Churchyard Species of the Month - July

Marbled White Butterfly – Melanargia galathea

The Marbled White is one of our most distinctive butterflies, its striking and unmistakable black and white markings distinguishing it from all other species found in the British Isles. This medium sized butterfly favours unimproved grassland especially where the grass is quite tall but the adult will often feed on purple flowers such as Knapweed, Spear Thistles, Scabious and Marjoram. It is actually classified as a 'Brown' butterfly and its life cycle and habits are very similar to other grassland 'Browns' such as the Ringlet, Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper, which are also regularly seen in our churchyard. There is only one breeding generation each year and the adults start to emerge in the second half of June, reaching a peak in mid July, so now is the time to be looking out for them.

The largest colonies of Marbled White are found on down land and they are common throughout southern and central England and south Wales, but even small strips of grassland, such as road verges, field margins, woodland clearings and disused railway lines can contain small colonies. In 2016 marbled whites were recorded for the first time visiting our churchyard, spending time among the tall grasses in Area B which at that time provided ideal habitat for them. Adult butterflies may be found roosting halfway down tall grass stems although they are well camouflaged. On dull days, they may be flushed from the tall grass as you walk through.

The larvae of the Marbled White feed on a wide variety of grasses. The adult female butterflies do not lay directly onto the larval food plant but drop their small white circular eggs as they flutter through tall grass. Red fescue, which grows in our churchyard, is thought to be an essential part of the Marbled White’s larval diet and they also eat Sheep’s fescue, Tor grass and Yorkshire fog and probably several other grasses, although the full range is not known.

 


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The Early Days

The seeds of the Churchyard Conservation Project were sown early in 2013 when, while looking at ways we might try to encourage new people to come along to church, and with the added asset of an enthusiastic zoology graduate embarking on a career in conservation and ecology, we hit upon the idea of organising a bird box building session in the churchyard, which we advertised with posters around the village, and which proved to be a huge success.

We weren’t sure if the resulting 12 boxes would be occupied in their first year, as they were put up rather later than would have been ideal, but seven of them (five at St James, one at the Old Church and one at St Peter’s) quickly became home to families of blue tits and great tits. Throughout the spring and summer we posted updates and photographs of our resident families and gradually the idea of doing more to actively protect and encourage the wildlife in the churchyards evolved.


St James Birdbox

Inspired by the success of a similar project at Oldberrow church, we decided to develop part of the churchyard at St James as wildflower meadow and the Churchyard Project was born.

In November 2013, a team of volunteers began preparing the wildflower areas, weeding graves, rooting out unwanted saplings and building a habitat pile and a very impressive new compost heap. The process continued in 2014 with regular working parties and events and when we cut the wildflower meadow for the first time at the end of the summer, we celebrated the conclusion of our first year with a working party and barbecue which has since become an annual event. The support of volunteers from the congregation and from the wider community has been, and continues to be, fantastic - we couldn't do it without all your hard work! 

Information:

Contact Sarah or Catherine

01789 269 765

St James Churchyard Conservation Project

Annual Summer Mow and Barbecue

Saturday July 29th 9.00am

Bring gardening tools - especially rakes!

Cake and other refreshments as usual

Barbecue in the churchyard afterwards for all volunteers!

Also: Autumn Working Party - Saturday November 18th

The Conservation Project

Churchyards are usually areas of ground that have remained uncultivated for many years, and as such they have the potential to be havens for wildlife where plants and animals can thrive among the graves and monuments. Indeed, until the 20th century they were wild, un-mown places, alive with bees and butterflies, occasionally even grazed by sheep! In the 21st century properly and sympathetically managed churchyards can again become places of wild beauty and tranquillity, surrounding us with the comforting reminder of the ongoing life and vitality of God’s creation even amidst the sadness we feel at the passing of our loved ones.

Here at St James, as in a growing number of parishes, we are putting into action a plan to manage our churchyard with wildlife conservation in mind. We began the process in a small way in the spring of 2013, building and placing bird boxes in all three churchyards, more than half of which became home to families of blue tits and great tits over the summer. The Churchyard Conservation Project is aiming to transform selected areas into wildflower meadow and create a habitat for bees and butterflies and other small creatures, which contrasts with the short grass in other parts of the churchyard and mown paths among the flowers and graves.

Churchyard Plan

The project was initially undertaken in stages. Our first task was to begin to recreate the right conditions for wild meadow to develop, and the plan shows which areas we are managing for wildflowers.

Areas B and C were wildflower meadow in the past, and at the St James 2013 Open Day volunteers identified over 40 different species of wild flowers and grasses still present. These plants are gradually re-establishing themselves.

In area D, against the church north wall, the soil is thin and poor with grass and creeping buttercup competing with the wildflowers growing there naturally. Area A is quite sparse in places, with thin grass, moss and patches of bare earth. This part of the churchyard was actually the most successful in the first year with lots of interesting things appearing including the beautiful white Star of Bethlehem and a sea of oxeye daisies.

The meadow areas are mown early in the spring and then left to grow, and cut short in late summer after the flowers have gone to seed. The whole area is then mown and tidied for the winter.

Churchyard Conservation Project News March 2017

An update about the Churchyard Conservation Project and some dates for your diary!

The third year of the project has seen us settling into a regular routine of three organised working parties annually, beginning in March with the Spring working party in which we prepare the wild flower areas, marking them out for the year and weeding the graves in those areas, with extra jobs done during the season when needed, and a barbecue after the annual mow at the end of July.

The grasses in Area A are becoming noticeably less vigorous, allowing the wild flowers to spread, although Area B continues to produce a lot of lush grass which has needed more mowing than the other areas. We have seen a positive increase in the amount of wild flowers starting to come through with larger patches of delicate meadow vetchling, speedwells and forget-me-nots and the spread of Star of Bethlehem and Birds foot Trefoil into new areas. We are gradually reducing the large perennials such as green alkanet and ragwort, controlling their numbers while still leaving enough to flower for the bees and other pollinating insects which seem to thrive on them.

The bird boxes have successfully launched several families of blue and great tits and the robin box has also been occupied for the second year running. An adult and a very young vole were found during the summer mow, suggesting that they are breeding in the long grass of Area B. Several new insect species found the wildflower meadow in 2016 and we saw small skipper, holly blue and the uncommon and very beautiful marbled white butterflies for the first time, and also colourful day-flying cinnabar and scarlet tiger moths.

Sales of greetings cards and home made jam helped towards the purchase of a lawn mower, which we bought at the end of the summer, and this means that in the coming years we will have the flexibility to selectively cut specific areas when needed. We are currently looking at ways to keep the grasses in the narrow strips between the graves in the wild flower areas short, especially in Areas B and C, during the autumn, winter and early spring.

We have continued to enjoy the support of our large band of regular supporters and volunteers who come along to all the working parties, and are immensely grateful to them for all their hard work; without them we could not hope to make the project such a success. Their numbers have been supplemented too at some of the working parties by visitors interested in what we are doing and St James Churchyard has also attracted the attention of the Diocesan Environmental Group, and their chairman, Godfrey Armitage, came to look round our churchyard early in the year and also joined us for part of our 2016 Summer Mow, expertly wielding a scythe in Area C! Godfrey has given us much complimentary feedback and has twice invited Catherine to deliver a short presentation to Eco Church groups interested in developing their own wild flower meadows, sharing how we are doing things here, so we have much to be proud of and to look forward to in 2017.

Our 2017 activities commence with our Spring Working Party on Saturday March 25th and we’ve also taken the step of planning the rest of the year well in advance and have scheduled our Annual Wildflower Meadow Mow and Barbecue for Saturday July 29th and Autumn Working Party for Saturday November 18th. Working parties usually run from around 9.00am onwards with plenty of refreshments during the morning and finishing, of course, with soup and bacon rolls for lunch, so grab a rake and some weeding tools and come along if you can! 

We are now entering the fourth year of the Conservation Project, and to celebrate we have decided to take part in Caring for God’s Acre’s “Cherishing Churchyards” Week which runs from June 3rd – 11th (and which also coincides with the Coventry Diocese “Cherishing Churchyards” Month).  We are planning a whole day of activities on Saturday June 10th followed by a special family service on the theme of Creation on Sunday June 11th, and we will be running a species survey, or “bio-blitz”, and a childrens’ Bug Hunt and other fun activities. If anyone can offer to help with any part of this, please let us know. We hope this will be an opportunity for people from around the parish to come along, take part in some of the fun things we are planning and see what we are doing here. Watch our Upcoming Events page for details.

Volunteers, as always, are welcomed to any of our events and working parties with open arms! And many thanks to everyone for your continuing encouragement and support, whether this is with hands-on help in the churchyard, buying greeting cards and home made jam to help us raise funds, or the lovely comments and helpful feedback you give! We couldn't keep going without you all!

The Churchyard Conservation Team

P.S. If anyone would be interested in researching and compiling a history of some of the many interesting graves and monuments in the churchyard please get in touch. This is a potentially fascinating project for someone. If this is something you feel you might like to get involved in, please contact us or speak to the vicar or any member of the PCC or Churchyard Conservation team.

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