A COLONY of bats is refusing to move from a 1,000-year-old Ryedale church, despite alternative accommodation being provided.

But the congregation at St Hilda’s Church, Ellerburn, near Thornton-le-Dale, is determined to continue holding services, said churchwarden Liz Cowley.

The church was closed for several months last year after droppings and urine from the protected creatures made it impossible to hold services.

“We are working closely with Natural England and they paid for the church to be cleaned because we had three weddings and a christening booked,” said Mrs Cowley.

However, hopes of persuading the bats to move house into a specially-built loft at a nearby farm barn and another in the church lychgate, have not resulted in success, she said.

“At the last count there were about 250 bats in the church,” added Mrs Cowley.

While some of the bats had surveyed the special lofts, they decided not to move in permanently and returned to their homes in the church.”

While Natural England provided a cleaning team for the special services to enable regular Sunday services to be held, the 12-strong congregation carries out DIY cleaning.

“We use plastic sheeting to hold the droppings and when we remove it, the smell goes with it,” said Mrs Cowley. “The smell can be horrendous.”

Natural England granted a licence to the church to block up the main entrance but despite that, the breeding colonies which include the natterers bats, have re-established themselves.

The conservation agency says it recognises that the situation has been “extremely frustrating” for the congregation, and will help to resolve the issue.

One service for which the church is anxious to have St Hilda’s looking spick and span is the annual Christmas celebration which attracts a congregation of nearly 100.