Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Radio Interview - May 2012

Back in May 2012 our coordinators took part in a radio interview to publicise the churchyard project at St. Giles. I thought it was high time that I added some photographs from our churchyard from over the past year to the sound and made it available on YouTube.

So, here it is! Enjoy.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Practical Session Report - November

Over the last couple of years our cuttings heap had multiplied to two heaps, so it was time for it to go. We have no use for compost at the churchyard because we don't want to improve the quality of the soil, as it could lead to lower species diversity with certain grasses and plants out competing many other species. Therefore, Ivan arranged for a local farmer to kindly lend us a trailer that we could fill up to be taken away.

There's a foreman on every job and this job was no exception - in this case it's an opportunistic Robin, who would flit back and forth awaiting a chance to get at any worms our removal of the compost heap revealed. I also noticed this spider's web constructed on one of our Yew trees, it looked rather special with the sun shining though.

As the morning progressed the trailer steadily filled up with fallen leaves and old grass cuttings. I think we tend to do this every two years as we have space enough for a couple of compost heaps. I also liked this tomb, brightened with a spattering of Yew berries. As with every churchyard, ours is a special place.

This session marks our last for the year. With the start of the blog and formally submitting our biological records, a lot has happened during our 15th year of conservation at the churchyard, including being mentioned in the Caring for God's Acre newsletter:
Our mention in the Caring for God's Acre June newsletter.
(Click to enlarge)

Here's an overview of some of our activity during the past year:
10 sessions
1 blog
43 blog posts
1 overnight anchorite
100 biological records consisting of 
plants, birds, invertebrates, fungi, and amphibians.
1 fantastic team of volunteers managing this churchyard for the benefit of wildlife.

So, while it may seem a tad early, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Hopefully see you next year at one of our sessions. The dates can be see to the right and on our 'About' page.

All the best, 

Friday, 1 November 2013

Parish Life - Annual Report

Another successful year has been completed, our 15th.  Ten work sessions have been carried out and the interest and enthusiasm continues.  It is amazing how much satisfaction can be gained from managing such a small part of the earths surface.  The amount of changes that take place with the seasons and what really goes on in the natural world, to the inquiring mind, provides infinite rewards.  Although we have people come and help on a casual basis, there is a nucleus of regular helpers.  It is due to the dedication and helpful willing nature of these people that the project still remains a success.  There is a lot of hard work involved in the management, so this help is greatly appreciated.  Even though we still receive our Bishops Award for continued good management and are supported by Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and other bodies, this is a remote slap on the back.  The hands on work is done by the volunteers who turn up in all winds and weather, so thank you one and all.

To raise the seemingly dour, it has been a brilliant summer.  For those who have taken the trouble to wander around the Churchyard at St. Giles there are many species to enjoy.  From the early beds of Snowdrops, Primroses and Cowslips to the meadowland butterflies.  It has been a year to savour.

We wish all our helpers and supporters and Peaceful Christmastime.  We look forward to seeing you in 2014.

Contributor: Ivan Randall, Co-ordinator.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Practical Session Report - October

October is our penultimate session for 2013. A time when all life at the churchyard is preparing for harsh conditions that winter brings.

Ivy provides a late food source, first for insects, which assist the ivy by pollinating the flowers. Ivy then begins to develop fruits, which are a good food source for birds as the season turns. Holly berries also turn from green to the bright red that has become so symbolic of winter and the festive period in the UK.

It was a nice surprise to see some 7-spots still out and making the most of the 'good' weather. Ladybirds over-winter in their adult form. Soon they will all collect together in various safe places, which range from under tree bark to inside our houses.
The banded snails were out in force too. This is a variable species, which as we can see varies from pale all over to clearly defined bands of colour. A harlequin ladybird can also be seen in the photograph.

The caterpillar of the Knot Grass moth (Acronicta rumicis).

Next month will see our valiant volunteers loading up a trailer with all of the grass cuttings that have been collected over the past year or so. Until then!

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Parish Life - October

It has been an interesting start to the autumn season, with an initially unseasonal spell of hot weather in September that helped to ripen the hedgerow fruits. There seems to have been quite an abundance of hawthorn berries, blackberries and sloes. It is very tempting to go foraging for fruits to put into jams and jellies and to make sloe gin, but always remember to pick responsibly, leaving some for birds to feed on over the winter. Also, take care to tread gently and to try not to damage the surrounding foliage.

As the weather turns cooler, it is time to start feeding the birds that visit our gardens. This allows them to build up fat stores under their feathers that will help insulate them against the winter chill. The nation spends on average £200 per year on feeding wildlife, but it does not always have to be expensive. Leaving the seed heads of perennials such as ornamental grasses can provide a food source.

In fact, the best way to garden for wildlife is to mimic nature and to leave some areas to go a little “wild”. These spaces can provide a haven for birds and mammals. A pile of old logs can be a shelter and a food source, as it can harbour insects such as beetle larvae for hedgehogs and birds to feed on.

In the churchyard of St. Giles, we try to mimic nature, too, which explains why there are areas that are left wild to encourage native species. But it is a managed space and the cutting/raking regime is planned to allow plant species to flourish in their growing season.  As the end of the working year approaches, there is still plenty to do. If you would like to be part of our enterprise in maintaining the churchyard as a haven for wildlife, please join us on Saturday 19th October, 9.30 a.m. to 12 noon.  We are happy to show newcomers how we carry out our management programme. Tools and gloves, and refreshments will be available.  Please come and enjoy a session looking after your local environment!

Contributor: Liz Cullen, Co-ordinator

Monday, 23 September 2013

Practical Session Report - September

For many months we've been enjoying the wonderful flowers that the plants within the churchyard produce. At first, we had to wait as the year seemed to take much longer than expected to wake up. But when it eventually did, it provided the animals with food and us with joy. There was an ever-increasing flurry of activity from April to July as more and more plants started to flower.

August was the month where everything slowed down and our records show that while many plants continued to flower from previous months, only two plants began flowering in August. Those were the Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) near the Yew trees next to the side wall and a brief flowering from the Devilsbit Scabious (Succisa pratensis). Now we're in to September and some plants have carried on flowering, but no new plants were in flower.

This month's star of the show: A Speckled Wood resting on some Ivy
However, all was not lost! As the autumn provides is with lots of colour in the form of the fruits made by the plants in the hope of providing the next generation. In the churchyard we have a wide range of coloured fruits from pure white through to orange and red, all the way to black.

Here we have the various stages of fruit growth on the snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) to the left, with the specific epithet of the species name - albus - referring to white. We have the bright orange fruits of the stinking iris (Iris foetidissima) on the right.

Red is a fruit colour that we're all familiar with. It seems that the red colouring has co-evolved with birds, who have vision sensitive to red. The Yew (Taxus baccata) berry to the right is even named for the bright red berries - with baccata meaning bearing red berries. To the right we can see the cluster of red berries that are developed on the plant lords and ladies (Arum maculatum).

The fruits above are from the Tutsan (Hypericum androsaemum). These berries initially start off being a white/yellow colour and as the develop turn red and eventually to black.

It is important that you don't eat any of these berries. As well as being vital food for birds as the weather gets harsher over the months leading to winter many are poisonous.

The year is not yet over, in the next couple of months we will look forward to seeing the ivy in flower, attracting many invertebrates such as flies and wasps; and watching for the holly berries as they turn from a green/orange colour to bright red.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

The Parish Life - September

The work day for September is Saturday 14th 09.30-12.00 all welcome, as ever. 

This day coincides with the Historic Churches Ride and Stride. Participants will be raising money for their chosen Church plus benefitting less fortunate Churches in Wiltshire. We will be able to meet and greet them with a cheery smile and refreshments. Perhaps you are riding and striding - the Church will be open and welcoming at St. Giles.

The welcome dry spell has reduced growth somewhat, so there may be less spoil to clear up and more time for plant TLC, which is always enjoyable. The majority of species in the botanical kingdom have been tested by human beings over the centuries for their nutritional or medical benefits. Graves of short lived food tasters testify to the poisonous

We have two species of Filipendula at St. Giles. The slender and delicate Dropwort with its delicate white flower heads tinged with pink. More numerous as a down land plant, yet still found locally.  The other is the more robust and widespread Meadowsweet. The heady scent from this plant fills a room and conjures up images of halcyon days of childhood in the minds eye.

Many uses have been found for Meadowsweet - wine, soups, salads. More importantly the plant contains salicylic acid the active ingredient in Aspirin, where this chemical was first isolated. Dried leaves can be made into tea to relieve headaches. The plant also contains anti-rheumatic compounds. The flowers are used as an infusion to treat colds and flu, fluid retention and arthritis. The antiseptic qualities mean that an infusion is also good for relieving the symptoms of urinary tract infections. All these uses from one plant, so how much reliance is placed on plants for our wellbeing?

The majority of you will remember Eve Pegler. Eve is now Team Vicar at Motcombe in Dorset. We visited Eve at her request, to assess the possibilities of a Living Churchyard at Motcombe. Pat and I spent a pleasant afternoon recently talking to Eve and the PCC to kick start the Project there. They have fine areas of Snowdrops, Orange Hawkweed, Birds Foot Trefoil and much more. With help from the Dorset Wildlife Trust and Living Churchyard Project, they are going to formulate a management plan based on the St. Giles concept.

Contributed by: Ivan Randall; Coordinator.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Practical Session Report - August

It was quite a quiet session. The lawn mower was fixed, so we could get on with collecting all the cuttings. I say we, but Sue and myself did our normal wild flower walk to see what was out and about.

Things are starting to slow down now, if the wild flowers are anything to go by. It was quite a low month for new species in flower and those that are still in flower. We did manage to find some spiders though, which made the session:

Garden spider - Araneus diadematus

Not sure about this one. Help from the Wild About Britain
forums suggest that it may be a pale member of the Metellina genus.
While the rest of the team were collecting the last of the cut grass, Sue and myself were keying out some ferns that we have on site with Ivan's fern book. So all in all a great session. The year is coming to a close now with only three practical sessions left. Until next time, enjoy whatever remains of the sunny weather :)

Thursday, 1 August 2013

The Parish Life - August

Predicting the weather is always problematic and it may be the reason that we, as a nation, are quite obsessed with it. Or perhaps it is the changeability that leaves us uncertain as to what will be the next forecast. I am writing this piece in the blazing heat of early July and wondering if August will be the same.

Continued dry weather brings problems for wildlife. If you are kind enough to provide bird-baths, please ensure that these are cleaned regularly and always topped up with fresh water. Birds will return to a regular provider and if this is not available, they may struggle to find another source close by. They will use water for drinking and bathing, but also a patch of dry earth can be used as a dust bath to discourage parasites, such as lice.

Plants use a variety of techniques to save water. Our Stonecrops (English and Biting) have small, succulent leaves with thick, waxy cuticles to slow down evaporation and water loss. Navelwort, which also grows on dry-stone walls, is similarly fleshy. It is so-called because the centre of the leaf resembles a navel or tummy-button; it should have a spike of yellowy-red, tubular flowers in August. It is a common plant in the west, but rarely seen in the east or north of the country.

Although bees seem fewer this year (reports suggest that honey bee populations may be down by a third) butterflies seem reasonably abundant. We have had sightings of Speckled Browns, Green-veined Whites and Peacock butterflies so far this year. Bats have once again used the church as a summer roost. Two types of droppings inside the church have indicated that we have colonies of Daubenton’s and Pipistrelle bats in residence. If you would like to be part of our enterprise in maintaining the churchyard as a haven for wildlife, please join us on Saturday 17th August, 9.30 a.m. to 12 noon. If you are interested in a tour, please call at the same time. We shall be carrying out our usual maintenance tasks, such as raking up the mown grass (we have a new grass-collecting machine, kindly donated by Lesley Maddock.) Tools and gloves, and refreshments will be available. Please come and enjoy a session looking after your local environment!

Contributed by: Liz, Coordinator

Monday, 29 July 2013

Practical Session Report - July Part 2

Each July we have two sessions as the growth of grass tends to be too much if left until August. However, this year, with the hot spell and lack of rain, meant that there was very little grass growth.

Luckily this coincided with the starter cord for the lawn mower snapping. This meant that we couldn't cut the short areas of grass and had to concentrate with the long grass - which Ivan cut with the strimmer.

We had some great sightings such as the Ringlet butterfly above and this Common Toad, as seen below.
 Ivan found the Toad while he was strimming around the Tombs, something that we wouldn't have seen if the mower had been working - a nice silver lining.

 We also spotted this Soldier Beetle and this Green-veined White feeding on the flower of the Common Cat's-Ear plant.

So, the mower is currently being fixed and normal service should be resumed in August. Which is likely to be ideal with the downpours of rain we've been having - there will likely be lots of grass to rake up!

Monday, 8 July 2013

Practical Session Report - July Part 1

The wheelbarrow at rest - as we have our break.
With the weather being good to us, the cut grass was quite light and easy to rake. Which is fab, as it gave us all chance to slow down a bit and enjoy each other's company.

In the weeks intervening our last session and this, the ox-eye daisy had bloomed and was on its' way out. However, there were plenty of plants that were providing lovely blooms.

Good examples include lady's mantle, near the porch and navelwort, which grows along the front wall and had been growing flower stalks since May.

The wall held other surprises in store too, including these stonecrops. White stonecrop to the left and a 6 petalled English stonecrop to the right; both can be seen on the side wall between the Yew tree and the side gate.

As mentioned last month, here's the Tutsan in full flower. As they develop they'll turn from the white and green seen here through to red and finally black. They're poisonous to us, so not berries to be picked, but are commonly eaten by birds who distribute the seeds.

The star of the show this month was a new species for the churchyard. It was the only specimen and is a hybrid between two other species. With that being said, we're really happy to welcome...
Druce's Cranes-bill - Geranium endressii x versicolor = G. x oxonianum

In the next couple of months we'll be looking forward to this patch of common valerian coming into flower along with this lady's bedstraw.

I've also added our flora list to the blog so you can see all of the species that we find, where we found them, and when they're in bloom. It's available here or by clicking the Flora List link under the churchyard banner at the top.

The next session is on Saturday 27 July - we hope to see you there.

Monday, 1 July 2013

The Parish Life - July

There will be double the fun in July as we regularly meet on two Saturdays. Dates for July are Sat. 6th and Sat. 17th both 09.30-12.00.  We look forward to seeing you for a drink in the sun, just to socialize or to help out a little.

The Yellow Rattle, Birds Foot Trefoil and Dropwort will still be in flower encouraging the meadowland butterflies.The meadowland conservation movement is certainly gathering pace. Roadside verges are being left to thrive in places, although there are many longstanding protected verges in Wiltshire, two of which I monitor. Wildflower growing is encouraged on any patch that you have spare and that is a good thing for insects as well. It makes me realize how long the grass sward at St. Giles has remained in its present condition and the species that live there. We are now helping the flora and fauna to flourish by our continued management.

Tim, one of our regular helpers has now set up a blog which can be accessed using

The National Project, Caring for Gods Acre were so impressed by this site they are putting it in their Newsletter as an excellent example. Tim and Sue now also monitor our flower species on a monthly basis and records are sent to the Biological Records Centre database in Devizes. Trends are checked both positive and negative to help give us an understanding of the natural worlds inter-dependancies.

A surprising number of native plants are poisonous, so make sure what they are when tossing a wild salad. At St. Giles grows a fairly widespread plant Woody Nightshade or Bittersweet. With its stars of purple and gold, and vivid red berries, this plant clambers alluringly over the hedgerows. The Second Commandment forbids the worship of idols.  Idols are addictive substitutes for God which in the end poison the soul. The generic name for Nightshade Solanum comes from the same root as Solace. Religious faith at its best is a source of solace and joy.  It is sad that so many people seek solace in addictive substances, when they could find real and lasting happiness in the joy of worship in contemplation of the natural world and in the companionship of Gods people.

We look forward to you joining us in July.

Contributed by:Ivan, Coordinator