Churchyard Management Plan
The churchyard – God’s acre – can become a sanctuary for the living as well as the dead, with an abundance and diversity of indigenous and naturalized wildlife. We are proposing this year to explore ways in which to manage the churchyard that are sympathetic to the natural habitat and ecology of native plants and animals.
This can be achieved by designating some parts as ‘meadow areas’, which are mown less frequently in order to allow wild flowers to grow and set seed, and other parts as permanent close-mown grass. When defining these areas, it is important to bear in mind that the churchyard should be
• A pleasant, reflective place for congregation and visitors
• A fit and proper setting for the church
• An environment in keeping with the purpose of burial and memorials to those who have been cremated, with an atmosphere of respect and commemoration for the departed
• A haven for grasses, wild flowers, trees, birds, butterflies and other wild creatures.
• Ideally, there should be a survey of species present in the intended ‘meadow areas’ in order to design the optimum mowing plan. However, a botanist who has visited the churchyard has pointed out that, because the grass has been mown so short everywhere, there are very few species of wild flowers evident. This may be because they have been cut down by the mowing. A small number of species has nevertheless been identified.
In order to determine the best way to achieve this, we propose to set up two ‘meadow areas’ to investigate the success of two different management plans, which if appropriate can be extended to a wider area. The two areas will both be in the open grass in the South East of the churchyard, and will not enclose any gravestones or other memorials. One area will be left to develop ‘as is’, the other will first be stripped of topsoil so as to reduce its fertility and hopefully allow the less vigorous plants to grow without being swamped by the more vigorous grasses.
The meadow areas will be left uncut until the end of September in the first year, in order to allow any wild flowers to bloom and set seed. The cuttings will then be removed. There will be a further cut at the end of October, again with removal of cuttings. This is important to reduce the fertility of the soil and encourage a greater diversity of wild flowers.
Other areas of the churchyard will be mown as at present, cutting regularly and closely.
There will be a further survey of the flowers in the meadow areas at the end of the first season, to determine whether the mowing pattern should be developed in the light of the species then present. It is hoped that parishioners of all ages might wish to become involved in surveys throughout the year.
If anyone has any questions or comments on what is being done, I will be happy to answer any questions and to provide further detail as required.
In April, the first month in which we’ve developed Meadow Areas in the churchyard, what has appeared so far?
At first glance there is what seems to be a lot of grass with dark coloured heads covering the ground. This is in fact not a grass but Meadow Woodrush. As you look closer, you will notice the upright blue spikes of Bugle, an important nectar source at this time of year when not much else is in flower. Deeper down in the grass are the flowers of Germander Speedwell, sky-blue with a white eye. Neither of these are showy plants, but then we’re not making a herbaceous border: insects find their food plants by smell as well as by sight and they will find them very easily.
Growing under some shady trees are the leaves and white flowers of Wild Strawberry, which later in the summer will bear their bright red fruits. And deeper in the shade are the shy yellow flowers of Sleeping Beauty. A relation of Wood-sorrel, this is not a native plant but was introduced in the 17th century: its origin is not known. Normally it starts to flower in June, but the warm weather in April has brought it on early this year. Another early bloomer is Mouse-ear-hawkweed. A member of the daisy family, it has bright yellow flowers on long stems. The leaves are white-felted below and green with scattered stiff long white hairs above: this and their size and shape give the plant its name. Close to the door of the church, there are patches of red clover, its pink-purple stipules full of sweet nectar.
Next month: An Orgy of Oxeyes. What other plants can you find in the grass, and what insects have you seen visiting them? Let me know!
Yes! The project now has a name. As the summer progresses, more and different plants and insects are appearing to show their appreciation of the area that has been set aside for them.
Much of the beauty of wildlife is apparent as you look closely. There are many yellow flowers in the grass which on first sight look like so many dandelions, but look carefully and you will see how different they all are, each with its own special appeal. Potentilla, buttercup, lesser yellow trefoil and coltsfoot are all there.
The oxeye daisies make a magnificent splash for those unwilling or unable to get down on hands and knees. It’s not just the open blooms that are so splendid: examine the buds and you’ll see the intricate lattice pattern that appears before the flower unfolds.
Mouse-eared hawkweed looks yellow when the bloom has opened, but underneath the bud you’ll find red stripes as cheerful as the awning on a circus tent. Common sorrel has a brownish haze from a distance, but come in closer to find the loose whorls of tiny, vivid magenta flowers opening along the stem.
As the air warms up, and more flowers appear, so do the insects that come to take advantage of this feast. The large, round furry bumble bees are joined by the smaller hoverflies and of course the honeybees – perhaps from a local hive who will sell Fletching honey, so that we all have the chance to share in the bounty of this secret store of treasure.