Norfolk church roof collapse blamed on deathwatch beetle

Beam on floor Image copyright James Woodhouse
Image caption The beam fell on to the altar overnight at St Mary's Church in Wiveton

Wood-boring beetles have been blamed for the collapse of a medieval church's roof, forcing the building to close.

A wooden beam fell on to the altar at the 15th Century St Mary's Church in Wiveton, north Norfolk, where surveys will now be carried out.

Rev Richard Lawry said deathwatch beetles were "certainly involved".

"We were very grateful that this was during the night and no-one was there. It could have been very different," he added.

He said the church was investigating the cause and "how extensive the problem might be because the deathwatch beetle is certainly involved".

The beam fell at the east end of the chancel on 10 August and the damage was discovered the following morning by a cleaner.

The chancel was built about 100 years before the main nave in the church, so church leaders hope the problem may be contained.

What is a deathwatch beetle?

  • The deathwatch beetle gets its name from the tapping sound it makes as a nocturnal mating call, which was traditionally heard loudest during overnight vigils kept beside the dying or the dead
  • The tapping is traditionally considered bad luck, forewarning tragedy in a household
  • Larvae of the beetle live in dead wood in old trees and buildings
  • Their tunnelling in wood can cause major damage

Source: Wildlife Trusts

Stephen de Loynes, the church's fabric officer who is responsible for the state of the building, said it was important for action to be taken quickly.

"We don't want things to deteriorate, and we also want the church open," he said.

"This church is a tremendous asset, it's the jewel in the crown of north Norfolk, or one of them."

Image copyright James Woodhouse
Image caption The beam shows holes suggesting the presence of the deathwatch beetle
Image copyright James Woodhouse
Image caption Surveys will now be carried out to assess the damage to the rest of the church roof

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