Bat Misery for Harrogate Solicitor

31 May 2011

A well-known Harrogate solicitor has spoken out at the misery of living with bats and the need for the conservation laws which protect bats to be reviewed.

Jonathan Mortimer is Head of Dispute Resolution at Raworths Solicitors in Harrogate and lives in a converted barn which formed the original set for the filming of Emmerdale Farm in the 1970s and early 1980s. Mr Mortimer moved into the property near the village of Leathley in September last year and had no idea the property was plagued by bats. “There were no problems detected by a comprehensive survey or indeed disclosed by the sellers of the property,” says Jonathan. However, since late spring, he has been attempting to live with approximately 300 bats which have created a roost in the roof and adopted the property as their own.

Jonathan Mortimer says, “I have lived in the countryside for many years and am familiar with having to share the house with the odd field mouse but this is something much more serious. Once night falls, there is a lot of scratching, flapping and screeching noise. Having stood outside and watched the roof for some time, it was clear that there were numerous roosts of bats along the full length of the property. I have counted up to 300 bats leaving the roosts at dusk in just 30 minutes which is greater than the number of residents living in the village of Leathley and its surrounding fields”.

Bats frequently roost in garages, out-buildings and roof voids. However, Jonathan Mortimer’s property is open to the eves and the rafters on the entirety of the first floor so that the bats, which are only a matter of inches away from the living space, are creating havoc. He says that the first floor of his property is effectively uninhabitable: “The noise during the night is so disturbing that we have given up sleeping in the main bedroom. We even tried sleeping with ear plugs but that did not help. We cannot sleep with the windows open as the bats fly in. They even find their way into the bedrooms via the smallest cracks. The final straw was a bat making a landing on the duvet in the middle of the night! I usually end up sleeping downstairs on the settee attempting to catch some sleep where I can.”

The decor of the house is being spoilt by droppings which have started to stain the ceiling and is also causing a smell. Bats have been a protected species for many years and it is a criminal offence intentionally to disturb a bat in its roost and the fine can be as high as £5,000 per bat or per incidence. Jonathan has attempted to seek help from both the Bat Preservation Trust and Natural England to get the bats removed by obtaining a licence. However, four weeks on and no indication has been received from the authorities that the bats can be removed.

“Unless I get help with this problem I appear to have no choice other than to hand the keys over to the bats as it would seem that they have more rights to the property than I do. What frustrates me is that laws have been put in place with a right to seek permission to force the bats out but neither the Bat Preservation Trust or Natural England have the resources to deal with the problem with any sense of urgency or at all. Proper resources must be made available to deal with these situations and not merely be left to unpaid volunteers. I just want to live undisturbed in my own home”.

Jonathan Mortimer is calling for the law in this area to be reviewed and potentially relaxed. This is on the basis that the restrictions have been in place for many years and yet there seem to be few comprehensive surveys of bat numbers to make sure that the restrictions imposed are proportionate. Indeed, what information is available from the National Bat Monitoring Programme suggests that the bat population is stable and has increased substantially for at least seven species of bats.

Mr Mortimer goes so far as to question the entirety of the conservation project:

“It seems to me that the approach to preservation is completely illogical. Bats naturally live in caves, trees and hedgerows not houses. We have reached the point where an unnatural habitat for bats is given preference to my human habitat and that cannot be right”.

Jonathan Mortimer who has practised as a lawyer since 1994 says that he has many clients with rural properties that have been effected by bats in a similar way. He is setting up a campaign for a change to the preservation laws and would be interested to hear from anyone who knows where bats are roosting so that he can attempt to estimate the number of roosts in the Harrogate area and understand the problems people may be experiencing. Jonathan can be contacted on 01423 566666 or by e-mail:

Jonathan has also recorded a  youtube video:





  1. 1 – As you say – this was a barn not a human space, bats live in barns

    2 – Not enough thought went into the iniotial conversion

    3 – bat and humans can easily live TOGETHER

    4 – 4 weeks not long really, I’ve waited far longer for a reply from a solicitor

    5 – Just because a species has stabilised it’s numbers does not set a precidence to be able to destroy them

  2. I sympathise with the predicament, this is certainly an extreme case, but there are things can be done to improve the situation by working with Natural England and local bat groups. I know this may involve some waiting but I would agree with Tricia that the wait for legal advice is often far longer. And remember that the advice and solutions they offer are free of charge… At the end of the day, the bat roost will have been there far longer than the human occupants and they are just as entitled to call it home. Mr Mortimer would do well to consider that many bat roost owners are proud of their furry housemates and might not take to kindly to a campaign to exclude them…

  3. Having a bat roost in the roof is not unusual. The vast majority of bat roosts known in this country are in buildings, even including modern houses. Bats reliance on buildings is a result of the descration of the natural environment over many years. This includes the felling of old trees which would once have provided many roost sites.

    Bats and their roosts receive protection not just in the UK, but across Europe and further afield. This protection has some connection with the vast declines that bats have previously suffered, but is largely to do with the life cycle of bats. The females of a species gather together in particular places which provide the right conditions to raise their young and return to these places year after year. The loss of these roost sites can therefore affect the population of a species over a wide area.

    Bats mostly use roosts in buildings for a few months in summer, from around May to September. During that time interfering with the roost can cause the mothers to abandon their young which will then die in the roost space. It is therefore essential that nothing is done to disturb the bats till the end of summer.

    Bat protection in the UK relies on a partnership of government agencies and volunteers. Every case is different and must be investigated individually to reach the best solution for the householder and the bats. Volunteers who have dedicated many years to bat conservation visit sites where bats are causing a problem, as they have in this case. They gather information about the bats and the building and propose measures which usually successfully resolve any difficulties. However, there are no instant solutions. Wildlife does not operate according to human timetables.

    Mr Mortimer’s property was converted from a barn about 18 years ago. At that time is was not routine to request bat surveys in advance of such works. If a survey had been carried out then it is likely that the bats would have been detected (they have probably been roosting there far longer than 18 years). Then the conversion could have been designed in a way that would have happily accommodated both bats and humans. Forturnately, these days surveys for planning permission are a normal part of the process so that such problems are minimized.

  4. Coming from a pretty humid climate, the inclusion of a bat roost (or bat house as I call it), has been a real boon for my backyard. While they can be messy creatures, I prefer that my outside environment has fewer insects with bats around.

    I do sympathize with your situation however, it seems that you are dealing with an extreme situation. However, how much different is having a number of bats as compared to an onslaught of tweeting and flapping birds?

    Bat House and the preservation of bats.

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