Secret life of churchyards: new project seeks to map wildlife in ‘biodiversity hotspots’

02 February 2018

ANDREW FUSEK PETERS

A blue tit alights on a lichen-covered memorial in Longden Road Cemetery, Shrewsbury

A blue tit alights on a lichen-covered memorial in Longden Road Cemetery, Shrewsbury

THE secret animal and plant life of churchyards and burial grounds in England and Wales is to be revealed for the first time, thanks to a project funded by the National Lottery.

The Beautiful Burial Grounds project, run by the charity Caring for God’s Acre, will ask volunteers to record monuments and species discovered in burial grounds, to build up a map of the secrets that they hold.

Many of Britain’s lichen species — 700 of the 2000 identified types — are found in churchyards, and nearly half of these are very rarely found elsewhere. Many churchyards contain more than 100 species of lichen in one site.

Flowers and wildlife also abound in many churchyards, where long grass provides a refuge for many creatures, including frogs, voles, butterflies, and bees.

The director of the charity, Harriet Carty, said: “There are few places to rival the range of interest present within churchyards, cemeteries, and chapel yards. They illustrate the history of the community they serve: the migrations and immigrations, the changes in style and fashion of architecture and monumental masonry.

“They are also hotspots for biodiversity, giving us a glimpse of the ecological richness of the past, whilst providing refuges for wildlife now and in the future.”

The £586,700 National Lottery grant will fund a database, including an interactive map listing burial sites and their treasures, and train volunteers as “citizen scientists” to enter their findings.

The project will help the thousands of volunteers who record wildlife and plantlife for other interest groups, such as botany groups and local lichen groups, to record their discoveries with others.

There will also be sessions tailored at families and people with disabilities or mental-health issues. In Hereford, the project is working with sight-loss charities to offer sessions with bird experts to teach people how to identify birds through bird song.

By revealing some of the secrets of burial grounds, the charity hopes to ensure that they are cared for into the future.

CARING FOR GOD’S ACREButtercups are identified and entered into a database by volunteers as part of the Beautiful Burial Grounds project, at St Mary’s, Whitton, in Shropshire

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