"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Monday, 3 June 2019

A Churchyard full of Wildlife and Nesting Activity Update

A few years ago I read in a book on Warwickshire's Butterflies about the churchyard at Oldberrow which is regarded as the best churchyard in Warwickshire for wild flowers. I have been meaning to pay a visit for years and then I also read more recently that it was a good site to see slow worms so it immediately went near the top of my list of places to visit.

The churchyard is an area of unimproved neutral grassland with a huge diversity of flowers including several that are uncommon in Warwickshire. Until the early 1980's it was traditionally managed as a hay meadow and scythed just once a year to provide fodder. Sadly, later "tidiness" was encouraged and it was mown regularly but fortunately many of the species, including unusual ones survived. In 1993 a change in management took place and Warwickshire Wildlife Trust gave advice on the best way to "manage" it. In 1998 the church received a grant from Rurual Action for a full survey to take place and a management plan was drawn up. Management is now carried out in "compartments" with grass being cut at certain times of the year to suit the species that flower in that particular area be they Spring flowering plants or Summer flowering plants. The site is carefully monitored and a balance is sought between allowing plants to flower and set seed and also creating an appearance acceptable to parishioners.

Plants in flower when we visited included Buttercups, Cow Parsley, Tufted Vetch, Self Heal, Ribwort Plantain, Daisies, Bugle, Herb Robert, Common Sorrel, Germander Speedwell, and Bistort (which is a rare plant for Warwickshire). Other plants recorded on the site include Cowslips, Betony, Devil's Bit Scabious, Hoary Plantain, Common Birds-foot Trefoil, Black Knapweed and Lady's Mantle. It is a site which would be worth visiting at different times of the year.

Cowslips now going to seed.

I was thrilled to find Bistort in flower.

The Peshall Tombs

We looked carefully and quietly for Slow Worms (Anguis fragilis)without success and then we came across a couple of black sheets being used as refugia so very carefully we lifted one - nothing underneath but under the other we saw at least four or five slow worms of varying sizes. They are beautiful little lizards looking like burnished gold.

My record shots (I was holding the camera with one hand and lifting the sheet with the other and obviously we only lifted the sheets for a few seconds in case we disturbed them).

D's shot was slightly better


It was a thrilling moment as the last time I saw one was in the Lake District about 15 years ago when there was one in the drain of the cottage we were staying in.

The Slow or Blind Worm is a legless lizard. They hibernate underground between March and October, mate in April and May when the males will fight each other. In August or September 10 or 12 young are born. They eat live prey such as slugs, insects and spiders but will not consume carrion. Predators include adders, hedgehogs, kestrels and rats and frogs and toads will eat the young. They are widespread and common but shy and therefore rarely seen. They spend a lot of time underground and in gardens will use compost heaps.

I did have a very quick look round the church which has medieval origins but was very largely re-built in 1875 although it does still retain a few medieval features.

The age of the font is uncertain but it could be 13th century; it has a Tri-lobed, stiff leaf flower motive and the lid is 19th century.

The beautiful West Window with a bird, sheep and views of the church and a nearby house.

The East window

19th century encaustic tiles

The book below which was in the church has a different cover to my version but the book is highly recommended if you like wildlife churchyards and wild flowers.

Timothy having fun.

We had lunch (cheese and salad sandwiches and a flask of tea in the car) and then B and D went for a walk along the lane while I returned to the churchyard. I didn't disturb the slow worms again but did look for more flowers and insects. I didn't see many butterflies apart from one that flew off without being identified but Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Skippers, Common Blue and Marbled White have been recorded there.

There were several bees about mainly common Carder.

I saw many of these Common Malachite Beetles (Malachius bipustulatus)

Cuckoo spit which houses the nymph of a Froghopper

On Bistort and Buttercups I found loads of Swollen-thighed beetles (Oedemera nobilis

On the way home we stopped off in nearby Henley in Arden to visit the bakery - here is the Green Man on St John the Baptist.

Blue Tit Update

These record shots were taken at the end of last week. As you can see one of the chicks was far larger than the others and sitting on them to get more than his fair share of the food. They all fledged last Saturday morning. One had a lucky escape - as B was in the garden when he spotted a fledgling about a foot off the ground and a cat stalking up to it (cat was frightened off thankfully)

*D Photo taken by D with the Canon SX50HS bridge camera
Rest of photos taken by me with the Panasonic FZ330 Lumix Camera


Rustic Pumpkin said...

Another great day out you had. What a splendid selection of wild flowers, and I love how the churchyard is managed too. Some very unusual stained glass too. Sometimes a picnic lunch is just what is needed too.

Ragged Robin said...

Rustic Pumpkin - Thanks so much. The churchyard was probably the best I have seen for wild flowers - so tranquil there too :) Picnic lunches are fun (and healthier than cake!!)

David M. Gascoigne, said...

It must have given you an immense sense of pleasure to discover the slow worms, especially having only encountered them fifteen years earlier. I am aware of these creatures but I have never seen one, and so far as I know there is nothing similar here in Ontario. The wildflowers are nothing short of spectacular and it shows the way forward for churches and other public spaces to embrace wild spaces over manicured artificiality.

Margaret Birding For Pleasure said...

Interesting that you found the Slow worms and got shots of them. Lovely wild flowers and I love all the church windows. Great the Tit escaped death

Rosie said...

Such a beautiful church and churchyard. How wonderful that the churchyard is maintained to keep both plants and parishioners happy. It looks like such a peaceful place but buzzing with insect and wildlife too. You spotted some lovely wildflowers and also the slow worms, I've never seen one. The windows in the churh are lovely especially the more rustic ones of the buildings and animals. I love taking a picnic lunch when going out and about, it means you can eat when and where you want. Glad you had a lovely and successful day:)

Pam said...

Good news about the Blue Tits!

I've never seen a Slow Worm! It would be good for more Churchyards to be managed in this way, they're such a haven for wildlife! It's lovely to see the photos of so many flowers!

Ragged Robin said...

David M Gascoigne - Thank you so much. It was a wonderful experience to see the Slow Worms - I used to see them as a child but in recent decades the one fifteen years ago is the only one but I do think they are elusive. Yes, it would be wonderful if all public spaces followed this example rather than the neat and tidy look but more and more organisations are thankfully mowing less and planting wild flower areas.

Margaret Birding for Pleasure - Thank you. Just hope now that the young fledglings survive the first few dangerous weeks.

Rosie - Thank you. It was a beautiful and tranquil place. I think looking under refugia is probably the best place to see one. However, I felt fairly safe doing that in Warwickshire as Adders are believed to be extinct but not sure I personally would be happy to lift one in places where they are still around. Much as I would love to see an Adder again probably best viewed at a distance! :) We do tend to take picnics every day when on holiday and on day's out depending on where we go :)

Pam - Thank you and yes pleased about the Blue Tits :) I do groan inwardly whenever I see churchyards manicured and tidy - most could just keep areas around recent graves mown and still leave wilder areas. Thankfully, there does seem to be a growing movement and awareness to create places friendly for wildlife :)

Amanda Peters said...

This is such a beautiful church and churchyard, it's right out of a story book. The windows are so nice, flowers and sheep. I had forgotten about the God's Acre book, will dig it out and have another look through it.
Beautiful photos of the Slow worms and the wild flowers, so would love to see a slow worm. This is one church I would love to visit over and over again.
So pleased your Blue tits managed to fledged, we have had young Great tits in the garden a family of about five feeding. A bird I don't get very often and young sparrows too.

Beautiful post and photos , so glad you went.
Amanda xx

Sharon said...

Love this post! I love how the churchyard is managed, it looks gorgeous... and the slow worms are something I've never seen before. I must see if we get them here in Ireland!

Ragged Robin said...

Amanda Peters - Thanks so much. Will definitely visit the churchyard again. I liked the flowers and sheep window too :) I need to re-read the God's Acre book too - from memory it had suggestions of good churchyards to visit. Hope you see a Slow Worm one day. Good news about your young great tit and sparrow sightings :)

Sharon - Thanks so much. I knew the churchyard would be good but it exceeded my expectations - it really was lovely. Hope you get slow worms in Ireland.

Midmarsh John said...

There was certainly lots to see on that visit. Really envious you found some Slow Worms. Something I've never managed to spot as yet. Brilliant to read your BT chick managed to fledge. Cats are a pain in the **** here though most have learned how fast a greyhound can chase them.

The Quacks of Life said...

what a cracking churchyard!!

Ragged Robin said...

Midmarsh John - Thanks so much. I was rather chuffed about the Slow Worms - hope you spot one one day. It was a relief tbh that the remaining 3 all fledged - we have a lot of cats round here too!

Ragged Robin said...

The Quacks of Life - Thanks so much Pete - I knew about its reputation as the best churchyard in Warks for wild flowers but it exceeded my expectations :)

Toffeeapple said...

A lovely post Caroline - I am still catching up after a holiday...

Ragged Robin said...

Toffeeapple - Thanks so much. I do hope you had a lovely holiday :)

CherryPie said...

The churchyard looks delightful, so full of life :-)

I like the font too.

Ragged Robin said...

CherryPie - Thank you.