An article written by Melinda Appleby, W&BA Vice Chair
It’s May, and the countryside is splashed green and white as spring moves into summer and the changing palette of flowers evolves. The cowslips have gone to seed and are replaced by bugle, ground ivy, red campion and ox-eye daisies. The year is hiccoughing between hot and cold spells and summer migrants are still slow arriving. The house martins came to their home nest two weeks late. A party of thirty swifts whirled over on 5th May. Cuckoos are calling along the river valleys and the hedgerows are full of whitethroats.
The sunshine has brought out the butterflies and we have seen holly blue, orange tip, brimstone, tortoiseshell and green veined white.
This week would have been our village Flower Festival and we were to host the first of Waveney & Blyth Arts BioBlitz events focusing on the bugs and blossoms found in country churchyards. These workshops were planned to explore biodiversity and encourage inspired art work. Alongside the arts activity, a naturalist would have worked with us to identify as many species as we can.
Old burial grounds often have fantastic, flowery grassland as they have been so little disturbed over the centuries. A churchyard or burial site may be the most ancient enclosed piece of land in a parish, perhaps even older than the church building, having its roots in pre-Christian times. Apart from grave digging, the grassland will have been relatively undisturbed, re-seeding naturally for hundreds of years. A benefit of this is a diversity of grasses and flowers and associated animals and insects, some of which may now be rare in Britain.
In the absence of the workshop I decided anyway to spend some time in the churchyard exploring the wildlife. It is quiet here. Set amongst meadows, on a slight rise in the land, the church peeps through tall hedges of cherry plum and apple. Looking north I can see the Dove valley with its string of water meadows, and the breeze brings the sound of cattle. The sky is an intense blue, the air as clear as mountain mornings. They say the lack of pollution is giving us these pin sharp days. Were the trees ever that green?
My BioBlitz list is a small start at recognising all the wildlife that occupies this country churchyard…
Birds: song thrush, nuthatch, wren, robin, wood pigeon, chiffchaff, blackcap, blue tit.
Mammals: none seen but evidence of muntjac, rabbit, mole.
Plants: red campion, cowslip, ox-eye daisy, bugle, forget-me-not, buttercup, germander speedwell.
Insects: red-tailed bumble bee, damselfly, soldier beetle, crane fly.
More time and more systematic hunting needed.
The churchyard is host to old friends and I pause to remember them. On the west of the church the graves are older, lichen coloured, capturing families and stories of the village long past. At this time when death seems to be a daily newscast, I ponder life and loss. What will I leave behind? What should I do while I am here?
The BioBlitz planned to encourage art work, poetry and short nature notes; thoughts on the churchyard or the wildlife or both. I tried my hand at a poem about our link to the land.
Laid to Earth
I want to be of this land, to be sinewed
by rock and root; to be fed by it in seed
and fruit; to borrow wool from the sheep,
weave cloth for my comfort. Hear music
of the wind’s play in poplars, laugh
with chuckle of water under the bridge.
I want to be nurtured by sun; cup apples
warm from the tree, heft them in my palm
or bite the pear, the lazy juice sweetly running.
When I can no longer sing of the land
or hear its calling; see only blue mist coiling
round the farm, forget the blackbird
rousing the dawn, then I want to lie in the roots
of oak, in the fold of meadows, cradled
and crooked by river and wood; turn
to the earth for sleep, returning bone
to bone, unwinding sinews and sinking
back to this land from where I came sweetly running.
Waveney & Blyth Arts launched Bugs & Blossoms in 2019 to promote events that encourage people to notice insects and flowers and to facilitate positive action. The initiative aims to work across all the creative arts – to celebrate the wild flowers and insects that are part of our lives. But also for the arts to draw attention to the plight of many of these species and to encourage people to be inspired by them and to take action, however small and however local, to conserve them.
You can read more about Bugs & Blossoms, along with details on our BioBlitz Art project over on our Bug & Blossoms page. If you would like to share with us some photos, notes on the biodiversity, or artistic responses to the wild patches or churchyards in your area, please email us at email@example.com