By Matthew Hatchwell
The combined area of the 19,000+ churchyards owned by the Church of England is larger than Exmoor National Park. Because – bizarrely – biodiversity conservation is a relatively low priority for most British national parks, there is almost certainly greater biodiversity in the country’s churchyards than there is in any one of those formally protected areas. Organisations such as Caring for God’s Acre and A. Rocha International have been set up to support nature protection in churchyards, including through the development of management plans, action to protect diverse wildlife habitats in British churchyards, and “Count on Nature” surveys to catalogue that wildlife. On June 11th, the Friends of St Mary of Charity Parish Church and partners including the Kent Tree and Pond Wardens and experts from the Faversham Natural History Group organised a bioblitz to get a first idea of the range of plants, birds, insects and mammals present in the rambling churchyard.
Kent Tree Warden David Carey says that “the best bird observed was the grey wagtail that seems to have adopted the churchyard; the best plant was possibly the abundant stone parsley or the tiny maidenhair fern; the best insect was the Ferdinandea hoverfly; the best tree was the huge lime in the northeast corner or one of the veteran ashes; and the least
expected finding was of hedgehog dung, which was surprising because they need such large foraging areas to wander around at night.” The next step will be to work with Church of England officials and parishioners at St Mary’s to develop and implement a plan to protect and maintain that rich biodiversity.
The Judas trees in the churchyard at St Mary’s of Charity are bright highlights when they flower in late Spring.