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James Hales

Current Research

Bats in Churches: An objective assessment of perceived problems

There are 17 resident species of bat in the U.K. Sadly populations have declined rapidly over past decades and it has been necessary to afford all U.K. bat species protection under the law in an attempt to prevent disturbance and further decline in population numbers.

While multiple factors are considered to be responsible for the decline of bat populations within the U.K., the loss of suitable roost sites is of obvious significance. In order for the conservation of U.K. bat species to be successful, existing roost sites must be maintained wherever possible so that they can continue to provide a foothold for bats within the local ecosystem.

For a variety of reasons churches are regarded as suitable and highly important roost sites for bats. The age and construction of many church buildings, their location within the landscape and the environmental conditions they provide make them uniquely suited to use as bat roosts.

It is estimated that as many as 6400 churches and chapels in England have a bat presence. In many of these buildings, the presence of bats may go entirely unnoticed or will be welcomed, however there are occasions when occupancy by bats creates issues that can be difficult to resolve.

As bats fly in the open spaces of churches urine and guano can be deposited on surfaces within the building. It is the presence of bat urine and guano within churches that would appear to create the biggest issue for parishioners and those responsible for the care and upkeep of the building and its contents. A common concern voiced by church users and cultural heritage professionals is that bat urine and guano is deposited on the surfaces of items of historical and cultural value, and ultimately causes them harm.

When issues related to the deposition of bat excreta arise, resolution is currently hampered by a lack of any factual data with which to answer two very important questions:

  • Does a problem actually exist?
  • If so, what is the scale, extent or seriousness of the problem?

The lack of understanding of this issue should be of concern to all parties involved.

This apparent conflict of interests is unlikely to be resolved until quantifiable data is provided that can be used to negotiate a balance between these two important conservation causes.

The aim of my research is to study the interaction between bat urine and guano and the surfaces of historically significant furnishings and works of art within church buildings. In this way I hope to establish if there is any truth in the claim that bat urine and guano cause damage to historically important material within churches.

In addition work will be undertaken in order to rigorously and objectively assess the scale and seriousness of any effects observed.

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Educational Background

  • BSc. Hons Archaeological Conservation, University of Wales, College of Cardiff
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