A small number of bats living in a church can be manageable, but parish churches are finding an increasing number of bats taking up residence in large roosts. There are significant costs in financial and human terms to those who worship in these churches, and to the wider community. The present situation is simply unsustainable.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. As a church warden, I know that many members of parochial church councils live in fear of bats taking up residence in their church buildings, because of the damage bats cause and the difficulty they have in removing them because of EU rules. Will my hon. Friend give the House some idea of what costs can be incurred by churches that have to remove a colony of bats?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. Parish churches have to raise the money for bat litigation at considerable cost to their community, and that can prevent their own mission and ministry. The sums of money can be large. For example, the church of St Hilda’s in Ellerburn in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) has spent a total of £29,000 so far, which is a significant sum for a small congregation to finance. As yet, there is no resolution in sight, but I was grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) for indicating in a recent debate in Westminster Hall that there might be a prospect of St Hilda’s, Ellerburn at last receiving a licence from Natural England to resolve this issue.
I must say that I rise with some trepidation on this topic, given the explosive response from the Second Church Estates Commissioner to my gentle question in a Westminster Hall debate last week. Since then, I have been told that the Bat Conservation Trust and the Church Buildings Council were having productive conversations on the bats, churches and communities pilot project funded by Natural England until February this year when they stalled. Will the hon. Gentleman use his good offices to bring the two together to continue those conversations?
My concern with the hon. Lady’s approach and the Bat Conservation Trust is that they seem to think that this is an issue that can somehow just be managed. I have to keep on saying to her that this is not an issue that can be managed. Large numbers of churches are being made unusable by large numbers of bats roosting in them. Churches are not field barns; they are places of worship. Following my debate in Westminster Hall, I had a number of letters from clergy up and down the country saying how distressing it was for them, before they could celebrate communion on Sunday, to have to clear bat faeces and bat urine off the altar and the communion table. That is not acceptable.
May I take this opportunity to thank my hon. Friend the Second Church Estates Commissioner and the Under-Secretary for helping St Hilda’s, Ellerburn? It is a matter of urgency that the congregation can reclaim their church from the bats.
Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes an important point. [Laughter.] This is not a joking matter. This is serious and people have to understand that. I am grateful for the attention paid to this issue by the Under-Secretary. We are making real progress, but we need to ensure that places such as St Hilda’s, Ellerburn can continue to be places of worship and are not closed as a consequence of bat faeces and bat urine.