Chance to help count bats in Wiltshire belfries - and elsewhere in churches

By Barrie Hudson - 31 May 2022

CommunityVolunteering
  • The survey has already gathered important data

    The survey has already gathered important data

Wiltshire volunteers are needed to help during the final year of the National Bats in Churches Survey.

The Bats in Churches project is behind what is described as an ambitious citizen science project to discover more about how and why bats are using churches.

It’s thought at least 60 per cent of pre-16th Century churches in England house bat roosts, but the true figure could be much higher. 

Bats in Churches, a partnership between heritage and conservation organisations is now calling for intrepid volunteers to search for serotines, peek for pipistrelles, hunt for greater horseshoes and nose around for noctules this summer.

Claire Boothby, training and surveys officer at Bats in Churches, said: ‘If you have an interest in churches, bats or both I'd encourage you to get involved. The surveys are something that everyone can do, even if you are new to the world of bat surveys.

‘The records will be key in telling us more about bats’ use of churches, including answering questions such as how many churches in England house bat roosts and which factors affect the likelihood of bats using these cherished buildings. The findings will go towards guidance documents to help churches and conserve both the buildings and the bats.’

Bats have been associated with churches for centuries. With complex structures packed with cosy nooks and crannies, not to mention churchyards bursting with wildflowers attracting tasty insects for bats to eat, churches make great homes for these threatened animals, which are vulnerable to habitat loss. 

Some churches are home to nationally and internationally important roosts.

The Bats in Churches survey began in 2019. Last year, it discovered bats in just over half of the 219 churches surveyed and recorded a total of nine species, including some new to the study. 

The survey also, for the first time, verified Brandt’s bat and whiskered bat through DNA in droppings collected during the survey, and had its first recording of either Leisler’s bat or noctule. Neither of these species is normally associated with churches.

Overall, the survey has recorded a grand total of 13 different species of bats in churches so far. It has revealed that when bats are found in churches, multiple species are often present. Six churches across the country have been found to each host five species.

The survey has also revealed the presence of grey long-eared bats - one of Britain's rarest mammals - in a church in Devon.

Volunteer Kathy Warden, who took part in the survey last year, said: ‘Knowing how valuable churches can be for bats I thought this nationwide survey was a great opportunity to contribute and discover a bit more about our local bats at the same time. 

"The best moment came after scouring the church for signs of bat activity to see a brown long-eared bat looking down from high up in the chancel roof. It couldn’t help but make anybody smile!"

By signing up to take part and survey their local church, volunteers will be helping the Bats in Churches project understand more about how bats are using churches. This information will be vital not only for the future conservation of bats, a protected species, but also for church communities who can struggle with the mess created by bats.

Bats in Churches also works with more than 100 of the worst-affected churches in England.

No experience is needed to survey a church, and full details can be found at https://batsinchurches.org.uk/volunteer-bat-survey/

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