Sunday, 20 December 2015

2016 Session Dates

March 12
April 16
May 21
June 11
July 2
July 23
August 13
September 10
October 15
November 19

To contact our co-ordinators, click through to the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust page.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Parish Life - November 2015

November brings our last working session of the year and we DESPERATELY need hands to help clear the compost that has built up over the raking season.  This call goes out to all able-bodied persons and if you can only come for this one event of the year, you would be welcomed with open arms!  I promise hot chocolate and a glorious chocolate cake as an inducement!  

We cannot use the compost that builds up over the year, as wild flower growth and meadow grasses thrive on depleted soil.  Each mowing session, all the grass is raked up and piled onto the heap.  At the end of the year, the resulting compost is moved by tractor trailer to a location on the Buckley Barracks grounds.

But it cannot move on its own, so this requires a team to transfer the compost to wheelbarrows, then to the trailer, where it is forked or tipped away.  The more folk we have to help, the less arduous the task will be.  It is certainly a good way to warm up the body and get some exercise if the weather has turned cold.

November will bring a feeling of a closing-down as Nature prepares for the winter season.  There will still be some activity in the churchyard, with birds feeding on berries and fungi visible under the trees. Most of the leaves will have fallen as the trees have drawn in the nutrients.  Rather like a bruise changing colour as the body heals itself, the changing autumn colours are a result of the tree breaking down the food held inside each leaf, which it then absorbs.  Each leaf stalk is then closed off by a small seal, and the leaf falls to the ground.  Although some gardeners compost leaves, they contain very little in the way of food for growing plants.  However, they are an excellent mulch and add humus to the soil.

Come along to join us on Saturday 21st November, 9.30 a.m. to 12 noon.  Tools and gloves, and refreshments will be available.  Please come and enjoy a session looking after your local environment!

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Practical Session Report - July 2015

Creeping Jenny
Today was a wonderfully sunny, if rather hot session. Again we had more plants in flower than I had rows on my recording form (note to self: improve recording form)!

We had some more visitors today, including a lovely lady from Corston, a village that's a little less than 4 miles north of St Giles. I advised a good dose of yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) for the small meadow she'd like to incorporate into the churchyard there.

Speaking of yellow rattle, it's been a wonderful year for it at our churchyard. We have three patches of long grass that have yellow rattle and I recorded two of them last year. The first patch increased from 75 to 95, with the other patch increasing from 64 to 178. This will, in part, be due to the additional seed we sowed last year - a simple process of throwing it on the grass and stylishly attempting to tread it into the ground.

Sue spotted a new plant to the churchyard, but it was Ivan who suggested the correct identification immediately (Sue and I weren't sure because the book we were using didn't quite match, but later research did agree with Ivan's assessment). This new comer is one of at least 300 species in its genus and is most likely common skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata). It is particularly appropriate due to the monuments that include skulls on the tombstones and within the church - and can apparently be used for herbal tea.

Earlier I keyed out an umbel that Sue and I spotted to be ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria). I was surprised that on our original flora list circa 1998, we had an entry for ground elder. Therefore We've either missed it for 4 years in a row, or it's making a good come back with the appearance of 5 or 6 plants all in the tomb area of the churchyard (as Sue pointed out to me on the phone; it's probably the former).

Sadly my family and I won't be able to attend the next session, Saturday 25 July, but the team will be there. So, feel free to join them if you're in the area. Tea and biscuits, the staple of all conservation activities, will be provided!

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Parish Life - July 2015

A couple of months ago, I was about to take a shower, when I paused to hear a strange kind of humming from the ceiling above my head. It wasn’t consistent, but more like an intermittent “Buzzzz...bzzzzt....bzz.................bzzt....” This noise continued, day and night, and became louder and even more busy as time went on. We have had wasps’ nests in the loft, but this noise was different. I could find no evidence of a nest when I explored the attic, but by observing the outside of the house, I discovered that we had Tree Bumblebees as lodgers. These insects do no damage to the framework of the house, but enter through spaces that have been discovered by mice. Apparently, the bees get very excited by the smell of mouse urine and follow the trail, establishing a colony where the mice have been (in more ways than one!) By the end of the season, there can be a colony of 300 – 400 individuals.

I am quite proud of the fact that the garden around our house is very “bee-friendly” with lots of nectar-providing plants. Sadly, many of the pretty bedding plants that are on sale in Garden centres do not provide accessible nectar, having been bred for their floppy, attractive petals. Begonias, petunias and the more elaborate dahlias are not good for bees. Single dahlias, verbenas, heucheras and many herb plants such as lavender, rosemary, chives and borage are very bee-friendly. Fruit plants, for example, apples, plums, quinces, strawberries and raspberries, are much loved by bees and give us the added benefit of something sweet to eat.

In St. Giles’ churchyard, we are still addressing the issue of providing good nectar sources. Betony, Scabious (Devils’ Bit and Field), Nettle-leaved Bellflower and St. John’s Wort will all be in evidence in July. The flowers are of varying sizes, which suits different insects with short or long tongues, to access the nectar. We have two work sessions in July, as it is the busiest growing season; we shall be carrying out our usual maintenance tasks, as well as enjoying refreshments and good company. Tools and gloves will be available. Please come and join us in some open-air exercise and care of the environment. The dates for your diaries are Saturday 4th and 25th July, 9.30 a.m. to 12 noon. Come to one session, or even better, two, to see the haven for wildlife that surrounds the church.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Practical Session Report - June 2015

This is my first session post for a while due to the arrival of my first child! But I thought I'd better get back to it, for two reasons: firstly, it was our birthday session and secondly, Ivan and Liz had recently collected our Bishop's Award for 2014. This celebrates the 17 years the St Giles Living Churchyard Project has been managing the churchyard for the benefit of wildlife (and for all who wander through the churchyard).

The team have been very busy keeping the churchyard looking fabulous and ideal for wildlife of all kinds.

We had 33 plants in flower during this session, including meadow buttercup, cleavers, dropwort, and a very ragged ragged robin!

Sue and I spotted something rather interesting, but had no idea what it was. I've asked around and it appears that it may be a fly that has succumbed to fungal attack by Entomophthora muscae. If anyone can provide any additional info, please get in touch!

Of course, no party would be a party without cake! So, during our mid-morning break we had cake - apart from Sue who much prefers savoury snacks and can be seen dipping into a bag of crisps.

Until next time, happy conservationing!

Monday, 1 June 2015

Parish Life - June 2015

There was an amazing warm and dry period of weather during the middle of April, ideal growing conditions. When I came to cut the Churchyard in mid-April the whole area was a wonderland of flowers smiling up at me, and I was loath to cut anywhere at all.

I hope some of you were able to admire the large carpet of Violets under the Yew trees. These short stemmed flowers only have a brief moment in the spotlight, before the ranker species overtake them and this glorious site is hidden from view, a pity really. There are three species of Violet at St. Giles and I am sure they will continue to flourish.

However, our management plan has to be adhered to so some mowing must take place. Areas of Sward, Spring Meadows chosen for their floral diversity are left uncut enabling them to grow on until late June.

June is a special month at St. Giles, it is when we celebrate the Living Churchyard Project birthday, so on Saturday 13th June we will be having a bit of a do. There will be a variety of food to suit all tastes. Including a birthday cake. So come along and join us at St. Giles between 09.30 and l2.00. Work up an appetite with some practical work, then tuck into the tuck, everyone welcome.

Another flower that is abundant at St. Giles, as elsewhere this spring is the Primrose. My Mother always used to adorn the house with Primrose posies that brightened every room. Along with the Cowslips they provide an uplift to any day. Primroses and Cowslips readily hibridize, the False Oxlip being the result. There are also several of these plants in the Churchyard. There is a true Oxslip Primula elatior, which also hybridizes with all the above. So keying Oxslips out becomes difficult. To ensure you are looking at a True Oxslip can be challenging and they are infrequent.

Legend has it that St. Peter dropped the Keys to Heaven when he learnt that a duplicate set had been made. The first Cowslip sprang from where they fell. The nodding yellow flowers still have a County name of ‘bunch of keys’ We look forward to meeting you on the 13th.


My guided walk for June takes place on Saturday 20th at 2.00 p.m. We will visit the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve Cloatley Meadows near Hankerton. This series of eight meadows provides a spectacular carpet of wild flowers, alive with bird and insect life.

All welcome, start from reserve carpark Grid Ref. ST983906

Contributed by Ivan Randall

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Parish Life - May 2015

I wonder how often we really use our senses to enjoy our surroundings? The demands of everyday life mean that we are often busy and do not seem to have the time to stop and appreciate what is around us. In the garden recently, I paused from weeding for a few moments to appreciate a sensory experience for free. Birdsong was coming from all directions, bees were buzzing on flowers and distantly, I could hear the “tock, tock” of a thrush cracking open a snail. The scent of fresh, moist earth was matched by floral aromas and the smell of the recently mown grass. And the colours! An acid-yellow brimstone butterfly fluttering by and all the variations of green plants in the background.

It is worth taking the time to take some pleasure in the environment as well as working towards maintaining it as a haven for wildlife. Our maintenance session at St. Giles is Saturday 16th May, 9.30 to 12 noon. We carry out a variety of tasks, and tools and gloves are provided. You just have to bring yourself, dressed for gardening and we also stop for refreshments, fellowship and a chance to enjoy sitting in the churchyard. All ages and abilities are very welcome to join us.

Another worthwhile and fascinating event is the Annual Award ceremony for the Living Churchyards in Wiltshire. This year, it is being held at Holy Cross church, Sherston, on Saturday May 9. There will be speakers on a variety of topics, lunch and a tour of the wildlife churchyard.

Contributed by Liz Cullen

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Parish Life - April 2015

he date for our monthly practical and social session is Saturday April 18th 09.30-12.00. Everyone welcome to pop in for a while and help out a little if you wish. The countryside is under tremendous pressure for a multitude of uses. Genuine wild places have almost disappeared altogether, this makes Churchyards and Cemeteries a really important refuge for wild life. They have remained unchanged for centuries with no application of herbicide or ploughing. Their flora mirrors what was found on a general basis in the surrounding fields. At St. Giles our aim is to nurture this biodiversity and encourage its proliferation. As we are starting our 17th year, the best way of checking on our progress is to visit our blog site efficiently updated by Tim.

Just imagine you have no calendar. Well, one way of telling the time of the year is by the succession of white umbellifer flowers growing along the roadside. Firstly, from April to June you have Cow Parsley, the Angel Lace, much favoured and enjoyed by flower arrangers. Then following on the more robust Hogweed flowers from June onwards, and in July less frequently now, there is Fool’s Parsley conspicuous by the long bracts hanging underneath the flowers. Very similar to Parsley to the casual observer. However, the plant contains the alkaloid poison coniine. It can be lethal if enough is eaten, so fools beware.

An interesting white umbellifer that grows at St. Giles is the Burnet-Saxifrage. An unusual name – Saxifrage means stone breaker. The Meadow Saxifrage growing amongst stones, to come observers appeared to have broken the stones to emerge. The stones allied to the Burnet Saxifrage at kidney and gallstones. Early apothecaries thought a potion made from the plant would do the trick. This uncommon umbellifer is worth looking out for.

One of the joys in April is seeing the Primrose in flower again. Easter Rose is another name for the Primrose. The pale flower reflects the first sunshine of the new season. The resurrection of Jesus was discovered at first light. These common flowers are full of glory and remind us that everything matters because of Easter. If our mind and eyes perceive the intensity of God in everything about us. We experience life in a new intensity and see things in a new light.

We look forward to seeing you on Saturday April 18th.


On Saturday May 9th, Sue Robinson and her team will be hosting this event at Holy Cross, Sherston. At St. Giles we will be supporting Sue beforehand and on the day. Anyone who has an interest in natural history will find the day fascinating.

There will be specialist speakers and a Churchyard tour. Everybody welcome.


I will be leading a guided walk for the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust on Sunday 26th April starting from Biddestone Church at 1.30 p.m. The walk will be through the Weaver Valley and to Colerne Park woodland. There is plenty of interest and a mixture of habitats. Some unusual and uncommon woodland flora to see including the parasitic Toothwort. We should see Dipper and visiting Warblers. You are welcome to join us and enjoy our spectacular countryside and its natural history. For more information email

Contributed by Ivan Randall, Co-ordinator

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Parish Life - March 2015

I recently discovered an old book of my Mother’s, dating from 1939.  It was titled “Romany and Raq” written by the ‘Romany of the B.B.C.’ (a.k.a. G. Bramwell Evens). The book was full of old country lore and aphorisms.  For March, the writer described spring-cleaning in the country cottages, known as “cleaning down.”  Ordinary housework was “cleaning up.”

He goes on to think about cleaning up of the countryside “rubbish” and to comment that it is not often that you see a decaying mouse or a dead bird.  His explanation talked about “the sanitary department of the Universe.”  Owls, weasels and hawks pick up the weaker prey specimens.  Foxes and stoats remove surplus population (not always surplus if they are your own precious flock!)  Carrion crows and magpies scavenge road-kill.

Most ingenious are the Sexton beetles, so called because of the Sexton’s job of looking after the church and churchyard, often burying the dead.  These insects, black with orange markings, use strong jaws to dig a trench around a dead animal, such as a rabbit.  They dig another trench inside the first, filling up the original with soil from the second.  Gradually, the body sinks into the ground.  The female beetle then lays eggs in the carcass which eventually hatch and pick the body clean. He finishes with a quote from a countryman “God thinks o’ everythin’, even gettin’ the menial work done.”

There is no longer a Sexton at St. Giles but the Living Churchyard group help maintain the area around the church as a natural habitat. If you would like to be part of our enterprise in creating a haven for wildlife, our first session of the year is on Saturday 14th March, 9.30 a.m. to 12 noon.  We record flora and fauna to be found on the day and do a variety of practical tasks. All ages are very welcome; I read that youngsters can apply for a green Blue Peter badge if they are involved in Environmental activities. Tools and gloves, and refreshments will be available.   

Please come and enjoy a session looking after your local environment!  No grave-digging required!

Contributed by: Liz Cullen, Co-ordinator.