Churches Count on Nature

Count for Nature in the churchyard on 11 June 2021

This activity was part of the 'Love Your Burial Ground' week, from Saturday 5th June - Sunday 13th June 2021, organised by the Caring for God's Acre organisation.

From 10 in the morning until late afternoon, people visited the churchyard to record the wildlife of different kinds.  There were 2 options: sitting in a part of the churchyard for 15 minutes and noting everything seen and heard or closely examining a 1 m x 1 m square of ground and recording plants and animals observed.  Reference books were available in the porch to help with identification.
Some of the grasses were hard to identify easily so early in the season as distinguishing features, such as the shape of seed-bearing parts, had not yet developed.  Many people could recognise couch grass from battles with it in their gardens!

The Walters family had a great time when they participated after Smiley Faces and school.

A simple frame of string and bamboo canes (which is just visible in the long grass in the bottom left of this picture) was used to mark out the 1 m square area for observation.  This particular observation was made on the west side of the churchyard.

The picture below shows an observation in progress on the south side (with the `bug hotel’ attached to the wall just visible in the top left). 

Although the south side was in joint second place for diversity of plants overall, the plant variation in this location - near to the boundary wall and in the shade of a tree - is somewhat sparse.   This illustrates that the lushness of growth and the diversity of plants depend on many other factors as well as just orientation (for the amount of sunlight). 

Small, Victorian churches like St Mary’s are generally taller, relative to their length and breadth, than similar-sized mediaeval churches so cast more shadow – perhaps leading to an increase in shade-preferring plants. The positioning and extent of a churchyard around the church building itself (traditionally an approximate rectangle orientated on an E–W axis) will result in different amounts of light and shade during the day on the various sides, as the ground falls into the shade caused by the building itself, and this will vary between churchyards, even in similar geographical locations. 

This variety is one of the reasons why studying wildlife in churchyards, which are predominantly loved and valued spaces in their communities, can be so profitable an exercise for knowledge and conservation.  This is in marked contrast to traditional, municipal parks where the emphasis has been on large `lawned’ areas with borders of cultivated plants.  Fortunately for wildlife, a more accepting attitude is building among the public for creating wilder spaces within cultivated areas.

The pictures below show some varieties of plants which were recorded visually during the Count: mushrooms in the grass, ivy growing on the boundary wall, wild garlic in the grass and a member of the Scilla family (exact variety undetermined).

 

 

 

The Count was organised by St Mary’s Eco-group, augmented by the vicar, Revd Canon Marion Russell, churchwarden Liz Roodhouse and Sue, Tony and Jennifer Stearn who kindly undertook the task of analysing and presenting all the results (on top of their regular sterling work of maintaining the churchyard and delving into the history of its graves).  The Eco-group has guided the church members through the awarding, in autumn 2020, of the Eco-Church Silver award and is now leading the work towards the Gold award.

The table below shows the total number of varieties counted from 14 forms. It lso shows the number of forms completed for each side of the churchyard.

Forms: 10 x metre square, 4 x sitting on bench.

These results are a very, very rough indicator of number of species and must not be taken in isolation.

The results show that the west side has less variety, which one would expect as there is a lot of tree cover and less light than the rest of the churchyard.

 

Count on Nature results from 14 forms on 11.06.2021

 

South x 3

North x 3

East x 6

West x 2

Birds

0

5

7

2

Wild Flowers/plants

20

20

43

6

Insects/invertebrates

5

7

4

2

Trees

0

6

5

3

Butterflies

0

0

0

1

Grasses

9

12

12

6

Fungi/lichens

1

1

4

1

Traces of animals

2

1

2

0

Summary:

1) It was an enjoyable day

2) Adults and children were keen to identify what they found; this results in it meaning more to them, learning new things etc

3) There was a variety of plants/flowers

4) Grasses – more identification training is needed as differentiation is difficult at this time of year (as you often need to see them in flower to distinguish them)

5) Recommendations for future events/counting nature – survey at a different time of year to get a fuller understanding of what biodiversity we have in the churchyard; have pre-formed, rigid metre squares to facilitate and speed up this aspect of observation; when possible, encourage wider age range of observers eg by school involvement.