Monday, 20 May 2013

Practical Session Report - May

What a difference a month makes! Thanks to a bit of light and warmth from the sun, the plants have woken up and we were blessed with a sea of colour in the Churchyard.

Along with the raking and a bit of weeding to control some of the more dominant plants, we had a very successful flora count; adding 19 sightings to the flora list. Ivan spent some time counting the snails that we have at the Churchyard and I will try to get a list of those for the next report.

Sighting of the month, for me, has to go to the green-veined white butterfly. It sat patiently as I tried to get a good photo of it for our records!

Amazingly we still had a violet in flower:

The ones to watch out for over the next couple of months are this navelwort, which throws up a huge flower spike full of flowers.

And this stonecrop, which is one of a few stonecrop species present on the side wall area of the Churchyard.

Next month is our 15th anniversary meet, for which there will be cake! Hope to see you there.


Saturday, 18 May 2013

Yellow Archangel - Lamium galeobdolon

Sweet Woodruff - Galium odoratum

Lords and Ladies - Arum maculatum

Ivy-leaved Toadflax - Cymbalaria muralis

Ivy-leaved toadflax is one of the many successful plants at the Churchyard. As you can see in the image below - it is even happy growing up the side of walls.

Herb Robert - Geranium robertianum

Cow Parsley - Anthriscus sylvestris

Welcome to Our Blog

A couple of weekends ago I was leafing through the old St. Giles Living Churchyard photo albums and found this wonderful photograph. It was a very apt find as I was writing up a proposal for the creation of our very own blog.

Created on Saturday 18 May, 2013, this blog will be a permanent record of the flora and fauna that we record at St. Giles on the practical tasks days.

It will also be the place that we share various documents that detail what we're up to. As time goes on we're hoping to write 'spot light' articles about various flora and fauna and their history within the context of the Churchyard. In addition we'll try to document volunteer experiences, so you can get an idea of what we're about - which we hope will spur you on to come along and join us!

A very warm welcome to our blog and we hope to see you soon!

Thursday, 9 May 2013

St. Giles Churchyard - The Living Churchyard Project

At the beginning of 2009 I was feeling run down and lacking energy. Feeling really frustrated with life and wanting to get outdoors more, I started to search around online for things I could do outdoors and feel productive at the same time. We'd previously attended some Wiltshire Wildlife Trust talks, so I started looking at their 'What's On' calendar and stumbled upon something I found really interesting. A Living Churchyard Project.

A wonderful idea, I thought. Something that we could go along and just have a go. A project that wasn't so big as to be overwhelming and small enough to make friends and have a great time. We lived in Chippenham at the time so it was only about 10-15 minutes away by car and we decided to give it a go.

St. Giles Church, Stanton St. Quintin
We arrived and were met by a group of people headed by Ivan, who guided us around the churchyard and told us the aims of the project. The main task, we found, was the raking of the grass. Great, I thought - something that will help me build up my energy, but something I can do at my own pace.

Now, being a typical bloke, I stormed ahead with the raking. Lucy helped Sue out with planting some native wild flowers on that first task day we attended. I kept storming ahead with the raking for many months because it provided immediate gratification - you can see immediately the difference made by the raking. I didn't really talk to people much those first few months, but that was okay. They were a patient bunch!

Peacock butterfly

Now around 4 years later these people aren't just strangers, they're friends. Also, I've realised that there's so much more to this project than the raking! For instance, the next year Sue showed us the plants that herself and Lucy had planted the year before - alive and in flower!

There's a group of 5 or 6 of us that regularly attend and they're a joy to talk to. What's wonderful is that while this is a churchyard, and most of the volunteers attend the church: there's no preaching or religious instruction. We're there for nature and this gives you the option to be as close to God as you wish. In fact, I can count the times religion has been mentioned on one hand - and it was mostly about the carvings on the building. And what a building it is: It's a mixture of Norman and Victorian styles and also has what we're told is a rare pagan fertility symbol called a Sheela-na-gig.

Raking is an important part of the project, but it's just one of many. We keep records of the wildlife on the site and photograph as much of it as possible. There's even a Geocache here, for those that want to pop along to find it.

Recently we put up some more boxes for insects and birds:

Here is a swath of small and delicate violets, one of a few plants, including primroses and bluebells that have expanded their empire in the grounds over the years - and bring delight to us as we turn up year after year and learn the cycles of the churchyard.

We even have a couple of ant hills! Here they are near a lichen and moss covered headstone and partnered with lesser celandine during the spring.

I'm really glad to be a part of this project. A testament to how good this is project is, is that when we moved to an area that doubled the distance to the project, we still turn up!

Nothing is expected, yet there is so much to gain. Even if you're not near our project at Stanton St. Quintin, there are plenty of Churchyard Projects around the country - most are Caring for God's Acre projects, with many supported by local Wildlife Trusts  - so get involved. In fact, it doesn't have to be a Churchyard Project - there are thousands of volunteer projects around the UK. Just give them a go, find the one that suits you best, and have fun!

Contributed by: Tim, Volunteer

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

The Parish Life - May

May is a month full of so much promise and expectation. Although writing this article in late March, I am still waiting for March to arrive.

In May all the fruits of our labours will be burgeoning, in the form of flowers, insects and birds. A year when the spring season has been delayed, it will be interesting to see exactly what will be in flower. We have well established areas of Primroses, Cowslips, Campion, Speedwell, Garlic Mustard, Violets, Bluebells, Dogs Mercury, Woodruff, St. Johns Wort, Yellow Rattle and Cuckoo Flower to name just some species. So it is well worth a visit to wander round and enjoy the space to admire the natural history or for quiet reflection.

I mentioned Cuckoo Flower and Garlic Mustard, both of these plants are food plants for the Orange Tip Butterfly. The Orange Tip is a harbinger of spring, the males emerge first and can be seen nectaring on food plant species. The females lack the orange tip to the forewing and have a black tip. The females are often mistaken for members of the white family especially the Green Veined White. Although both have an amazing cryptic green patternation on the underwings, unique in British species. Another species that is an early emergent is the Brimstone. The sulphur-brimstone colour of this insect supposedly originated the name flying butter - hence butterfly. This butterfly can be seen during all the warm months and is a powerful flyer wandering far from its food plant. They nectar a lot on Primroses and the Brimstone has a long tongue which can pollinate both types of Primrose flower head. The female is somewhat paler than the male. However, both are impressive and a delight to see and fairly easy to photograph. Both species should be on the wing at St. Giles during May.

There is a small plant, a white Crucifer Shepherds Purse. It is quite wide-spread, including St. Giles. When the seed capsule ripen and turn to brown they look just like an old leather purse.

The needs of sheep remain much the same since biblical times - protection from fierce animals and disease, good pasture, special help in giving birth and looking after the lambs. In biblical times the shepherd led his sheep into the fold at night. Jesus said 'I am the door of the sheep' (John 10.7). After his resurrection, Jesus could pass through a locked door to be with his followers. So can he still. He once described himself as an outsiders. 'Behold I stand at the door and knock' (Rev. 3.20). Sidesmen have an important role in the Church. A good welcome is vital. It is only too easy to exclude people from our buildings and from our hearts.

We look forward to seeing you at St. Giles at our May work session, Saturday 18th 09.00-12.00 noon. All welcome.

Contributed by one of our coordinators Ivan Randall.