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The Churchyard and its Wildlife

A churchyard is not a nature reserve . . . . . . . Its prime purpose is not the preservation of wildlife. However, there is no doubt that many churchyards are enhanced and made more enjoyable places to visit by the presence of wildflowers and butterflies.

Much of St. Mary's churchyard had become a wilderness of brambles and nettles before the churchyard working party started to transform it some years ago. Brambles and nettles are, in fact, a good habitat for wildlife, but they create an air of neglect and are totally unacceptable when they block up paths and obliterate graves.

View of the Graveyard

One of the aims of the work in the churchyard is to encourage wildlife, but without letting the plants get out of hand. One of the ways this can be done is to allow islands of grass and wild flowers to grow, with mown paths around them. These can be managed like miniature hay meadows, being rough-cut after flowering. This provides ideal conditions for many wild flowers, some of which have appeared in the churchyard naturally and some of which have been introduced. Cutting prevents the grass from swamping the flowers and checks the return of nettles and brambles. Because of these grassy islands we have a number of butterfly species resident in the churchyard: Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers lay their eggs on the grasses: Common Blues use Birds Foot Trefoil. Other Butterflies will visit us from elsewhere to feed on the nectar of the flowers.

Trees and shrubs provide a completely different habitat. A variety of birds are attracted to different nesting sites and food sources. Hips, haws, and elderberries are important food for birds in winter so native trees that produce these are grown. They can be coppiced back when they get too large and bushy young growth provides shelter for birds and small mammals. Another important shelter plant is ivy, the flowers of which give nectar for many insects when there are few other flowers around.

The flowers for the formal parts of the churchyard are, of course, another attraction for insects and birds. The key to success is the variety of habitat that even a small churchyard can support. Trees, bushes, grass and flowers all play their part. It is surprising how many different types of flowers and insects can be spotted in the churchyard during a half-hour stroll on a sunny summer afternoon. It is a very pleasant exercise.

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