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.
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.