The Churchyard

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Flora and Fauna Survey during 2007 and ongoing

What can attract us to a church? There are probably as many answers to that question as there are people. They may include ‘a real sense of God's presence’, ‘a very friendly, caring community’, ‘I have friends who go there’, ‘lively services’, ‘beautiful building’, or in some cases, ‘nothing whatever’. For me, when I joined Framfield church just over a year ago I could have said yes to all of these except the last one, and I admit there was one more reason…..Framfield Church also has a wonderful churchyard! As an ecologist, I was delighted to see such a huge area providing not only a resting place for the loved ones of the community who have passed on, but also a terrific sanctuary for wildlife. This fact was already appreciated by many in the church, who have worked hard over the years at appropriately managing the churchyard. Their challenge is to maintain the right balance between keeping paths accessible to visitors, whilst taking care of the best of the wild flora allowing them to flower so beautifully in spring or summer, depending on the species, and to set seed before being mown or strimmed at the best time.

So during the summer of 2007 I embarked on a plant survey, to assist those doing the hard work (mine was the fun bit!) in deciding which bits to allow to flower and which could stand more frequent mowing. While the full results still await analysis, so far a total of over 120 species of ‘higher plant’ have been recorded. This does not include the fascinating range of lichens to be found on many of the older gravestones.

But of course, plants are not the only inhabitants of our churchyard - there is a whole foodweb. On a warm summer's day, a delightful range of butterflies and damselflies can be seen flitting over the flowers, and crickets and grasshoppers bouncing around in the longer grass. Allowing some areas of rough grassland near the hedges and in the uneven ground around older gravestones has also created perfect conditions for Slow Worms, a protected species which has been seen on occasion by those caring for the area. As a result of donations, last year around 6 bird boxes were put up in various trees around the churchyard. I wish I'd been there when they hoisted the 3 foot-long owl box into the big beech trees by the vicarage!

So as you walk through the churchyard this spring and summer, we hope you will enjoy the beauty and amazing diversity of wildlife that you will see around you. Maybe you will be visiting the graves of your own loved ones; perhaps if you linger a while, you may catch a glimpse of the sheer creativity and generosity of the loving Heavenly Father who makes it all possible, who notices when even a sparrow falls to the ground, who cares infinitely about every little detail of our own lives, and longs to pour the same love into us as he does into the rest of his creation.

Sally Clifton