June 2011 - The Churchyard

St Mary and St Walstan's in the spring

The term ‘God’s Acre’ is frequently used by naturalists as meaning the churchyard.  Originally ancient meadow land they still retain relics of plants from this habitat. Veteran trees are found in churchyards, our own St. Walstan’s churchyard contains a mature yew tree that has seen many decades. The tombstones and stonework of the churches themselves are a valuable habitat for lichen, mosses and ferns. Indeed about 40 of Norfolk’s 300 or so lichen species are found mainly in churchyards and some are entirely confined to them. Churchyards also play valuable contributions in providing habitat for insects, including bees, moths and butterflies; amphibians, including toads and frogs; reptiles including grass snakes and slow worms; small mammals including field voles and bats; and many species of birds including owls. The primary function of churchyards is to show respect for the dead and thus we lovingly tend the area.  Norfolk Wildlife Trust are working with churches in Norfolk to improve the wildlife within the churchyard whilst maintaining this  primary function of honouring the dead and keeping the churchyard tidy and well kept.



Spring flowers in the Churchyard 

Spring flowers in the Churchyard

In May, I had the privilege to meet the Conservation Officer of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust at St. Walstan's. She has subsequently communicated that there are certain areas within the churchyard exceptionally rich in wild flower species. A full survey of her findings has been issued to the Parochial Church Council and is available for viewing on the notice board in the church porch. On the 12th May I did my own survey and found 25 wild flowers including ox-eye daisies, germander speedwell, cuckoo pint, wood avens, herb robert, ground ivy, sorrel, ribwort plantain, forget-me-not, ransoms, sow thistle, red clover, cow parsley and 3 different species of buttercup. The large compost heap at the back of the churchyard, with management, could be ideal for housing slow worms and small mammals such as voles and be used by hibernating hedgehogs, frogs, toads and reptiles during the winter months. The church tower has a hole in it where earlier this year a blue tit made her nest. Now she has the opportunity of using one of three nest boxes. I have seen several butterflies taking advantage of the nectar rich spring flowers during April and May including brimstones, orange-tips and a common blue. Various species of bees have also been apparent.

Our churchyard is indeed a habitat to be proud of and is available to all who want to take a walk on the wild side.



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