The Churchyard

Churchyard Species of the Month - October

Jay – Garrulus glandarius

 

The jay is the most colourful of the crow family, being mostly a pinkish brown colour with slightly paler underparts, with black and white flecks on the top of its head, a black moustache and a white throat. It has a white rump, a black tail and bill and pinky-brown legs. Its wings are mostly black with white and blue patches. Jays are about the size of jackdaws and are shy birds and quite difficult to see, but now the leaves are falling it is easier to spot the flash of a white rump as they flit from tree to tree, giving their raucous, screeching alarm call as they fly, alerting you to their presence. As well as this characteristic sound, the jay is well known for its mimicry, often imitating different species and even the sound of a bird it is attacking. However, the jay is a potential prey item for owls at night and other birds of prey during the day.

 

Jays are found all over the British Isles apart from the far North of Scotland and they particularly like oak trees in autumn when there are plenty of acorns which they collect and stash for retrieving later in the winter. Their diet consists mainly of acorns, nuts, seeds, fruit such as blackberries and rowan berries and insects, but they will also eat nestlings of other birds, and bats and small mammals. They can be seen all year round, but are more obvious at this time of year when they are active in search of the acorns, beech mast and hazelnuts which they bury. They enjoy foraging in the oak tree in our Garden of Remembrance and, as they bury many of the acorns they collect, they are probably largely responsible for the many little oak seedlings which spring up all over the churchyard during the course of the year!

Jays can sometimes be seen indulging in a curious activity known as “anting”. The jay appears to be dust bathing, lying with wings outspread on top of an ant hill. It is thought that this may be a form of natural parasite control, as the enraged ants spray the bird’s feathers with formic acid.

In an interesting snippet of folklore, the jay is said to spend Fridays with the devil, telling tales!


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Conservation Project

Churchyards are usually areas of ground that have remained uncultivated for many years, and as such they have the potential to be havens for wildlife where plants and animals can thrive among the graves and monuments. Indeed, until the 20th century they were wild, un-mown places, alive with bees and butterflies, occasionally even grazed by sheep! In the 21st century properly and sympathetically managed churchyards can again become places of wild beauty and tranquillity, surrounding us with the comforting reminder of the ongoing life and vitality of God's creation even amidst the sadness we feel at the passing of our loved ones.

 
Here at St James, as in a growing number of parishes, we are putting into action a plan to manage our churchyard with wildlife conservation in mind. We began the process in a small way in the spring of 2013, building and placing bird boxes in all three churchyards, more than half of which became home to families of blue tits and great tits over the summer. The Churchyard Conservation Project is aiming to transform selected areas into wildflower meadow and create a habitat for bees and butterflies and other small creatures, which contrasts with the short grass in other parts of the churchyard and mown paths among the flowers and graves.

The Early Days

The seeds of the Churchyard Conservation Project were sown early in 2013 when, while looking at ways we might try to encourage new people to come along to church, and with the added asset of an enthusiastic zoology graduate embarking on a career in conservation and ecology, we hit upon the idea of organising a bird box building session in the churchyard, which we advertised with posters around the village, and which proved to be a huge success.

 
Inspired by the success of a similar project at Oldberrow church, we decided to develop part of the churchyard at St James as wildflower meadow and the Churchyard Project was born.
 
In November 2013, a team of volunteers began preparing the wildflower areas, weeding graves, rooting out unwanted saplings and building a habitat pile and a very impressive new compost heap. The process continued in 2014 with regular working parties and events and when we cut the wildflower meadow for the first time at the end of the summer, we celebrated the conclusion of our first year with a working party and barbecue which has since become an annual event. The support of volunteers from the congregation and from the wider community has been, and continues to be, fantastic - we couldn't do it without all your hard work!

Churchyard Areas

The project was initially undertaken in stages. Our first task was to begin to recreate the right conditions for wild meadow to develop, and the plan shows which areas we are managing for wildflowers.
 
We weren't sure if the resulting 12 boxes would be occupied in their first year, as they were put up rather later than would have been ideal, but seven of them (five at St James, one at the Old Church and one at St Peter's) quickly became home to families of blue tits and great tits. Throughout the spring and summer we posted updates and photographs of our resident families and gradually the idea of doing more to actively protect and encourage the wildlife in the churchyards evolved.



Areas B and C were wildflower meadow in the past, and at the St James 2013 Open Day volunteers identified over 40 different species of wild flowers and grasses still present. These plants are gradually re-establishing themselves.
 
In area D, against the church north wall, the soil is thin and poor with grass and creeping buttercup competing with the wildflowers growing there naturally. Area A is quite sparse in places, with thin grass, moss and patches of bare earth. This part of the churchyard was actually the most successful in the first year with lots of interesting things appearing including the beautiful white Star of Bethlehem and a sea of oxeye daisies.
 
The meadow areas are mown early in the spring and then left to grow, and cut short in late summer after the flowers have gone to seed. The whole area is then mown and tidied for the winter.

Further Information

Contact Us:
Sarah or Catherine
 
Links:

Caring for God's Acre

RSPB Bird Boxes

Eco Church

Diocesan Environmental Group (DEG)