A well-known Harrogate solicitor has spoken out at the misery of living with bats and the need for the conservation laws which protect bats to be reviewed.
Jonathan Mortimer is Head of Dispute Resolution at Raworths Solicitors in Harrogate and lives in a converted barn which formed the original set for the filming of Emmerdale Farm in the 1970s and early 1980s. Mr Mortimer moved into the property near the village of Leathley in September last year and had no idea the property was plagued by bats. “There were no problems detected by a comprehensive survey or indeed disclosed by the sellers of the property,” says Jonathan. However, since late spring, he has been attempting to live with approximately 300 bats which have created a roost in the roof and adopted the property as their own.
Jonathan Mortimer says, “I have lived in the countryside for many years and am familiar with having to share the house with the odd field mouse but this is something much more serious. Once night falls, there is a lot of scratching, flapping and screeching noise. Having stood outside and watched the roof for some time, it was clear that there were numerous roosts of bats along the full length of the property. I have counted up to 300 bats leaving the roosts at dusk in just 30 minutes which is greater than the number of residents living in the village of Leathley and its surrounding fields”.
Bats frequently roost in garages, out-buildings and roof voids. However, Jonathan Mortimer’s property is open to the eves and the rafters on the entirety of the first floor so that the bats, which are only a matter of inches away from the living space, are creating havoc. He says that the first floor of his property is effectively uninhabitable: “The noise during the night is so disturbing that we have given up sleeping in the main bedroom. We even tried sleeping with ear plugs but that did not help. We cannot sleep with the windows open as the bats fly in. They even find their way into the bedrooms via the smallest cracks. The final straw was a bat making a landing on the duvet in the middle of the night! I usually end up sleeping downstairs on the settee attempting to catch some sleep where I can.”
The decor of the house is being spoilt by droppings which have started to stain the ceiling and is also causing a smell. Bats have been a protected species for many years and it is a criminal offence intentionally to disturb a bat in its roost and the fine can be as high as £5,000 per bat or per incidence. Jonathan has attempted to seek help from both the Bat Preservation Trust and Natural England to get the bats removed by obtaining a licence. However, four weeks on and no indication has been received from the authorities that the bats can be removed.
“Unless I get help with this problem I appear to have no choice other than to hand the keys over to the bats as it would seem that they have more rights to the property than I do. What frustrates me is that laws have been put in place with a right to seek permission to force the bats out but neither the Bat Preservation Trust or Natural England have the resources to deal with the problem with any sense of urgency or at all. Proper resources must be made available to deal with these situations and not merely be left to unpaid volunteers. I just want to live undisturbed in my own home”.
Jonathan Mortimer is calling for the law in this area to be reviewed and potentially relaxed. This is on the basis that the restrictions have been in place for many years and yet there seem to be few comprehensive surveys of bat numbers to make sure that the restrictions imposed are proportionate. Indeed, what information is available from the National Bat Monitoring Programme suggests that the bat population is stable and has increased substantially for at least seven species of bats.
Mr Mortimer goes so far as to question the entirety of the conservation project:
“It seems to me that the approach to preservation is completely illogical. Bats naturally live in caves, trees and hedgerows not houses. We have reached the point where an unnatural habitat for bats is given preference to my human habitat and that cannot be right”.
Jonathan Mortimer who has practised as a lawyer since 1994 says that he has many clients with rural properties that have been effected by bats in a similar way. He is setting up a campaign for a change to the preservation laws and would be interested to hear from anyone who knows where bats are roosting so that he can attempt to estimate the number of roosts in the Harrogate area and understand the problems people may be experiencing.