In June 2021, St Matthew’s Church, Warehorne, was one of 550 churches participating in a Count on Nature in churchyards organised by Caring for God’s Acre. The size of burial grounds in England and Wales equates to that of a small National Park and they are often virgin land, undisturbed for hundreds of years, with no pesticidal use, so affording a wonderful resource for recording the range of flora and fauna therein and uploading it onto the National Biodiversity website.
Those participating found they were challenged to name the many varieties they found particularly within the categories of grasses and the lichen on gravestones. Who knew there was a British Lichen Society? Historians of all kinds are sometimes tempted to clean or scrape off lichen growing on memorial stones so they can read what is underneath, but this harms the stone being protected by the lichen. However, there is hope for future researchers with the aid of Geophysical surveying and Reflective Transformation Imaging. The Church of England, with support from Historic England and other partners including Caring for Gods Acre, has created a digital map and database of all burial grounds in England, known as the National Burial Grounds Survey. Work on this is ongoing, but where the map is complete, such as West Yorkshire in the Diocese of Leeds, the next stage of work has begun, recording the grave memorials and ecology of our churchyards, and linking these with other resources through the Church Heritage Record. with the aid of Reflective Transformation Imaging (RTI). The survey over the next seven years will map everything there including unmarked graves and at the same time scan the memorial stones, the technology revealing writing and decoration not visible to the naked eye.
With grateful thanks to those who participated results from the nature survey in St Matthew’s churchyard revealed a wonderful variety of wild flowers and grasses. More worryingly, was the absence of bees and butterflies, something which St Matthew’s PCC will take into consideration as it actively manages the churchyard for the people and wildlife. A churchyard is many things to many people: a quiet reflective place; a burial ground; a sanctuary for wildlife; of interest to geologists, historians and environmentalists; a window on the past and living celebration of God’s wonderful creation.