WORSHIPPERS in Somerset churches are being asked to check to see if they've got any bats lodging in their churches.

It is believed there could be thousands of bats in residence in scores of historic churches in our county.

For centuries, bats have been associated with churches and in some cases these historic buildings are home to national and even internationally important bat roosts.

The Bats in Churches Study aims to understand how and why these protected mammals use church buildings and is appealing for volunteers to come forward to help by searching for evidence of bats in their local church, including in Somerset.

The surveys run from the beginning of June to the end of August and are Covid secure with guidelines provided for participants.

The study has already thrown up some surprising results. In its trial year, volunteers were delighted to discover the presence of grey long-eared bats in a Devon church. These are one of the rarest mammals in Britain, with an approximate population of 1,000, and there are few known records of this species using churches.

The study is led by Bats in Churches, a five-year project funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and bringing together partners from the conservation and heritage sectors to reduce the damage that bats can cause in churches, while also protecting their roosts.

The project is helping to provide innovative solutions that allow bats and churches to occupy the same space without conflict and works closely with ecologists, church architects and communities.

Participants are encouraged to share their experiences on social media using #ChurchBatDetectives.

Find out more and register to take part in the Bats in Churches Study at bit.ly/BiCStudy.

Adrian Bayley, volunteer surveyor for the Bats in Churches Study, said: "I really enjoyed taking part in the Bats in Churches Study. I was pleased that some of the droppings collected proved to be those of a rare grey long-eared bat. I am looking forward to surveying more churches this summer.”

Claire Boothby, training and survey o with the Bats in Churches Project, said: “We know churches are important for bats, but we are still in the dark about how many of the 16,000 Church of England churches are used by these protected mammals.

"We want to understand the factors affecting bats' use of churches and also get a better picture of the impacts (both positive and negative) on those caring for these buildings. By helping unveil the mystery, by looking for evidence of bats and speaking to a representative of the church this summer, you’ll help us to provide better advice and guidance for both church and bat conservation.”

Environmental ecologist Phillip Parker, of Phillip Parker Associates, said: “Out of the nearly 270 historic churches that I’ve surveyed in Norfolk, only four didn’t show evidence of bats, which is significantly higher than the current national estimate, but anecdotal information like this is patchy and isn’t available for most counties which is why this study is so important.

"It will be very interesting to gain a better picture of bats’ use of churches across the country so that we can understand the importance of individual roosts and tailor our approach towards conservation in those areas to benefit both bats and churches.”