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

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