Wednesday, 14 December 2011

St. Patrick's Church

Back in the autumn, St. Patrick's Church (along Salter Street) was featured in the latest series of the BBC's "Who Do You Think You Are?" programme, in the episode featuring artist Tracey Emin. The churchyard (which some of you will know I am gardener of) was shown briefly, and it was really nice to see something I'm so familiar with on the telly. Unfortunately I forgot to put anything about it on here, and actually almost missed watching it myself. A clip can be found at, and hopefully the full episode including the local scenes will be put on the iPlayer when it's no doubt repeated.

Sadly I'll be finishing working at the churchyard at the end of this month, due to lack of time and other reasons, but I have really enjoyed working there and thank the churchwardens for taking me on.

Below is an article from a recent issue of the local church parish magazine, updated and amended, by Tony Philp.




The term ‘God’s Acre’, which is often now used to describe conservation areas in churchyards, probably has its origin in a poem of the same title written by Henry Wordsworth Longfellow in 1841 – around the same time as the first burials at St. Patrick's. Ours though, is much more than an acre (2.15 to be precise), as Matt Griffiths, the gardener can testify, but it is proving to be a real ‘living sanctuary’, providing a refuge for a rich diversity of plants and animals.

For the past two years, both old and new parts of the graveyard have been sympathetically maintained to allow wild flowers to flourish, with selected areas being left un-mown until the plants have seeded, whilst providing food and shelter for insects and birds.

Interpretation boards have been made and strategically placed around the site, pinpointing what can be seen and giving information on particular plants currently in flower. These have created much interest and have been appreciated by many visitors to the graveyard.

So far this year, over 50 different wildflowers have been identified, with fine displays of primrose, bluebell and wood anemone in spring; ox-eye daisy and hawkweed in early summer; and in early autumn, tansy, teasel and knapweed.

In May, Dr. Adam Bates came to tell us the results of his bee survey and confirmed that out of all the churchyards that he surveyed, ours was outstanding in providing an ideal habitat for bees. He also presented us with two ‘Bee Hotels’ which have been placed on the south facing wall of the graveyard and have already been colonised by a number of solitary bees.

Insect life abounds and observations kept by myself and Matt over the past few months have recorded 16 different species of butterfly, with the grassland species of ringlet, meadow brown, gatekeeper and small skipper being the most numerous.

Recently, with the help of Earlswood Wildlife Partnership (who lent us the traps) we have begun a survey of moths in the churchyard. It is amazing how beautiful and numerous these mainly nocturnal insects are. To date we’ve caught and identified 28 different species, bearing some intriguing names like Hebrew character, ruby tiger and antler moth. A few, too, have been seen on the wing during daylight hours, including the five-spot burnet, cinnabar and chimney sweeper – all found among the grassland.

Birds are increasingly attracted to the site by the diversity of habitat and this year alone we have recorded 28 different species, with blackbird, robin, blue-tit, wren, long-tailed tit and wood pigeon all nesting, summer visitors like the blackcap and whitethroat singing in the hedgerow and a rare lesser-spotted woodpecker passing through.

We’ve yet to survey the area for amphibians, reptiles and mammals, but have already encountered the common frog, toad, rabbit, bank vole and grey squirrel during general maintenance work on the site and it is clear that the bat population is quite high – something that we intend to investigate further with the aid of bat detectors that will enable us to identify the species from the frequencies and sound patterns of their calls.

All the observation and research carried out this year has confirmed beyond doubt that maintaining parts of our churchyard as a conservation area has been beneficial, not only to the wildlife, but to many of the visitors tending graves in the churchyard, who now, often pause to take in the peaceful surroundings of a nature reserve and observe the wildlife at close quarters.

If you would like to take in this experience or help with surveys, feel free to contact me or Matt for a personal tour, or just come and sit on one of the benches in the middle of the churchyard on a sunny day and listen, look and marvel at the nature around you.

Tony Philp
(All photos taken in the churchyard this year) © TRP

No comments: