches—of the thousands of such churches—that have bats. Only a handful of those churches have serious problems with bats, but in those cases the bats cause significant damage and great inconvenience. I would be happy to take up with Natural England the point that the hon. Gentleman has made.