Our Living Churchyards
Did you know that there are just two areas of our countryside that may have the only remnants of our ancient wildflowers? One is the road verge and the other is the churchyard. Because neither have been ploughed up, re-seeded, fertilised (well not from above, anyway) or sprayed with weedkiller (much). But they have been mowed too much in recent years. Realising what an important historical bank of wildlife is held in these places now, the North Wales Wildlife Trust has been running a project called ‘Living Churchyards’ in Flintshire, backed by Cadwyn Clwyd.
This has involved simply leaving some areas of the churchyard to grow longer in the summer and only cutting the hay right at the end. And it is amazing what has appeared amongst the grasses – flowers that have been there all along but never allowed to flower – wild orchids, rare saxifrages, pink centaury, blue harebell and lots more.
In North East Wales, it’s estimated that 98% of “natural herbage” sites – wildflower meadows – have been lost since WW11.
Besides managing the land for wildlife, a number of bumblebee nest boxes and solitary bee observation nest boxes were purchased and found new homes in ancient churchyards and Iwan produced some success, “Within a few days of erecting the solitary bee nest boxes I was amazed that solitary bees were already using them!”Seven churches signed up to this project last year, which is likely to be rolled out into Denbighshire year.
“Last summer a group of volunteers all used scythes to clear vegetation in the graveyard at Llanasa,” said Iwan Edwards, NWWT’s community officer. “You could hear the birds singing and people talking with each other. The local school children had a whale of a time running through the cut hay to turn it for drying. It was like a throwback to a bygone age when the whole community would come out to work together.” Like most scythe users, he advocates the Austrian style which, with its sprung steel blade, is around 40% lighter than the traditional “English” scythe. An experienced cutter can usually clear one acre per day. “They’re pretty efficient – at the annual Scythe Festival they’re raced against strimmers and the result is usually close.”
Local Halkyn Mountain naturalist Ieuan ap Sion has been doing a similar thing in Rhes y Cae chapel graveyard for the last 20 years. He says it was land enclosed from the mountain in the 1890s and so has never been ploughed or seeded by Man – the ancient seedbank is still there. Now it doesn’t get cut til October (when Iwan and his team of scything volunteers come along) and there are hundreds of Twayblade and spotted orchids, blue meadow cranesbill, knapweed and columbine – Dr. Goronwy Wynn made a study of the sedges growing there and found 15 different species – one very rare that was sent down to Kew for verification. Wouldn’t it be fun to include all our local churchyards in this wonderful project?