Churchyards are peaceful havens for wildlife

The old wall alongside Church Lane in Sidmouth

The old wall alongside Church Lane in Sidmouth - Credit: Ed Dolphin

Ed Dolphin writes for the Herald on behalf of the Sid Valley Biodiversity Group.

Ed Dolphin of Sidmouth Arboretum

Ed Dolphin of Sidmouth Arboretum - Credit: Archant

Churchyards are not just for the dead; they are peaceful havens for wildlife and Sidmouth’s Parish Churchyard is home to plenty of nature, insects, birds, small mammals and many plant varieties.

One interesting area is the old wall alongside Church Lane, a vertical nature reserve all to itself.

As far as nature is concerned, this wall is a limestone cliff and it has been colonised by more than a dozen different plant species, some that you would expect to find on a sea cliff.

The secret is not just the limestone blocks, but the mortar that holds them together.

Modern mortar is toxic to most plants, but this wall still has the old-fashioned lime mortar that allows plant roots to gain a foothold.

The tops of the limestone blocks have several crusts of lichen including the yellow-orange Caloplaca, and the spreading threads of Silky Wall Feather-moss.

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There are five different ferns growing in the cracks between the stones. Hart’s Tongue and Polypody are usually found in woodland, but Sea Spleenwort, Maidenhair Spleenwort and Wall Rue typically grow on sea cliffs.

There are several flowering plants living on the wall, but bare stone is a harsh environment and most of them are very stunted.

The blue and yellow flowers of Ivy-leaved Toadflax can be found on many walls around town, and the fleshy succulent Stonecrop is a common rockery plant in gardens.

It is a surprise to see Dandelions, Daisies, Smooth Sowthistle, and Cow Parsley on a wall rather than their usual home in meadows and laneside hedgerows.

The largest plants are less surprising. As its name suggests, Pellitory of the Wall is a common wall dweller. Herbalists used to believe that, as its roots could crack mortar, a tea made from its leaves would break up kidney stones, it probably doesn’t.

Many churches around the county and country are working to support nature. Several hold special events in early June as part of the Caring for God’s Acre project.

The Exeter Diocese supports The Devon Living Churchyards Project which works with the Devon Wildlife Trust to manage churchyards in environmentally friendly ways.