For the greater glory of God’s acre

As in­creas­ing num­bers of church­yards are de­vel­oped as wildlife havens, Vicky Lid­dell wan­ders among the head­stones to dis­cover how all crea­tures great and small are thriv­ing on sa­cred ground

Country Life Every Week - - Visual Treasures - Il­lus­tra­tions by Alan Baker

Sum­mer has ar­rived in the coun­try church­yard of St Giles’s, Stan­ton St Quintin in Wilt­shire. The celandine car­pet has given way to a lacy jungle of cow pars­ley and waist-high ox-eye daisies, which sway among the lich­enen­crusted grave­stones. A song thrush is us­ing a kerb­stone to break open a snail shell and bum­ble­bees are buzzing lazily among the nec­tar-rich flow­ers.

Over the past 15 years, as part of the Liv­ing Church­yard project, this is a scene that’s been repli­cated all over the coun­try, as more and more churches have recog­nised the value of their plots for wildlife. Al­though much of the land around churches has been swal­lowed up for hous­ing or agriculture, the acres within have be­come an im­por­tant sanc­tu­ary, with an­cient seed banks and a botan­i­cal di­ver­sity that’s un­matched. As well as three-quar­ters of the uk’s an­cient yews, there are some plants—such as the meadow sax­ifrage and the green-winged orchid— that are of­ten only found in church­yards. The an­cient head­stones boast an ecol­ogy all of their own, as they sup­port as many as 700 dif­fer­ent lichens; the church build­ings pro­vide vi­tal nest­ing lo­ca­tions for martins, swifts and swal­lows and great crested newts are of­ten found in crypts.

With the Liv­ing Church­yard project now in its 19th year at St Giles, the church is one of the lead­ing pi­o­neers of the re­gional pro­gramme and a holder of nu­mer­ous awards. The ini­tia­tive burst into life in 1997 af­ter Ivan ran­dall, a parish­ioner and joint co­or­di­na­tor

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