Bats have probably been in the attics of Oxburgh Hall for centuries. But how can they return for a good day’s sleep when the National Trust puts new and unfamiliar tiles on the roof?
The trust on Thursday revealed the lengths to which it has gone to keep the bat residents of a historic manor house in Norfolk happy during a £6m reroofing project – including specially adapted tiles which they can happily scoot up.
A temporary bat hotel has also been set up and 32 new bat openings have been created. David White, the National Trust project manager, said it had been a joy – and not a headache – to adapt normal working practices for the bats of Oxburgh Hall.
“They have not been a problem,” he said. “We’re very keen to support the bat population not just at Oxburgh but at all of the trust’s historic houses.”
The roofing project is one of the biggest for the trust in the region and was triggered after a 150-year-old dormer window slid off the roof in 2016, crashing into the courtyard.
Investigations revealed there were big problems which needed fixing. “We found we had issues with the underlying timber roofscape and the project grew and grew as we continued to pull that thread,” said White.
Work began in 2019 and is nearing completion. Protecting the bats which roost in the roof was a priority. “We were keen to work around them and make sure we were rebuilding the roof with the bats in mind.”
About 14,000 new black glazed tiles are being used on the roof but it soon became apparent that the tiles were too slippery for bats. The solution was to coat some of the tiles with paint mixed with sand of different sizes, giving them a rough surface.
Tests were carried out to see if the bats could get a grip with their tiny claws. Videos of bats sliding down some tiles and belting up others, posted on Facebook, proved strikingly popular.
Surveys found that six bat species fly close to the house but it is brown long-eared, common pipistrelle and soprano pipistrelle bats which roost in the building. The brown long-eared bats use attics and roof spaces, and all three species use crevices under roof tiles, ridge tiles and lead flashing.
While the work has gone on a temporary bat roost has been created in a bell tower in the garden. Normally visitors would be encouraged to ring the bell to speak to a gardener but the bell has been disabled so as not to disturb the bats. Bat boxes have also been installed in trees.
Oxburgh Hall was built by Sir Edmund Bedingfeld in the late 15th century and it remains the family home.
The Bedingfelds were once rising stars at the Tudor royal court but they were also devoutly Catholic and were ostracised and persecuted as a result.
White said it had been a privilege to be part of the project and being able to help biodiversity in the area was an extra pleasure. “It has been a bit different to dealing with the day-to-day, in-and-out repairs which can be our bread and butter. It has been another dimension … bats are quite cute, really.”