‘The only thing to be said for Halloween’, wrote Alexander Chancellor in a recent Long Life column, ‘is that it perpetuates the demonisation of the bat’. My initial thought was: ‘Surely Alexander is being slightly harsh on the poor old bat?’. I’ve always felt that bats have been dealt a pretty bad hand. After all, they’re essentially mice with wings, yet neither mice nor birds are quite as maligned as bats are. Rats, maybe, but that’s a different story.
But then I thought about it some more, and I can see where he’s coming from. I’d argue, however, that it’s not so much the bats themselves that people detest. It’s more the rules that are supposed to ‘protect’ them that put people off. I know the legislation is supposed to be beneficial to bats – as Alexander says, bat numbers ‘have declined dramatically in Britain during the past century’ due to loss of habitat (and, some say, wind turbines). But the current ‘bat police’ don’t exactly help the animals’ reputation.
Forcing churches to spend vast sums of money dealing with their bat problems (as Melissa Kite wrote last summer), and making people spend over £10,000 for a ‘European Protected Species Mitigation Licence’ is never going to endear them to the creatures. You can show people as many sweet pictures of bats as you like; convince them that they don’t spread rabies, drink blood, or get tangled in your hair. But as Alexander very sensibly says, ‘whatever you think of bats, you won’t like them better if you have to pay to accommodate them in your own home’.
I am rather keen on bats (yes, even when they’re in my bedroom), and I agree they should have some protection from marauders who want to pull down their homes, or poison them, or whatever beastly things people do. But when works of art and medieval churches are being destroyed by their faeces and urine and these laws make it nigh on impossible to move them on, it’s hard to see how the bat police are helping their cause. It seems to me that we need a bit of perspective here, and if even bat fans are being put off by the ridiculous rules surrounding them, I’d argue that in many ways the bat police have become a bat’s worst enemy.