IT was one of the scariest moments of my life.
I pulled down the loft ladder and something fell on my head. It lay on the floor: small, leathery and ugly. A dead bat.
A huge number swirled outside every evening so, at dusk, I went to check, sure enough, from three crevices under the gutter emerged hundreds of bats, flitting through the treetops like some strange school of waterless flying fish.
Up in the loft, the smell was putrid; stifling even. I have mild asthma but had noticed it worsening since last May. Now I knew why. In one corner was a mass of bats, resembling an enormous, hairy sombrero; an image I cannot erase.
We live in a part of town that is more like the countryside. Our cottage is small, in a graveyard and we believe the bats were on their way to the church, as usual, when something went wrong with their built-in sat-nav.
Now, I do not like bats. Once I was visiting a friend in the heart of the English countryside when I heard a rustling noise from the corner of the bedroom. I tried to conjure up harmless, Beatrix Potter type images of vermin in pretty pink gingham bonnets and brewing cups of tea over a warm stove.
Bravely, I switched on the bedside light. Out of the darkness swooped a winged creature from hell - an open-mouthed, hairy beast with pointed teeth, sticking out ears, horrid little clutching claws and flapping wings. A bat.
Why do we protect them? They seem to be as common as the muck they produce. Swallows, for example, are rare yet no one protects them.
This time around, I was more motivated by asthma than fear. As my wheezing worsened, I would, quite happily, have blown the roost's tiny brains out. But these horrid creatures are protected by law. Bats have more rights than humans. You can apply for a licence to exclude them if you are phobic, allergic or planning building work.
Friends kept advising us to just "get rid of them" but we didn't relish a £5000 fine or court appearance. We chose the official route and only just had the bats excluded this week, five months down the line.
The hoops we had to jump through began with a bat worker who spent two hours outside, counting the bats with her batometer. By 462, she had a sore thumb and was still counting. She then filed a report which took several weeks and revealed we had a large soprano pipistrelle bat maternity roost.
By this stage, I could barely speak and was given a doctor's letter saying my asthma was now chronic as a result of the mass of bat droppings above our bedroom. Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) said we could apply for a licence to have the bats excluded. Another month passed.
When I complained about the delay, we discovered a Catch-22. We were told we had put October on the form for exclusion but had only done so because the bat police told us to wait until the precious creatures had all left - usually the end of September.
While SNH staff were always helpful, their rules are an absolute minefield, the advice a tad sanctimonious and the procedure, painfully slow.
Next we had to call in a member of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management and we had to pay. The first time he came "to assess bat activity", the weather was unsuitable. Ideally, it had to be no cooler than 10°C, with no wind, only a light breeze, and no rainfall. Yet again, we had to wait.
On his second visit, he sat for two hours checking for bat activity. Convinced they had gone, he fitted one-way excluders to stop further bats entering, but, importantly, allow any stragglers in the loft to leave. He also ripped up our befouled insulation which, by the way, we now have to replace, and took away heaps of stinking bat droppings.
Before you lambast me for being a bat hater, remember that most of us are afraid of something. How would you feel, if, for example,1000 spiders or snakes, protected by some idiotic and arbitrary rule, suddenly invaded your space?
As for their droppings, don't get me started.
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.