A CHURCH which has been closed for several months due to an infestation of bats is to reopen on Sunday to celebrate advent and Christmas.

St Hilda’s Church in Ellerburn was forced to shut in August, after 1,000 years of almost uninterrupted worship, after a plague of bats had caused significant damage to the interior.

Following a lengthy campaign by church representatives, Natural England granted a licence to block up some of the access points which the bats have been using to colonise the body of the church.

While there will be ongoing monitoring of any bat activity in the church itself, many hundreds of bats will continue to live in the roof only.

Liz Cowley said they had been forced to suspend services inside St Hilda’s and the congregation had even resorted to holding an outdoor service for harvest festival.

“The walls and floors were covered with bat droppings and they were even on the altar,” she said.

“Bat urine was sprayed throughout the church so that nearly all the woodwork within the church was damaged and pools of urine were found next to the lectern.

“The smell was atrocious and some of our helpers had even become seriously ill as a result of coming into contact with the bat waste.”

Liz said that a major clean-up operation running into thousands of pounds had taken place to ensure that the church can be used by the public once again.

It took a specialist team of five people two days to complete a deep clean of surfaces while wearing bio-hazard suits, masks and goggles to remove all the waste left behind by the bats.

“The clean-up gathered 13kg of bat droppings which will be incinerated in a controlled environment,”

she said. “My team of dedicated volunteers then followed on to polish wood and scrub stone and further work will be required to restore the church to its former glory next summer.”

Solicitor Jonathan Mortimer said bats were a protected species in accordance with the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 which makes it an offence to take any steps to disturb a bat roost without a licence.

“I am pleased that after many years of campaigning by representatives of the church that it has finally been possible to obtain a licence from the authorities and save the church both for the local community and as an important part of our heritage,” he said.

“We must all keep our fingers crossed that the limited licence issued by Natural England will be sufficient next spring when the bats return in greater numbers.”

Ashley Burgess, a representative for the Parochial Church Council, said: “I am thrilled that St Hilda’s Church will be open for the important Christian festival of Christmas.”

St Hilda’s Church is now preparing to re-open its doors on Sunday at 3pm.

There will also be carols by candlelight on Wednesday, December 21, at 6.30pm.