The Living Churchyard

If you happen to be passing the church in Stanton St. Quintin on a Saturday morning, you may see the happy band of volunteers hard at work in the churchyard.  This group has been managing the plot for over 20 years, meeting once a month from March to November (and twice in July, the busiest growing month). The aim is to provide the best possible habitat for native plants, which in turn encourages a large range of insects and other invertebrates. These are followed by larger animals, such as bats or small mammals like the shrew, who form part of the food chain.

The overall appearance might seem rather haphazard, even overgrown in places, but the area is carefully managed, with some spaces left to grow long.  Other areas are mown and then raked, as most of our wildflowers thrive on a depleted soil.  Grass cuttings are full of nutrients and provide a very useful mulch in a garden, but in the churchyard, this burst of food only encourages some of the less welcome species such as greedy nettles and bramble.

We try hard to make sure that the plants that appear are all native species and if we plant new examples, we buy them from certified growers of native plants.  Some plants, such as ivy and dandelions, are kept in check, in case they out-compete the less vigorous species.  However, they are not removed entirely, as they are food plants for some insects and other wildlife.  

June is our birthday month when we celebrate another successful year of managing the churchyard for wildlife.  The group takes special pleasure this session to enjoy the areas around the church and perhaps a longer break than usual between tasks.  This would be an ideal time to visit and to see what goes on.  It is also time to appreciate the abundance of plant growth and insect activity.  It would be very good if some of the younger members of the community could join us; we have wild-life friendly bug-catchers to scoop up invertebrates and magnifying glasses to observe them up close. Hopefully, there will be plenty to see, including green-backed spiders, lacewings, bees and Speckled Wood and Meadow Brown butterflies.  Celebrations can also include enjoying what we have around us; just to stop and be thankful for God’s gifts.  It doesn’t cost anything and yet leaves you with a great feeling of contentment.  We welcome visitors and always need volunteers to help with the tasks.  Tools and gloves are provided, and it is a great chance to enjoy the fresh air and know that you are helping to maintain a valuable local habitat, when so much of our countryside is being lost. We may even enjoy a cake or two at most of our sessions!  Why not come along and see what is happening in your local churchyard?

For more details, contact Ivan on 01666 873783 or Liz on 01666 837921.

…Liz Cullen

St Giles Living Churchyard Annual Report 2019

Our 22nd year of managing the natural history in the small corner of God’s acre at St Giles has been completed. It has, as always, been an interesting year, especially with the disturbance caused by the re-ordering works; trenches, reclaiming bare patches etc. Caring for God’s Acre is the national body that brings together local living churchyard projects throughout the country; and we are proud to be a member. In Wiltshire, St Giles still provides a benchmark for other groups starting in the county; we have had visits from St Katharine’s in Holt and St James in Southbroom, Devizes, where a Devizes Churches Together movement has started, encouraging the care of its natural history. Also visits from Hilmarton, Bremhill and Marshfield. It is pleasing to know we are part of a larger organisation and locally one of 45 churches in Wiltshire carrying out wildlife management on their sacred land. Following on from this we hope to host the annual seminar on 2020, bringing people to St Giles from all over the county to share our enthusiasm. A date in May will be confirmed soon and a full programme will follow.

We have achieved a well-established meadowland butterfly population, with 5 species completing their life cycle at St Giles. We also have Holly Blue populations on the margins and many vagrant species using the flowers for nectar. The woodland shaded areas under our magnificent Yew trees are flourishing with shade tolerant flowers (Woodruff, Dogs Mercury, Bluebell, Yellow Archangel, Nettle-leaved Bellflower and Pignut). Even the limestone walls are a wonderful habitat for marginal plants. Rusty back fern, Navelwort and Wall Rue have increased. There are also 4 species of Stonecrop and some Maidenhair Spleenwort. This would not be achieved without all the hard work and dedication of our group of volunteers on all the tasks throughout the year. So the biodiversity of this small patch of God’s earth is rich indeed.

We extend many thanks to all our volunteers and wish you and your families a peaceful and enjoyable Christmastime. We will be back on Saturday 21st March and look forward to seeing you then.

…Ivan Randall, Living Churchyard Co-ordinator