Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Spot an orchid in your churchyard

Churchyard wildlife watch for UN International Biodiversity Day (May 22)   
Shrinking the Footprint, the Church of England’s national environmental campaign, is encouraging churchgoers to follow in the footsteps of the Rev Gilbert White and other naturalists to take a closer look at wild plants, including those with faith links, in their churchyards.

International orchid expert the Revd David Ridgway (vicar of St Stephen’s, St Albans) says orchids, along with a range of other wild flowers, are blooming at this time of year and, with the onset of early spring, there is a host of wildlife to be spotted in churchyards. You can listen to David's podcast here.

As a partner in the UN International Biodiversity celebrations, Shrinking the Footprint has drawn up a list of plants and web links that will help nature enthusiasts make the most of some 10,000 churchyards around the country.

With monocropping and chemical pesticides used in farms and gardens, churchyards are often the most biodiverse places in communities.  Wildlife audits have revealed a surprising range of wild flowers and animal life in churchyards.

Some plants, like meadow saxifrage and the green winged orchid, are now only found in churchyards.  These grow side by side with other plants gathered naturally over the years, but also alongside those introduced inadvertently from decorations in the church or on graves.

Speaking in the Commons last week, the Second Estates Church Commissioner, Tony Baldry MP, encouraged churches to celebrate Biodiversity Sunday by recording the growth of their Millennium yews. The Conservation Foundation donated 8,500 yew trees to churches to celebrate the Millennium.

David Shreeve, the Church of England’s national environment adviser, said: “There is a wealth of wildlife in our churchyards which, when added together, form the country's largest and most biodiverse nature reserve. This year is a great opportunity for churchgoers to spend time appreciating what special places our churchyards are in providing their communities with local Noah's Arks of biodiversity which everyone can share not just this Sunday but every day – for free"

Plants with faith links:
  • Columbine – Aquilegia vulgaris - is also known as ‘dove flower’. The dove is a symbol for new creation and baptism and carvings of the flower are often found in cathedrals and churches.
  • Sorrel – Rumex acetosa -  was one of the bitter herbs that Hebrew people ate with Passover lamb and so possibly part of the Last Supper.
  • Moschatel – Adoxa moschatellina - also known as the Good Friday flower.  There is no other flower like it with its five petals facing north, south, east and west and a fifth facing the sky and a scent of musk.  It is the only species in its genus and the only genus in its family in the world.  
  • Wild Pansy –Viola tricolor -  a member of the violet family, and also known as ‘heartsease’ and ‘Trinity Violets’ because they are yellow, white and purple.
  • Cow Parsley – Anthriscus sylvestris - also sometimes known as ‘Our Lady’s Lace’
  • Pasque Flower – Pulsatilla vulgaris – thought to be the lilies of the field Jesus pointed to in his Sermon on the Mount.
  • Solomon’s Seal – Polygonatum multiflorum -  grows in the wild now only in a few places.  King Solomon was renowned for his wisdom, composed 3000 proverbs and 1005 songs and built the first temple.
  • Speedwell – Veronica. When Jesus carried his cross, Veronica was the girl in the crowd who offered him her handkerchief.  When Jesus handed it back his face was imprinted on the cloth.  An old country name for speedwell is ‘God’s Eye’
  • Lady’s Smock – Cardamine pratensis. In the cloisters of Lincoln Cathedral which is dedicated to Our Lady there is a garden full of her flowers.
  • Lords and Ladies – Arum maculatum - has also been known as ‘Parson in the pulpit’ and ‘Parson in his smock’.
Useful web links:
  • - Yorkshires Living Churchyard Project
  •  - “protecting wildlife for the future” with examples of churchyard audits
  • works to to protect and improve England’s natural environment
  •  conservation charity for churchyards and burial grounds
  • – news and advice on gardening for all
  • Orchid Society website with lots of info and advice
Eleanor Course

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