Diversity and abundance for visitors to explore

Author: Peter Nicholls

Published on: 12 June 2019

The churchyard of All Saints, Hethel, is a remnant of the ancient meadows, flower-rich grasslands, which were once widespread but are now disappearing at an alarming rate due to development, overgrazing, ploughing or by herbicide and fertiliser usage.

Although the prime purpose of a churchyard is not wildlife conservation, efforts to conserve the habitat are very worthwhile and much can be achieved. Hethel churchyard is kept as a Conservation Area (while allowing relatives to keep areas of recent graves short, if they wish). The grassland management is aimed at maintaining and enhancing the churchyard’s wildflower diversity and abundance, while a central path and mown swathe allow visitors to explore, look for invertebrates and see the smaller, sometimes overlooked plants.

If the grass was mown regularly, delicate wildflowers could not survive, so the churchyard is mown in the manner of a traditional hay meadow: once a year at the end of summer. The cuttings are raked off to maintain the nutrient-poor environment preferred by wildflowers and to discourage coarser grasses and plants such as nettles and hogweed. Herbage removal also prevents early flowering species from being suppressed by a mat of dead grass from the previous year.

Wymondham Nature Group (WyNG) are enthusiastic partners in the management of the churchyard. Fuelled by tea and cakes, WyNG and church volunteers spend several afternoons each August raking and carting. Over 25 years, this regime has facilitated an increase in the number of pyramidal orchids from around six to over four hundred, indicating what can be achieved on a local scale to promote biodiversity. In recognition, the church won the churchyards category of the Norfolk Community Biodiversity Awards in 2014. With the help of Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s designer and the generosity of a parishioner, the PCC has just installed an interpretation board to help visitors identify flowers and other wildlife and to learn about the scheme and its benefits.

The quiet location of the church makes it and the churchyard a place of peace and contemplation, enjoyed by occasional and regular visitors alike, with the additional benefit of a magnificent array of flowers, lichens, butterflies and other wildlife and the promotion of biodiversity.

The author...

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Peter Nicholls

Churchwarden, Hethel (Parish)

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