Churchyard Nature Note with Kate Williams

June 2016

The Living Churchyard and Me


Photo: Dan Murphy

St. Illogan churchyard is a treasure. It has history, it is part of our heritage, it’s big (about 5 acres) and it is home to plenty of wildlife. Being an avid bird watcher, I love to wander through the churchyard looking for and listening to the birds who make it their home. The Jackdaws with their distinctive “Jack!” call and their determination to bring more and more sticks to their nests and then end up discarding them at the foot of the tower. The Song Thrushes dashing about under the bushes and hedges looking for snails and the Wrens with their trilling extended song – quite amazing for such a small bird.

Whilst wandering I spot the tiny pink flower heads of Herb Robert, a common weed really but somehow right at home amongst the headstones alongside the blue Forget-me-not, such an appropriate flower amongst the memorials. In a bed of nettles on a sunny day I see a Red Admiral butterfly and in the ivy I find lots of bees, flies and hoverflies, I don’t know their true names but I know that they are good for pollination and food for the birds!

I found out that the churchyard was maintained by volunteers under a scheme called ‘Living Churchyards’. It’s an odd name that should not suggest a vision of the dead rising up but of the dead providing sanctuary for other species whose living space has been reduced by urbanisation.

I decided to volunteer so I turned up on a Thursday morning, shears, secateurs and gardening gloves in hand, was made very welcome and just got stuck in! It’s great exercise and the team are great fun to work with. Lots of people enjoy walking through the churchyard just as I do and everyone stops to chat.

The management consists of keeping grassed areas cut and wild areas wild! But wild life gardening is not just a matter of letting everything grow, most wildflowers like a bit of sunshine so it’s important to keep open spaces, not shaded out by trees and taller plants, to let the little guys grow. The brambles, bracken and hogweed can soon overpower everything else if it’s not cut occasionally. Butterfly caterpillars love nettles, ivy, holly, lady’s-smock and garlic mustard so we try to leave these plants. We all love Primrose and Celandine, Bluebells and Cowslips and this spring there have been plenty of these.

Recently I have been trying to keep a log of the plants, birds and insects we see on a Thursday. The birds and butterflies I can identify and some of the wildflowers but for much of what we see I have to resort to getting a book out and even then I don’t always work it out! I will just have to keep trying.

Another thing I have learned is that a ‘Living Churchyard’ needs to be managed for people as well as wildlife and we make sure that there are paths cut so that everyone can access the wild areas as well as the more manicured parts.

We are always looking for new volunteers especially through the summer when the grass needs cutting every week so if you fancy pushing a mower round or cutting back the unwanted weeds why not pop along on a Thursday morning. Bring some gardening gloves, tea and biscuits provided!

Kate Williams

Volunteering: Doing more than you have to because you want to, in a cause you consider good.

Photos are by Kate Williams