Flourishing churchyard wildlife

Author: Rebecca Evans

Published on: 15 December 2021

A heartening wealth of wildlife records have flowed into Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT) this year, not just because more people are out and about enjoying the nature on their local patch, but also because typically shy wildlife is making tentative steps into our temporarily unoccupied spaces. One of the positives of the gloomy situation we found ourselves in.

One of the most fruitful places to spot wildlife without travelling too far from home is your local churchyard. NWT recognises the ecological value of churchyards and in conjunction with the Diocese of Norwich, set up the Churchyard Conservation Scheme, almost 40 years ago. Over that time, we have surveyed around half the medieval churchyards in Norfolk and provided advice on how these precious patches can be sympathetically managed with wildlife in mind, whilst ensuring they continue to fulfil their primary function as a places of rest and reflection.

The scheme has enabled us and our dedicated volunteers to bear witness to the often astounding diversity of species that inhabit or pass through our churchyards, as well as observe an encouraging increase in both abundance and diversity at sites where caring and enthusiastic groups and individuals continue to make space for their local wildlife. One such example is All Saints, Hethel in south Norfolk. Adopted into the scheme around 1990, and expertly managed by Wymondham Nature Group, a spring-summer visit to this special churchyard will reward you with many notable wildflower species that are now a rare site in the surrounding countryside, such as meadow saxifrage, pignut, Lady’s bedstraw and field scabious, as well as an abundance of pollinators and other notable invertebrates. The real jewel however are the pyramidal orchids – a handful were found here in the 1990s, but thanks to dedicated management, have increased year on year, with this year’s count well over 700! A true conservation success story.

Other churchyards with enviable displays of wildflowers include St Mary’s, Wroxham; All Saints, Wood Norton; All Saints, Old Buckenham; and The Rosary cemetery in Norwich amongst others. We have information on visiting a selection of the churchyards in our scheme at the following page on our website: www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk/wildlife-in-norfolk/churchyards

It is not just wildflowers however that find a haven in Norfolk churchyards, their history of low intensity management and diversity of habitat (grassland, veteran trees, stonework, scrubby corners, hedgerows etc.) can support whole suites of species, including birds, invertebrates, ferns, lichens, reptiles, amphibians, fungi and small mammals. We encourage you to explore your local churchyard (when restrictions allow) and submit your wildlife records to us at jvyq@abesbyxjvyqyvsrgehfg.bet.hx

The scheme was understandably put on hold last year but we are excited to re-start surveys for a bumper year in 2021. If your local church is interested in having a survey or becoming part of the scheme we will be happy to add you to the list for 2022. Please email puhepulneqf@abesbyxjvyqyvsrgehfg.bet.hx for further information.

The author...

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Rebecca Evans

Assistant Conservation Officer

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