Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Race against time to protect rare bat colony as jackdaws damage roof of Paston Great Barn


It has stood sentinel on the north Norfolk coast for 431 years, as war, revolution, famine and flood raged around it.
It has survived storms, snow, heatwaves and droughts - and looked disdainfully down the road as the industrial encampment of Bacton gas terminal set up home hundreds of yards away.
But Paston Great Barn is now battling a humble yet cunning foe - the jackdaw.
The wily birds have been stripping the thatch from the roof of the 16th century barn, opening up a hole and threatening the UK’s only indoor-roosting colony of the rare barbastelle bat.
Now an emergency team has been drafted in to repair the breach and put right the damage before the bats fly in to give birth to their tiny babies in the next few days.
The race against time has been triggered by a concerted assault by the jackdaws on the roof of the towering barn, which is leased from North Norfolk Historic Buildings Trust by Natural England in order to protect the bats, which were discovered there in 1996.
Malcolm Crowder, surveyor and secretary at the trust, said: “The need for repair has been caused by jackdaws which were perching on the buttresses and pulling out reed on the edges.
“They created a hole further up the slope of the roof, which caused the reed to slide. Natural England has got a team in to get the repairs done.
“They are stabilising the hatch and putting netting over it to stop the jackdaws getting at it again.”
Mr Crowder said the birds were “clever little beggars”, and added: “The barn is a roosting place for a rare colony of barbastelle bats. They come into the barn about April and give birth to their young.
“The thatchers had to move quickly to be in time for that.”
He said the damage started last year, but at the time the jackdaws were going around the edges of the roof. It was only when they moved up the slope that the problem became time-sensitive.
The repair work started a week ago with the erection of scaffolding around the barn, and the thatchers are expected to have finished this week.
Mr Crowder said: “It’s essential to continue to protect the building and also to get the work done in time to allow the rare colony to come back and breed again.
“Also, when it is done it will look smarter.”
The barn, which was built by William Paston in 1581, is 164ft long and is one of the largest in Norfolk.
It is believed that some of the stone for the barn was taken from Bromholm Priory, while it was used not only for agricultural purposes but also for village gatherings.


By STEVE DOWNES

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