The biodiversity value of churchyards and long tradition of churchyard management make these ancient grassland sites of unique value and importance. Many churchyards are remnants of ancient meadows that were once used for hay or pasture, long before the church itself was built. So many of the old wildflower meadows have been cultivated, improved or developed since the Second World War that the churchyard is, in some parishes, now the only remaining area of ‘unimproved’, species-rich grassland.
Norfolk has the highest number of churches in the UK, and churchyards in the county play a vital role for a number of species, providing the main refuge for a suite of wildflowers and ferns, and for over 40 lichens. Other species frequently associated with churchyards include invertebrates such as butterflies, moths and bees; amphibians and reptiles including slow-worms, lizards, frogs, toads and snakes; a wide variety of birds; and small mammals such as voles, mice and hedgehogs. Bat roosts are also often found in church buildings, and churchyards can be an important source of insects for bats.
Norfolk Churchyard Conservation Scheme
The Norfolk Churchyard Conservation Scheme was established in 1981 and is run by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust in collaboration with the Diocese of Norwich. Nearly half of Norfolk’s parish churches are registered under the scheme, which aims to help churches manage their churchyards to protect the plant species of particular interest while observing the main requirements of the church. Advice and surveys are available on request, and the Scheme also publishes a range of management information sheets and an advice booklet which are free of charge.
From 2008, Norfolk Wildlife Trust has been working in partnership with the Norfolk Probation Service to provide free, practical help in churchyards. Through this scheme, the Trust hopes to increase the number of churchyards being actively managed to benefit wildlife, and is particularly keen to help churches where management in parts of the churchyard has lapsed, or where cutting and clearing of wildflower-rich areas is proving difficult because of a shortage of people to do the work. For further information, and to apply for the scheme, please download the form.
Churchyards can be vulnerable to inappropriate management for a number of different reasons:
a perceived conflict between managing in a wildlife-friendly manner, and maintaining a neat and tidy appearance
a shortage of labour or funding, or a lack of understanding, to carry out suitable management
architectural renovations, leading to damage to or loss of important stonework habitathealth and safety issues eg repositioning of headstones, felling of ‘dangerous’ veteran trees
inappropriate siting and selection of new churchyard trees and shrubs
inappropriate use of herbicides
For further information on conservation in churchyards please click here.