Health and safety fears over a colony of bats, have turned a North Yorkshire congregation into an endangered species.
Pictueresque - the ancient church is attractive to bats as wellas humans
Parishioners at St Hilda's Church at Ellerburn near Pickering, a church which dates back over 1000 years, have been told that they can no longer use the site for regular worship, as Bat droppings pose a serious risk to health.
Officials have blocked church authorities from removing the winged creatures, which are protected by law, despite the fact that their presence is stopping the church from operating as a place of prayer and worship.
Church Warden Liz Cowley told the BBC: “There hasn’t been a wedding here for at least a dozen years, the congregation has dropped dramatically, and it is all down to the bats.”
The church was first closed in August 2011, but locals rallied round and by gaining a license to block up some of the entry points, managed to get the church open again by Christmas.
But now the bats have fought back, and environmental health experts have warned that the church would have to undergo a thorough and expensive disinfection process before every service, making it practically impossible for the congregation to use the building.
Now the church, which was built during the time of the Saxons, faces being closed down altogether and abandoned to the bats – unless a permanent solution can be found.
In 2008, the congregation raised a whopping £10,000 to build a new roosting area for their nocturnal co-habitants, in the hope they would be lured away. But to date the bats have resolutely chosen to ignore the new site, preferring to stay in the roof of St Hildas, where they have lived for about ten years.
Last Autumn Natural England allowed the church to block up some of the entry points that were being used by the night time pests, but while this proved effective for a while, the bats found other ways in.
Now the only hope seems to be that the church can get a license to block up the remaining holes, before the bats take over altogether.
Four of the UK’s eight species of bats call St Hilda’s home - the Whiskered bat, the Pipistrelle, the Brown long-eared bat, and the Natterer's bat.
And while they represent some of Britain’s most endangered wildlife, many are asking what this means for the church, which was first founded as one of Britain’s earliest mission posts.
When the current stone building was built around 1150, pieces of stone crosses dating back to the 8th and 9th centuries were built into the walls, providing a clear link back to the original mission church, which would have been a timber building built many years before.
With churches across the country playing home to their own colonies of bats, what happens at St Hildas may prove to be an important benchmark for the UK as a whole.
June 25th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Simon Cross