‘If there’s one thing that will completely scupper the project,’ sighed my colleague, ‘it will be bats.’
These were the wise words of a veteran project manager advising me on what to expect with Lincoln Cathedral Connected. I’d heard all the horror stories: the capital programme brought to a grinding halt for months by a solitary hibernating pipistrelle; police intervention at the perceived infringement of a European Protected Species Licence; the historic property with an established bat colony battling against the damage caused by their droppings.
All in all, I was left in no doubt that bats are a programme manager’s worst nightmare.
Therefore it was with fear and trepidation that I met with Kayleigh Fawcett of Aecom on a hot and sunny August day to assess the Old Deanery’s potential as a bat habitat. Conversion of this building into the cathedral’s new visitor facilities will impact greatly on any resident wildlife, so this initial survey aims to gauge the provision of roosting opportunities for bats in the building and the availability of foraging habitats in the surrounding landscape.
Kayleigh starts by familiarising herself with the site and the outside of the Old Deanery. She explains bats prefer a warm environment and asks whether the building is occupied. Whilst the Old Deanery is watertight and in reasonable condition, there are various nooks and crannies which could give access to the roof cavity; I can’t help but be impressed when Kayleigh explains a pipistrelle can squeeze itself through a hole the same diameter as my little finger. A more thorough scout around the premises reveals some bat droppings, which I’m reassured to learn are ‘quite old’.
Then a thermal imaging camera is set up to check that it gives coverage of the entire building; this will be necessary during the follow up surveys. The first will be a dusk survey, with ‘watchers’ stationed at strategic positions and the thermal camera set to capture any bat action. ‘We may also have to conduct a dawn survey’ says Kayleigh with a slight frown. ‘That’s a little more taxing, as we have to be on site two hours before dawn.’
‘But that means a 3.30am start!’ I splutter. However, Kayleigh reassures me that it is actually a lot of fun and a large volume of hot chocolate is involved.
And in spite of my misgivings about the impact bats could have on the project timetable, budget and my sanity, I can’t help but feel a little excited at the prospect of seeing them flit against the backdrop of the cathedral, as the city sleeps soundly around us.