Life among the tomb­stones...

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Churchyard Wildfire -

It is tempt­ing to think of a church­yard as a sin­gle en­tity, but in re­al­ity it is a mul­ti­tude of dif­fer­ent habi­tats, each ap­pro­pri­ate for a dif­fer­ent range of species. The most im­por­tant among the larger of these habi­tats are the soil, the grave­stones and the area im­me­di­ately around each grave, the dif­fer­ent parts of the church build­ing, the en­clos­ing church­yard boundary, trees, shrubs, paths and stor­age or com­post ar­eas. Within each of these are smaller mi­cro-habi­tats – all im­por­tant in their own in­di­vid­ual way.

1 The tree most as­so­ci­ated with church­yards is that no­ble conifer, the YEW – though the con­nec­tion is still not clear. It can­not be for the oft-quoted rea­son to sup­ply archers with long­bow wood: given the size of a medieval army, the sup­ply would

have run out in a few years. It seems likely that early Chris­tian­ity took over some an­cient and still un­known pa­gan as­so­ci­a­tion of yews with sa­cred rit­ual and built its churches on the same sites.

2 One of the com­mon­est of all church­yard lichens – and one of the most beau­ti­ful – is the GOLDEN

CRUS­TOSE, Calo­placa flavescens, which is found on base-rich head­stones al­most ev­ery­where in low­land Bri­tain.

3 It’s nei­ther com­mon nor wide­spread, but the GRAVE­YARD BEE­TLE can­not es­cape a men­tion be­cause it is the only crea­ture specif­i­cally named af­ter this habi­tat. Though it seems un­savoury to us, it is at­tracted to re­cently buried corpses, per­haps to feed on the mag­gots.

4 The only rep­tile to be found at all fre­quently in church­yards is the SLOW

WORM, a leg­less lizard. It basks on graves and warm heaps of grass cut­tings, and has a fond­ness for com­post bins, where it hunts slugs.


FRIT­IL­LARY is pos­si­bly a na­tive species and a truly ex­quis­ite spring-flow­er­ing plant. It flour­ishes in some undis­turbed church­yards with damp, mois­tur­ere­ten­tive soil, where it may be a relict plant of an­cient mead­ow­land.

6 There are no more beau­ti­ful toad­stools than the WAX­CAPS, but un­like al­most all other church­yard species, they thrive in closely mown turf which mim­ics heav­ily grazed grass­land – al­ways pro­vided no fer­tiliser has been used.

7 MOLE The least of­ten seen but per­haps the com­mon­est church­yard mam­mal, its sub­ter­ranean tun­nelling be­trayed by mounds of soil among grave­stones. Head­stones and even coffins have been dis­turbed by mole ac­tiv­ity.

8 The un­mis­tak­able vivid red flow­ers of the FIELD POPPY are as wel­come in church­yards as they are un­wel­come to farm­ers in their role as corn­field weeds. They may, how­ever, in­di­cate an an­cient agri­cul­tural use for church­yard land.

9 No mam­mals are more as­so­ci­ated with church­yards than BATS. Al­though ‘bats in the bel­fry’ is an ex­pres­sion known to ev­ery­one, it is ac­tu­ally the last place in a church you should ex­pect to find them be­cause it is too cold.

Left: crum­bling old grave­stones are per­fect habi­tats for mosses and slow­grow­ing lichen. 7 6

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