Like your lichen
Posted: 02 Nov 2006 @ 00:00
When I was an incumbent, I was sent for trial a product that cleaned
the lichen off headstones without damage to stone or inscriptions. Is there any
such product on the market today?
A supplementary question should be asked, "Why does the lichen need to be
removed?" The British Lichen Society is actively involved in the conservation
of lichens, and has a thriving churchyard project to record lichens in
churchyards and give advice on appropriate management.
In Britain, the churchyard is a significant habitat for lichens (ranking in
importance alongside ancient woodland, heathland, etc.), and churchyards are
particularly vital for maintaining populations and diversity of those lichens
that grow on stone in lowland Britain, where natural outcrops are rare.
Although most yards will have between 50 and 70 different lichen species, there
is an increasing number of churchyards where this number exceeds 100.
The contribution that lichens make to the appearance of the churchyard is
often overlooked; but the atmosphere of the typical English churchyard is
greatly enhanced by the effect of lichens forming a colour-
ful mosaic pattern on the church buildings, tombstones, and boundary walls.
Lichens not only enhance the look of the stone. They may also offer some
protection against the ravages of wind, rain and frost.
Cleaning of tombstones inevitably removes lichens and mosses. Brushing too
vigorously, particularly with a wire brush, also removes the surface patina
that has developed over a long time and gives the stone its mellow look.
Although some cleaning may be necessary in order to read the inscription, only
that part of the stone carrying the inscription needs to be cleaned.
There are other methods of reading inscriptions (such as looking through a
tube, wetting the area, or taking a rubbing), and these should always be tried
first before resorting to cleaning. If cleaning is thought to be necessary,
only water and a soft brush should be used. It is inadvisable to use bleach,
herbicide or algicide.
In all cases where lichens will be destroyed, the British Lichen Society
would welcome the opportunity to survey the stones to be cleaned or removed, so
that, if there are rare lichens involved, a satisfactory solution to the
conflicting interests can, we hope, be reached.
More information regarding the British Lichen Society’s churchyard project
can be found at www. thebls.org.uk.
(Mrs) Ishpi Blatchley (on behalf of the Churchyard Project, British Lichen
The Revd Neil Vigers, of Hook, also regards the cleaning of lichens off
gravestones as "unintended vandalism". We pass on other readers’ advice — to
use household bleach (thoroughly wet the stone first); or a strong solution of
washing soda (sponge over, and wait a month or two); or Bio patio cleaner —
with that caution. Editor
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