Wednesday, 17 December 2014

End of year review 2014

It's hard to believe that we've come to the end of another year at the churchyard. It's been an exciting year where we've not only done our standard work, but also done extra activities such as testing the soil pH of the churchyard.

We've also had a good time looking a bit closer at the plants of the churchyard, such as this leaf from a perforate St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum), so named due to the little perforations in the leaf. As well as looking at how we can increase the level of yellow rattle in certain areas of the churchyard.

This year, one of our co-ordinators, Ivan Randall, was awarded a lifetime achievement award from the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust for his outstanding voluntary work over the years.

We also recorded a higher number of flora this year compared to last year, with an extra 7 species (only 3 of which are ferns that we didn't include last year for whatever reason). We've also uploaded 71 biological records this year, which while lower than last year's figure; is still impressive for such a small churchyard.

We've met some great people over the year, as some new faces pop in to help out. Hopefully they'll come and visit us again next year.

However, that's it for this year. Our AGM is in January and we'll be making plans for 2015, which I'll upload afterwards.

Thank you for reading our blog and we wish you a happy Christmas and a wonderful 2015.

Monday, 17 November 2014

The Lifetime Achievement Award - Ivan Randall


I am very happy to announce that Ivan Randall, one of our coordinators, has won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust.

Ivan has been a long-time volunteer with the Trust, putting in thousands of hours in practical work as well as providing advice for the launch of other Churchyard Projects.

Ivan can be found in the WWT diary most weekends, leading voluteer walks in some of the well known reserves in Wiltshire, but more importantly Ivan has knowledge of sites that most people have never heard of - but are rich in biodiversity. Ivan was the volunteer warden at the Vicients Wood reserve for many years before he retired from that role. He has been instrumental in the setting up of many Living Churchyard Projects throughout Wiltshire and has been the joint coordinator for the St Giles Living Churchyard Project in Stanton St Quintin for many years.

As well as being quiet and supportive, Ivan is known for his vast knowledge of wildlife and the issues affecting conservation. He is always keen to promote the activity of the trust and can often be found at local shows with a WWT stand.

All in all, this was a well deserved win for Ivan and look forward to working with him - and learning from him - for many more years.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Parish Life - August

For the first of 2 July sessions in the churchyard, we were delighted to have the return of two young volunteers, brothers aged 3 and 6. It is so important to encourage an interest in wildlife and gardening, and the earlier the start, the better. In a recent Guardian article, Lucas Hatch, aged 12, recalled how his grandfather started him gardening at the age of 4 years old. His first crop was radishes, and he now favours runner beans, lettuces and new potatoes. Growing something to eat is always of interest to young gardeners.

Of course, there is no option to grow food crops in the churchyard (obviously!!) but there are other ways to engage the youngsters. Going on a mini-beast hunt is always good fun. Gently rubbing a finger on the underside of a worm reveals the tiny bristles, called chaetae, which the worm uses to pull itself along and through the soil. Looking for the breathing pore on the saddle of a large slug makes the creatures almost lovable. A white sheet can be placed under a shrub or a low branch of a tree; shake the branch and all manner of creepy-crawlies are knocked onto the ground. A good lesson is the careful and respectful handling of any living thing that is discovered, and also the return to as close to the place they were found is advised. Identification of the animal is not always vital, but a good reference book is useful. Collins “Complete British Wildlife Photoguide” is a good example.

The boys were very keen to help with the practical tasks but found the adult-sized tools, such as the rakes, difficult to handle. They enjoyed using the “monster-hands” to pick up the mown grass, and before the next session, I shall be looking to buy some tools and gloves that are more child-friendly and of an appropriate size.

Even a wildlife enthusiast with 50 plus years of interest can still learn something new. I found a mass of caterpillars on a patch of nettles in the garden and was pleased to learn that they were larvae of the Small Tortoiseshell butterfly. They feed en masse and move around the plant as a group. Another discovery on the same plant was a Common Footman moth, a type that, in spite of its name, was not one that I had seen before.

Who knows what you might discover next? If you would like to be part of our practical session in maintaining the churchyard as a haven for wildlife, please join us on Saturday 16th August, 9.30 a.m. to 12 noon. We are happy to show newcomers how we carry out our management programme. Tools and gloves, and refreshments will be available. Please come and enjoy a session looking after your local environment!

Contributed by: Liz Cullen, Co-ordinator. 

For more information contact us using the contact form.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Practical Session Report - July 2014

I missed the June session as I was away on honeymoon, so this is the first practical session report since May. Even including the rain, it was a lovely session. We recorded many species of plants in flower, with 29 that had started flowering this month and were added to iRecord. Our two littlest helpers were brilliant and have renamed the green 'big hands' we use to pick up grass as 'monster hands' - I really enjoy the way that children can breathe new life into everything they do. The youngest, Abel, kept bringing me snails and slugs which his mum had found - so refreshing to find a child that isn't afraid of such things.

July saw all three of our stonecrops in flower; the biting stonecrop, english stonecrop, and white stonecrop. In the past when I've seen english stonecrop and white stonecrop in isolation, I've sometimes struggled to reach the correct identification, so let's have a look at our stonecrops and see the distinguishing features are when compared to other common Sedum species.

Biting Stonecrop

This is our only yellow stonecrop and it's a perennial, which immediately rules out annual stonecrop (Sedum annuum) which at most is biennial. Being a low mat-forming plant, we can see that it's not reflexed stonecrop (Sedum rupestre (S.reflexum)), which grows up to 30 cm tall and has its' yellow flowers clustered on an umbel-like stalk.











White Vs. English Stonecrop
Now, it's with these two species that I can sometimes become unstuck. They are both mat-forming evergreen perennials and both grow in similar conditions (rocky ground and stone walls) and flower around the same time of year (June to September). Let's see photos of some features side-by-side and see what the differences are.

The photos below show the leaves of each stone crop.  We have English stonecrop (Sedum anglicum) to the left with pale green to red leaves that are often described as 'egg-shaped'. To the right is White stonecrop (Sedum album), with (what looks like to me) fuller green to red leaves that are often described as 'cylindrical-oblong'. On both species the leaves are alternate. In the books I have (see references below), which have illustrated rather than photographed images the English stonecrop tends to be shown as the plant with red leaves, with white stonecrop being shown as having primarily green leaves. This may well depend on the time of year and the population being observed.

Our english stonecrop has 6 petals, which seems quite common, but often both species are described as having star-shaped flowers with 5 petals per flower that are white or pink tinged. On our specimens we can see that the pink tinge is more easily seen on the white stonecrop with our English stonecrop showing a yellow tinge in the centre.

Finally, let's have a look at the stems. The stems of the English stone crop have large hairless leaves growing alternately up the stem, which rules out thick-leaved stonecrop (Sedum dasyphyllum), which is very similar looking.

The leaves of the white stonecrop remain cylindrical and have a much brighter and shiny look to them.


Writing this has certainly helped me get to grips with these two species and I hope it assists anyone who stumbles across this post! It's important to remember that there is always variation within and between plant populations, but using a botanical key like that in The Wild Flower Key by Rose and O'Reilly will help you understand which features are important when identifying your plant.

Our next session is Saturday 26 July. If you'd like any information about our project or you'd like to visit, please get in touch via the comments below or the contact form to the right.

Resources: 
Rose, Francis, and Clare O’Reilly. The Wild Flower Key. Rev Ed edition. London: Warne, 2006.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Book Review: God's Acre by Francesca Greenoak

Front cover of God's Acre
by Francesca Greenok
Illustrated by Clare Roberts.
Prior to the weekend just gone, I had no idea a book like this existed. It was given to us as a wedding gift by one of our churchyard friends. Francesca's beautiful flowing prose is only matched by the detailed, yet minimal drawings and watercolours provided by Clare Roberts.

The author visited over two hundred churches while collecting material for this book and the detail provided in the text makes this apparent - as each page is full of gems. It's lovely to see that while a lot of churchyard match our own in terms of species, there are differences in species and usage in the churchyards of England and Wales.

The book is laid out in five chapters, the first being History and Heritage. Throughout the book Francesca makes obvious, yet thought provoking points about how our churchyard are used and about the connection of churchyard with wildlife. She makes is clear that it is desirable for wildlife and civilisation to exist in harmony. The research that the author has done for this book is clear throughout, especially in the choices of quotes used, including this one from Pope Gregory the Great that 'people would 'continue to frequent the same sacred places' even if the altar there was dedicated to a new god'. It was also interesting to find that at one point in history it was illegal to donate land to the Church, although it was again legal by the time of George III. We manage our churchyard with grass of primary importance, so it's humbling to know that managing churchyards as a meadow is a traditional practice. As such we can expect to see at least some of the plants and animals that were present in the historic churchyards.

Which brings us on to chapter 2 of Churchyard familiars. I'm a fan of ivy, so was pleased to see that the author chose to speak of ivy as a plant that is good for wildlife throughout the year. Another familiar in churchyards, including ours, is that no matter how it is managed for wildlife there always seems to be a stretch of grass that is always well trimmed on either side of the lych-gate all the way to the porch.

The third chapter talks of the churchyard being a place of sanctuary and survival. I hadn't realised that throughout history people have always been able to find sanctuary within the churchyard, but these days, perhaps more importantly, it is other kingdoms of life that required the safety of a churchyard to survive. This includes the tens, sometimes hundreds, of species of lichen that survive within the grounds of a churchyard, when they cannot survive anywhere else. This is often because churchyards are out of the way and face fewer problems with pollution, but also because the churchyard tends to stay the same for decades or hundreds of years, allowing wildlife to make a home without being disturbed.

For many this is a cause of celebration and ceremony, which is the topic of the fourth chapter. Something that the author points out is so obvious that I hadn't thought about it before and now wonder why it had never come to mind, is that some plant species are in the churchyard because they were used inside the church. Some species such as lady's mantle managed to survive or set seed when they were discard from floral decoration within the church. Other species, such as holly and ivy were grown because they were used at certain ceremonies through the Church year. A wonderful tradition, that I'd never seen, but could picture well because of Francesca's wonderful description is the rush-baring procession whereby the floor covering of rushes would be changed in late summer. This takes place as a community event, which is the discussion of the final chapter of the book.

In the community and conservation chapter, the author points out that most people are totally unaware of the species within the churchyard, but when told are not only interested, but concerned. This is especially the case with species considered as rarities, but I hope even common species would be of concern as the churchyard is often 'a shaded fountain in a parched desert' as Francesca quotes W. H. Hudson at the close of the book.

An appendix of plants with religious names and associates follows two churchyard surveys.

This book was a real pleasure to read and provides so much information within such few pages - but doesn't overwhelm. Instead the words and illustrations only serve to inspire the reader to a deeper appreciation of the churchyard as a place not only for wildlife, but for us to enjoy wildlife.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Wiltshire Living Churchyard Annual Seminar 2014

This year's seminar was held in the beautiful village of Chilmark. We all gathered in the village hall for a short introduction to the day we all wandered up to the church for a session on identifying some of the common grasses.

Grass Identification
This session was run by Dominic Price of the Species Recovery Trust, a charity run in nearby Salisbury. Grasses are often viewed as being difficult to identify, but like any plant once you get your eye in it becomes much easier. The session was a lot of fun, with phrases like 'stripy pyjamas' being repeated throughout the session as we all found yorkshire fog! We soon popped into the field next door to look at a few more species, before being let loose to find all the species Dominic had mentioned - luckily I had Lucy with me as she quickly got to grips with which grass was which!

Our grass-filled playground
Dominic showed us 7 grasses and a wood rush. Here's a list of them along with the notes were what I managed to scribble down (any errors will be mine) :
1. Oat grass - which looks like oats! It has orange roots and the most common (and dominant) is the false oat grass (Arrhenatherum elatius). Oat grass is big and droopy with corkscrew leaves.
2. Yorkshire Fog (Holcus lanatus) - which looks like a haze over the ground. It has a velvety feel due to a fine hairy coating. The base of the stems are white with pink stripes, which led to the phrase of the day: "stripy pyjamas".
3. Fescue (Festuca spp.) - needle-like grasses with a whip-like flower head. They like free draining soil and especially like growing on ant hills. As soon as Dominic mentioned this grass, I knew instantly that it was the grass that grows on our ant hills at St. Giles. There are two common species:
Red - where the leaf looks like an actual leaf rather than a needle.
Sheeps - where the leaf on the stem looks like a needle.
4. Meadowgrass (Poa spp.) - which has a strong central groove (mid-rib) on the leaf. The three common species are:
Annual (Poa annua) - which is small.
Rough (Poa trivialis) - which is tall with a rough sheath and ragged ligule. The ligule is a weather-proof sheath to stop the introduction of water which would lead to rot.
Smooth (Poa pratensis) - leaf sheaths are smooth.
5. Cocks-foot (Dactylis glomerata) - which has a very clumpy head and a flattened base. It also has grey-green leaves.
6. Perennial Rye Grass (Lolium perenne) - a grass of agricultural land and likes high nutrient levels. Our farmer, Peter Shallcross, advised us that he can get 4-5 silage cuts a year from this grass, making it a very productive species. If grass isn't mown, Dominic advises, this will become the dominant grass.
7. Meadow Foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis) - a very tall grass with a big inflorescence. Different to Timothy grass in that Foxtail has single awns, whereas Timothy has 2 awns which look like horns.

Some of the grasses. Can you ID them!?



Bonus: Field Wood-rush - has very long hairs on the leaf and like a low nutrient environment (which is good news for our churchyard as it's managed as an unimproved grassland).






The Church
The church of Chilmark was gifted by Henry VIII to the sister and brother-in-law of his last wife, Catherine Parr. It is cruciform in shape and, as you can see in the photo below, has a wonderfully impressive spire. It was stone from Chilmark that was used to build Salibury Cathedral in the 1200s, this same stone was later used to add the main part of the church of Chilmark.

Church of St Margaret of Antioch
Farming for Wildlife
The next session was an interesting talk by local farmer, Peter Shallcross, on the topic of farming for wildlife. I found Peter to be a very interesting speaker, who obviously has a real interest in wildlife. He acknowledges that it is very difficult to keep wildlife when using modern farming techniques. But saying that, he has used areas of his farm under the Countryside Stewardship scheme to ensure that he can do his best to keep wildlife. He has even added a dew pond, as his own expense, to encourage wildlife - especially lapwings. Interestingly, Peter has a solar powered fox fence to ensure that the lapwings that nest on his fields are safe from predation.

He mentioned that it's a sad state of affairs when we have to get used to a degraded landscape. Something that I think has been going on for generations, with each generation seeing less wildlife than the generation before. With this observation each successive generation has a lower expectation of the numbers and variety they will see. And so on.

But thanks to the way that Peter uses the land on his farm, there is a lot of encouragement for birds with a bird seed mix grown in a field and field margins, as well as a legume mix for the bees. This is along with lots of hedging that Peter has planted over the years.
A wild area in the churchyard.
Lunch and Discussion
Next was the most important session of the day - lunch! A lovely spread was provided and the informal layout allowed everyone to chat and get to know each other. It was interesting to talk to others that are running similar projects, to share ideas and to feel rejuvenated in our mission of looking after these special places with wildlife in mind.

Nice to see ant hills at another church. Churchyards are a habitat of permanent pasture
that the yellow meadow ant require for nesting sites.

The final session was an informal chat about the problems that we all face in running these projects, from how to deal with grave spoil and grass clippings, to getting people interested. Something I took from the discussion was that we really need to know what we've got in our churchyards, otherwise we won't know if the impact we're having is truly improving the situation for wildlife, increasing biodiversity on our plots, for instance; or just allowing the species we like to flourish, or which the English bluebell is a good example.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable day. Onwards and upwards until the 2015 seminar!

References:
http://www.caringforgodsacre.org.uk/index.php/resources-and-publications/a-z-of-churchyard-conservation.html
http://www.nadderfocus.co.uk/village-pages/chilmark.html
Rose, Francis. Colour Identification Guide to the Grasses, Sedges, Rushes and Ferns of the British Isles and North Western Europe. London; New York: Viking, 1989.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Parish Life - June

June is our birthday month and our work and celebratory session is a week earlier than usual. It takes place on Saturday 7th June, as some of us are attending the Bishop’s Award ceremony the week after, on 14th June. This annual event is a chance to meet people from other Churchyard projects located all over Wiltshire. This time, it is being held by St. Margaret of Antioch Church, Chilmark, in their village hall. There will be talks on identification of grasses, Farming for Wildlife and in the afternoon, a discussion on “pleasure and problems” of maintaining a churchyard for wildlife. Refreshments and lunch are provided for a modest contribution of £7.00. We shall be collecting our Bishop’s Award for another successful year of management at St. Giles’. (if you are interested in attending, please contact Ivan or Liz)

This month should see plenty of invertebrate activity in the grounds of the church. Spiders hoping to snare a meal, such as the small green spider, Araneus cucurbitinus, so-called because it is cucumber-coloured! Butterflies on the wing, such as Small Heaths, Speckled Woods and Meadow Browns may be seen, and moths such as Burnished Brass or Light Emerald (such brilliant names!) may be disturbed by our working. Bush Vetches, Trefoils, Red Campion and Betony should be in flower. Our birthday party will be a chance for a mid-year review of achievements so far, as well as an excuse to eat a bacon sandwich and/or a slice of birthday cake. As always, anyone interested in our project is very welcome to attend. We shall be carrying out our usual maintenance tasks, as well as the above. Tools and gloves will be available. Please come and join us to help celebrate our birthday! The date for your diaries is Saturday 7th June, 9.30 a.m. to 12 noon.

Contributed by: Liz Cullen, Co-ordinator. 

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Practical Session Report - May 2014

Our May session saw us enjoying the lovely weather. Ivan had been out earlier in the week to start the mowing, which meant that Lucy and Liz were able to begin raking straight away, while Archie loaded up the wheelbarrow and carted the grass cuttings over to our compost heap.

Sue and myself had our walk around the churchyard, which kept us busy recording the plants in flower and photographing them for the blog. This is the first year that I've seen a holly (Ilex aquifolium) in flower, we have a male plant along the side fence and a female plant along the back wall. We were a bit late for the female flowers, which as you can see in the photograph below, had already begun to develop berries (right).


After our first sighting in the churchyard of pignut last year, we were very happy to see another one this year. Interestingly it wasn't the same plant, but another individual about a foot away - last year's plant hasn't come back for some reason, which is odd as it is a perennial plant.


Pignut is a plant from the genus Conopodium and has the specific epithet of majus, which I initially found odd as the largest I've seen it is no more than 30 cm tall. I've tried to have a look at other species of the genus, but it doesn't seem to be a well documented genus, so I can't find what it's supposed to be bigger than - however O'Reilly and Rose note that it grows up to 50 cm tall, while Mabey suggests it can grow up to 80 cm tall! Pignut seems to be the only species of this genus in Britain. It's an important species because it only grows on long established grassland and open woodland - and as such is an indicator of ancient woodland for most of Britain, including our county of Wiltshire, but this picky nature means that it has declined in recent times due to loss of habitat.

As an umbellifer with fine leaves, it, perhaps, doesn't take much looking at to realise that it's part of Apiaceae, the carrot family. If you trace the roots carefully, and with permission of the land owner, down to the tubers, you'll find some roundish 'nuts'. These nuts are the reason for the common name of pignut and are about the size of walnuts. Eaten raw they apparently have a taste somewhere between hazelnuts and celery (another member of the carrot family). When cooked they are reported to have the taste of yet another member of the carrot family, that of parsnip. Talking of food, it was soon time for our mid-session break for tea and biscuits.

It was an important session for myself and Lucy as it was our last session before getting married! Our lovely churchyard friends gave us a card and some lovely presents during break time. Here's a couple of photos:
The happy couple

One of the lovely presents they gave us to celebrate our getting married. Thanks team :)
Well, that's it until next time. There won't be a practical session report for June as I'm visiting family and celebrating my niece's 10th Birthday. Sue, will be recording the plants in flower, so I'll update the spreadsheet with her findings. The next post will be of the 2014 Wiltshire Living Churchyard Seminar at Chilmark.

References:
Mabey, Richard. Flora Britannica. 1st edition. London: Chatto & Windus / Sinclair Stevenson, 1996.
Mabey, Richard. Food for Free. London: Collins, 2012.
Rose, Francis, and Clare O’Reilly. The Wild Flower Key. Rev Ed edition. London: Warne, 2006.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Practical Session Report - April 2014

This month the plants have sprung into life with us recording 20 species in flower, compared to 11 last year. One species that has been out for the last three Aprils is the ever-lovely cowslip.


Interestingly the botanical name for the cowslip, Primula veris, means first flowering (Primula) and spring or flowering in spring (veris). The cow slip has a range of old common names from hey-flower, peggles, paigles and cowslip balls. The cowslip used to be abundant, but went into decline between the 1950s and 1980s due to the change in farming practices.

Churchyards, like ours at St Giles, are important places for many reasons. In this case, because churchyards are relatively untouched (both by ploughing and by herbicides), species such as the cowslip have continued to flourish. Luckily since the 1990s the cowslips have begun to recover, especially on the chalky soils of England and Wales, providing a splash of welcome colour each springtime.



Another welcome sight was the field wood-rush (Luzula campestris). Part of the botanical name for the field wood-rush is Campestris, which means of fields or open plains. Another common name for the field wood-rush is Good Friday grass as it tends to appear quite early in the year and apparently always in time for Easter - although while looking very much like a grass isn't actually a grass.

This year, I'm making the effort to get better acquainted with the grasses and rushes of the churchyard. This rush has grass-like leaves that are hairy with a knob at the end of each leaf tip. It's quite a low growing rush, which doesn't seem to grow taller than around 15 cm tall. In rushes, the perianth (collective term for petals and sepals) has 6 segments, which in this species are brown. If you have a look at the close up below, you will be able to see the 6 bright yellow anthers surrounding the green ovary. The ovary has a style with 3 fuzzy and twisted thread-like stigmas projecting out of it. .



I'm really looking forward to our next session. If you want to join us or have any questions; feel free to leave a comment or use the contact form to the right to get in touch.

References:
Francis Rose, 1999. Colour Identification Guide to the Grasses, Sedges, Rushes and Ferns of the British Isles and North-Western Europe. Edition. Penguin UK.
Lorraine Harrison . Royal Horticultural Society, 2012. RHS Latin for Gardeners: Over 3,000 Plant Names Explained and Explored. Edition. Mitchell Beazley.
Richard Mabey, 1997. Flora Britannica. First Edition Edition. Sinclair Stevenson.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Practical Session Report - March 2014

We had planned to plant some bulbs during our first practical session of the new year, but weren't able to get the bulbs in time. So, we decided that we'd switch things around and perform the soil testing this month and plant the bulbs next time.

We tested the soil in three locations in the churchyard, as shown on the layout below.



We also used three different techniques:
1) Water and pH strips, which requires soil from a 20cm depth.
2) a soil tester which uses a probe pushed into the soil and provides a pH reading in around a minute.
3) a tester kit that uses dried soil samples and chemical reagents to provide a pH reading of the soil.

We were expecting that over such a long period of time, the dropped leaves of the Yew trees may have made the soil more acidic. But instead, when averaging out the results from the three methods of testing, we found that the soil was neutral (7) to slightly alkaline (7.5). So, I had a quick look in a couple of books and found that things such a pine needles (for example), which are acidic don't have much of an impact on soil pH (Hodge, 2013). I also read that Yew trees prefer drier lime-rich soils (Sterry, 2007). These results will help us in future if we decide to try and grow any new plant species in the churchyard. The results will also help us over time if we find that a certain plant species is doing particularly well or decidedly poorly. The full results can be seen in the table below.


In the photos above, a pH strip and the probe soil tester can be seen in action.

It was great fun being back at the churchyard after our winter break and we had lots of new volunteers.One such volunteer was Abel, who is fascinated by worms and was a great help digging the holes we needed for our soil testing. He can be see in the photo below with Liz, one of our coordinators, who is explaining some of the biology of the worm to Abel.
Liz, Abel, and the worm.
So, that's it for this time. Next time, we'll hopefully be planting some bulbs. Hope to see you all there!

Resources:
Paul Sterry, 2007. Complete British Trees. Edition. HarperCollins UK.
Geoff Hodge, 2013. RHS Botany for Gardeners. Edition. Mitchell Beazley.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

AGM 2014 - Plans for the coming year

On Monday 17 February, we descended, like the darkness, upon the Wellesley Arms, Sutton Benger for our annual general meeting. As well as catching up with each other, we get down to the serious business of looking at what we've achieved over the past year and what we'd like to achieve in the coming year.

Some of our achievements over the last year included starting this blog and starting to formally record the flora and fauna of the site; as well as the important work of managing our grassland.

We have some exciting ideas for the coming year, some practical and some administrative.
 
Some of the practical ideas include:
March - Our snowdrops are very successful, but some are hidden from sight. So it was raised that we could transplant some of them so that they can be seen from the road and, hopefully, will draw people into the churchyard. Our bluebells haven't been so successful. It's thought that squirrels may be eating the bulbs. So in addition to purchasing some local provenance bluebells; we're going to plant them underneath some chicken wire - in the hopes that this will prevent squirrels from being able to get at the bulbs.
April - In April, we're going to be testing the pH of our soil in various areas of the churchyard. We're going to be using three methods; the first being a pH meter, the second, pH strips, and the third method will be a soil testing kit and distilled water. It will be really exciting to see what the pH of the churchyard is - and whether it's consistent throughout the churchyard. This may also give us some clues are to why certain plants are more successful than others.
June -  June is our Birthday celebration! It'll be our 16th year and we'll be celebrating with cake and an invertebrate sample. We did a Birthday Bug Hunt last year and it was really successful, so I for one, am looking forward to it again.
Ongoing - recording the grass species on site. While we have a good idea of the grass species at the churchyard, we haven't formally recorded which grass species are present. Along with the ongoing management of the grassland through cutting regimes and grass collection, this will be an ongoing task.

Some of the administrative ideas are:
  • Making our Management Plan in to a Living Document. Our management plan is very good, but hasn't been updated since it was first put together. My hope is that if we treat the management plan as a living document it will reflect our current ideas and practices.
  • Creation of task specifications. These will be simple sheets that detail the individual tasks that we carry out at the churchyard, for example, raking. We'll also create task specifications for things that we'd love to have done, but don't have the time for. These additional tasks include 'Invertebrate Recorder' - so if you'd like to volunteer for that please get in touch. 
  • Resource and Activity Sheets. Our churchyard is a wonderful learning resource, so we'll try to create - or borrow - some resource sheets that will get kids and adults to be active visitors to our Living Churchyard.
As you can see, our AGM was a very productive and successful meeting. We all had some great ideas and it will be good to put them into action. All we have to hope for now, is that the weather will be on our side!

Volunteer with us
Our project is run solely by volunteers. We have lots of different tasks available for new volunteers - and we always have room for one more.
If you'd like to volunteer, please click here for dates, or see the column to the right for our location and when we meet.
Also, if you have any comments or ideas regarding our plans for the year - please let us know in the comments.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Guest Post: Volunteering At A Living Churchyard

I recently wrote a guest post for Rachel Bates at Ecology Escapades and today it's been published on her blog!

It's very exciting as it's my first guest post and I really appreciate it being published. I've written about volunteering at our churchyard and what this entails.

To read this post, pop along to Rachel's wonderful site:

Ecology Escapades: Volunteering At A Living Churchyard