Legal flap as bats in the at­tic prove a night­mare

Plagued by an in­fes­ta­tion of bats, Jonathan Mor­timer is call­ing for a change in the law and warns home own­ers to pro­tect them­selves from these crea­tures of the night. Sharon Dale re­ports.

Yorkshire Post - Property - - PROPERTY -

IT’S easy to see why Jonathan Mor­timer bought his con­verted barn on the for­mer set of TV soap Em­merdale.

But when night falls this beau­ti­ful coun­try prop­erty in Leathley, neat Ot­ley be­comes a scene from a gothic hor­ror film.

Hun­dreds of bats are roost­ing in the roof above the mas­ter bed­room and the screech­ing, scratch­ing and vile stench have turned the dream home into a liv­ing night­mare.

Drop­pings and urine leak through the ceil­ing and bats have squeezed through the tini­est of cracks to fly about the bed­room, some­times land­ing on the du­vet in the mid­dle of the night.

The prob­lem is more in­tense be­cause the bed­room is open to the eaves, which means the crea­tures have made their home in a nar­row gap be­tween the plas­ter­board and the slate above. The build­ing is also south-fac­ing, which is at­trac­tive to bats.

Con­ser­va­tion work­ers as­sessed the roost and Mr Mor­timer, a lawyer, has been granted a li­cence from Nat­u­ral Eng­land to re­move the 270 com­mon pip­istrelles, which could mul­ti­ply to 600.

But he must wait till the end of the sum­mer breed­ing sea­son at the end of Au­gust be­fore he can get rid of the un­wanted vis­i­tors.

They are pro­tected un­der UK law and home­own­ers face hefty fines of up to £5,000 per bat if they are found to have harmed them. It is a crim­i­nal of­fence to de­lib­er­ately cap­ture, in­jure or kill a bat, or to in­ten­tion­ally or reck­lessly dis­turb a roost.

“I ap­pear to have no choice other than to hand the keys over to the bats, as clearly they have more rights to my prop­erty than I do,” says Mr Mor­timer, head of dis­pute res­o­lu­tion at Har­ro­gate law firm Ra­worths.

“As well as the night­mare of liv­ing with them, there is the cost of clean­ing up and block­ing up any holes to pre­vent them get­ting in again. That will run into thou­sands, and in­surance com­pa­nies won’t pay out on bat dam­age.”

He is call­ing for a re­view of the preser­va­tion law so that li­cences to re­move bats can be granted more eas­ily and im­me­di­ately to those whose lives and prop­erty are dam­aged by the pro­tected mam­mals.

He sug­gests pro­vid­ing bat boxes as al­ter­na­tive habi­tat.

He is also warn­ing any­one buy­ing a ru­ral prop­erty to look out for any signs of bats.

“Ask ques­tions of the seller be­fore you pur­chase the prop­erty. In my case, there were no signs of bats but if I had asked I may have been told of the prob­lem and could have made an in­formed choice as to whether to pro­ceed with the pur­chase,” he says. Pro­tec­tive leg­is­la­tion was in­tro­duced to halt a de­cline in the pop­u­la­tion, but Mr Mor­timer be­lieves it is time for a new re­view of bat num­bers to be com­mis­sioned and adds:

“We need to be cre­at­ing new ar­eas of nat­u­ral habi­tat for rather than en­cour­ag­ing them to live in the un­nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment of our homes.”

Nat­u­ral Eng­land says since the clear­ing of swathes of Bri­tish wood­land, bats have had to adapt to liv­ing in build­ings.

“Many species now rely heav­ily on build­ings for roost­ing, so their con­ser­va­tion de­pends very much on our tol­er­ance and good­will,” says a spokesman.

“Most bat colonies live quite hap­pily with their hu­man land­lords, but oc­ca­sion­ally prob­lems or con­cerns do arise.

“How­ever, the ma­jor­ity of bats are sea­sonal vis­i­tors and will leave of their own ac­cord within a few weeks. “In a few ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stances it is nec­es­sary for bats to be ex­cluded from a prop­erty, and in this in­stance a li­cence from Nat­u­ral Eng­land is re­quired.”

Heather McFar­lane from the Bat Con­ser­va­tion Trust adds: “Bats are a build­ing-re­liant species like, swifts and barn owls.

“Many home­own­ers live hap­pily with their bats or don’t even know they are there. They are a sign you live in a healthy en­vi­ron­ment.”

UN­IN­VITED GUESTS: Jonathan Mor­timer is plagued by bats in the at­tic of his home, a con­verted barn which used to fea­ture on TV’s but the mam­mals have legal pro­tec­tion, mak­ing it a lengthy process to get per­mis­sion to re­move them.

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