James Hales
  • j.hales@ucl.ac.uk
  • Direct: +44 (0)20 7679 4728
  • Internal: 24728
  • Room 403A
  • UCL Institute of Archaeology, 31-34 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PY UK

James Hales

Current Research

Bats in Churches: Objective Assessment of Associated Damage Mechanisms

The use of historic structures, specifically churches, as roost sites by bats has been shown to have the potential to create a conservation conflict. The individual is rare who does not appreciate the importance of conserving the native species of the British Isles, but for some churches, the presence of large numbers of bats within a building has resulted in the deterioration of culturally significant items such as historic monuments, wall paintings, organs, memorial brasses, pews, lecterns, rood screens and fonts. This can create a conservation dilemma. While one would hope to ensure a sustainable future for both our cultural heritage and the natural environment, it seems that in the case of bats and churches, success in one area sometimes comes at a cost to the other.

There are 18 resident species of bat in the U.K. Sadly populations have declined rapidly over past decades and it has been necessary to afford all UK 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 UK, 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 droppings can be deposited on surfaces within the building. It is the presence of bat urine and droppings 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 excreta is deposited on the surfaces of items of historical and cultural value, and ultimately causes them harm.

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 droppings and the surfaces of historically significant furnishings and works of art within church buildings in order to provide this data.

This research has been funded by The Pilgrim Trust.

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Educational Background

  • PhD Conservation, UCL
  • BSc (Hons) Archaeological Conservation, University of Wales, Cardiff

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