Bats hold up Pennoyers project

The chairman of a project team transforming an historic building into a village community centre has told how the discovery of a hibernating bat could have spelled disaster.

The chairman of a project team transforming the historic Pennoyers School at Pulham St Mary into a village community centre has told how the discovery of a hibernating bat could have spelled disaster.

Work had been under way for less than a month when the European brown long-eared bat - a protected species - was found by building contractors snuggled in a niche above the front entrance of the building.

Sheila King, chairman of the Pennoyers Village Centre project, said her team was fortunate that the small creature was not extremely rare, a nursing mother or one of a colony as this could have delayed the project by several months, if not longer.

"Everyone was there, the site architect and the design team, and the builders were taking down the gable wall very gently, brick by brick, so we could re-use them. Suddenly the site manager came across and said: 'We've got a problem - we've found a bat!'" she explained.

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"We'd had a full protected species survey done which said there were not bats, but there it was, fast asleep.

"Three weeks into the project and we had what could spell disaster."

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"Our builders, Blackburns, were super, and huge credit to them for being so responsible.

"They put a tarpaulin over the roost to protect the snoozing bat, and we contacted South Norfolk Council. Their ecologist came out and we had to stop work."

Hibernating bats may be moved by a licensed bat-handler under certain circumstances, although not in the breeding season, and luck was on their side, Mrs King said.

"We were very fortunate it was only a single bat, not a nursing mother and not extremely rare. A bat expert came out later that afternoon and took it away.

"As brown long-eared bats are very territorial, it has been released in Pulham St Mary. There is a risk it might come back into the building, but the chances are it will go to one of its other winter roosts," she added.

Work was only delayed for half a day, and the project to restore the former school and medieval guild chapel is on target for completion in January.

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