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Bats and bees in the belfry cause cleaning chaos at Cambridgeshire church





A church that has been host to a swarm of bees, a wasp infestation, two kinds of bats and an escaped horse is searching for a volunteer cleaner.

The two women who help with cleaning at St Andrew’s in Witchford have been sweeping up bat droppings and, until recently, dead bees from the pews before services.

A bat survey has found pipistrelles in the nave and long-eared brown bats in the belfry.

Pest controller Ian Huggett removing bees from St Andrew's Church
Pest controller Ian Huggett removing bees from St Andrew's Church

And the church has had to call in a pest controller to rehome humanely the bees that had been disrupting church services by swarming in the nave.

Now, churchwarden Rosemary Westwell is hoping another volunteer will come forward on Fridays to cope with the mess left by the visiting wildlife.

Rosemary said: “The ladies who clean really could do with a helping hand to clear up as there are still lots of bat droppings in the church of two different kinds so we clearly have more than one type of bat.

Ian Huggett removing bees at St Andrew's Church
Ian Huggett removing bees at St Andrew's Church

“We had also been noticing dead bees on the pews for quite a while. Once every five weeks I lead a service in the church where I read prayers and during a recent one a large swarm of bees appeared around a light fitting. The congregation didn’t seem too worried but it did affect me as they were getting louder and louder as I spoke. I was really worried that they sounded angry and would swoop down, but luckily they didn’t. They suddenly disappeared into a hole in the roof and didn’t come near anyone. But after that we knew we had to get someone to safely remove the bees.”

They called in pest controller and master molecatcher Ian Huggett, who uses a special vacuum to gently remove bees and then release them in an area, around 40 miles away, where they can safely build a new hive.

For years, bees have been building a hive underneath the roof at St Andrew’s, but they had not caused a nuisance until this year.

At St Andrew's with bat droppings are Elaine Dennis and Sue Thaxter
At St Andrew's with bat droppings are Elaine Dennis and Sue Thaxter

Ian said: “I put up some scaffolding and took up some of the roof tiles to reach the hive. I was planning to remove the bees but sadly the hive had been attacked by wasps and so many of the bees were dead. I managed to remove about 200 bees and then came back to deal with the wasp infestation. The church should be fine now.”

This is not the first time the church has had unexpected animal visits, as Rosemary recalled: “Once we had to chase away a horse from the graveyard just before a funeral. It had got in through the gate while one of the gravediggers brought in his machinery and had been attracted to the churchyard because we had decided to do some rewilding and there was lots of long, lush green grass about. Luckily, the grave digger had some experience with horses and was able to push it back out through the gate, but the horse didn’t want to leave.”

Removing bees at St Andrew's Church
Removing bees at St Andrew's Church

Now the congregation is settling back into cohabiting with just the bats in the belfry. “We’re happy to have them,” says Rosemary. “But they do leave a bit of a mess”.

To volunteer for cleaning shifts at the church, email rjwestwell@hotmail.com.



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