| Bats: they've never had it so good|
|It's easy for us townies to forget how difficult life can be in the countryside. For example, take bats. They are now residing in churches up and down the land, and, thanks to EU laws, they have protected status.|
Are they grateful for these warm, cosy homes with nobody about to evict them? No, they appear not to be. Instead, they poop and pee all over the altars and communion tables. They are a bit like those squatters who wreck the homes they live in before the owners can get an order to evict them. And getting an order is not cheap.
According to Sir Tony Baldry, the MP who represents the Church Commissioners in parliament, it can cost £29,000 in legal fees to get the bats evicted. Churches cannot raise the money for "bat litigation", he added. ("Holy Moses, Robin, time to contact the Bat Barrister!")
One church in Yorkshire has already spent that amount, and the bats are still roosting there. I imagine most congregations would need around a century's worth of Sunday collections to raise the sums required.
And the problem is increasing. Word has got out in the bat community that anything with a steeple can provide a snug pad for as long as it takes the congregation to raise the 29 grand.
I half expected a Tory backbencher to blame it all on the entry of Transylvania into the EU. "They flood in here, taking over our churches, using our free veterinary services, sucking the blood of our young maidens …"
As Sir Tony pointed out, "churches are not field barns; they are places of worship!" Fat lot the bats care. But they may not have the last laugh, or squeak.
There is an institution called the Bats, Churches and Communities Pilot Project. It brings together the Bat Conservation Trust and the Church Buildings Council. But talks have stalled. The two groups cannot agree. It sounds like a case for the two superheroes, Batman and Churchman, to slug it out – preferably on a church roof somewhere.
Earlier, we had the usual feast of jargon that attends all Defra question times. Most of it would defeat the poor chap who provides the Archers with information about agriculture.
"Thirty per cent of the new pillar 1 will depend on greening!" announced Owen Paterson, the Defra minister.
Can anyone figure out what that is supposed to mean?
But I was delighted to hear from Mr Stephen Hepburn, the Labour MP for Jarrow, who has brought a whiff of the old class war back into the Commons.
"Now that this government of millionaires for millionaires have waged war against the poor people of this country by driving down their incomes and pushing the cost of fuel through the roof, what will the minister do about food prices, which are increasing three times faster than pay packets?" Mr Hepburn asked.
There is nothing New Labour about Mr Hepburn. He is as old Labour as a lovingly stitched and stained Durham miners' banner.
David Heath, the Liberal Democrat agriculture minister, could only reply feebly: "It will come as a surprise to my wife that I am a millionaire."