“Suggestions for enhancing the Churchyard for wildlife”

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Suggestions for enhancing the Churchyard for wildlife”

By the Isle of Wight Living Churchyard
Project Team DECEMBER 2004


1. Introduction

Church: All Saints

Parish: Godshill

Incumbent: Rev.John Ryder Grid Ref.: SZ 528818

Date: 1/12/2004 Recorders: M.Burnhill, P.Le

Masurier, A.Marston, K.Marston,

S Street, S.Young.

A legend says that early Christians started to build a church on level ground one mile south of the present village of Godshill. Three times the builders tried to build the church, but each time at night the stones were removed and placed at the top of the hill. In the end they felt it was God doing this, so the church was built on the hill God chose for his church. But the old English word for ‘God’ meant idol. So Godshill would mean “the idols hill”. The Anglo Saxon name being ‘Godes hyl’ or ‘Godeshylle’. In the distant past, it seems that a pagan shrine stood where the church now stands. The legend may describe the conflict between the early Christians and pagan worshipers.

Sir John Oglander says in his memoirs that the first church at Godshill ‘wase bwylt in ye rayne of King Edward the Confessor’. This would be between 1042 and 1066. A building was still present in 1085 and consisted of a small thatched construction. This means a church has been on this site for 950 years. The Saxon church most likely occupied the site of the present North Nave; the only remains are the font and the Piscina near the present altar. A capital of Norman origin has been found embedded in the tower, now seen at the West End of the church.

Godshill church, standing on its ancient hill, with the huddle of thatched cottages at its foot, is one of the loveliest of English village scenes, and therefore one of the most photographed and painted by people not only from all over the country, but in fact from all over the world.

Godshill church is set on an outcrop of Lower Greensand, and there are extensive views over the village and the surrounding landscape from the south door.
The building stone is Upper Greensand quarried on the Island. On the surface of the stone scallop shell fossils can be found.
A pale yellow sandstone, probably from Dorset, has been used round the windows.


The main churchyard is an area of acid improved grassland but it is rich in its diversity of plants. Over 125 different species have been recorded. Some are old hay meadow plants such as Yarrow, Ribwort Plantain,Field wood Rush, Cat’s Ear, Ox-Eye Daisy, Sweet Vernal Grass, Yorkshire fog, Common Birds-foot Trefoil, Common Mouse ear, Red Clover, Common Sorrel, and Self Heal among others. There is also a mixture of old woodland plants such as Lords and Ladies, Herb Robert, Wood Avens, Ground Ivy, Bluebell, Hedge Bindweed and Primroses.

Within the site are occasional trees such as Sycamore, Ash, Holly, Scots Pine, Wild Cherry, Pendunculate Oak, Rowan and Yew.

The old appearance of the church walls and the older headstones is due not only to its stonework but to the particularly large number of lichens. Godshill Churchyard has one of the most diverse lichen flora of any churchyard on the Island. It is nationally important for its lichen flora. Unpolluted air has allowed a rich lichen flora to develop, including maritime species such as Ramilina siliquosa and Roccella phycopsis, one of the rarest lichens on the Island. Both are able to tolerate the salt laden winds coming from the Atlantic.
Lichens can vary from leafy or bushy growths, to crusts and simple powdery structures. They range in colour from shades of browns and grey, through yellows to bright orange. They thrive in stable, undisturbed and healthy environments, such as provided by traditional churchyards, such as Godshill. The lichens add immeasurably to the character of the place.
Calcareous limestone, acidic sandstone and hard, shiny flints all have their own types of lichens. The old boundary walls support different lichens to the headstones and the church walls and tower have further species. The bark of old trees carry other lichens. Lichens are very sensitive to all forms of pollution. Beneath the church windows and an old standing stone, metal runoff restricts the lichens that grow on stonework and only a few highly resistant forms can survive. One of the lichens Acarospora smaragdula here has a copper tolerance.
2. Aims and Objectives.
Why Living Churchyards? In churchyards we can often find remnants of meadows, ancient woodland and/or old trees are host to a huge diversity of wildlife (wildflowers, butterflies etc These precious remnants need to be treasured and conserved, as they may be the only place in the parish where such a diversity of wildlife can be found. On the Living Churchyard Day, local residents and visitors discovered for themselves and learnt a bit more about God’s rich diversity in creation.
There is a need to encourage appropriate sensitive management, which will enhance the wildlife potential of the churchyard alongside its use for contemplation. The introduction of a suitable mowing regime should be sufficient to retain and enhance the churchyard’s wildlife diversity
There must be safe access to graves that are visited. In areas where the ground is uneven and gravestones that have become damaged, consideration needs to be given to either making these good, requiring time /money or discouraging people from walking these areas by allowing the grass to grow.

To this end a brief annual management plan has been drawn up.

3. Management Options
3.1 Grassland Management Options
The presence of coarser grass species such as Cocksfoot Dactylis glomerata and Perennial Rye-grass Lolium perenne indicates that the grassland has been enriched by letting cut grass lie and rot down. If grass cuttings are left, they act as a fertiliser and mulch increasing the frequency of cutting required. If all cuttings are removed, the soil becomes impoverished and competitive grasses give way to fine leaved grasses and herbs. These need to be cut less frequently and there is less bulk to pick up.
The churchyard has been divided into three areas as shown on the map
Area 1 South of the church and below the wall to the west.
Area 2 North of the church.
Area 3 A very overgrown area to the north of the churchyard wall.
Area 1: South of the church and below the wall to the west.
Area to be kept short by regular mowing, offering a tidy appearance appropriate for a ‘tourist’ churchyard. This area includes newer tended graves and the cremation plot by the door. The first cut should take place once the leaves of the spring bulbs have died down and then at suitable intervals to maintain a tidy appearance through the growing season.
This area is also important for lichens. It is suggested that the long grass around the base of the stones is strimmed; this will assist the upkeep of the area and prevent shading of the lichens. Ivy is growing over some of the stones. This can be peeled back carefully and cut off at the base, which will prevent damage to the stones and the lichens.
Some of the ‘table tombs’ with railings are overgrown, and they are becoming damaged by woody growth. This growth should be cut back and the stumps treated with a suitable herbicide. Bramble and ivy should also be removed. As there are quite a number of these tombs, it would be best tackled over a number of years depending on the availability of labour. Care needs to be taken to avoid disturbing nesting birds (between March and the beginning of August), and it would be preferable to do this work outside this time.
Area 2: North of the church.
This area is important for its attractive show of spring flowers, particularly the daffodils. The leaves of these should be left to die down naturally so that the bulbs are replenished for future years. It is suggested that grasses and wild flowers are left to grow up here during the season, and possibly two paths, one near the church, the other nearer to the churchyard wall, be mown at intervals to allow safe informal access to the area. These routes will give a ‘rural’ view of the church. The whole area should be cut and raked off in the autumn. Cutting is important to ensure that woody species like hawthorn or brambles do not take over.

Area 3. Very overgrown area to the north of the churchyard wall.
Primroses and daffodils grow in this area and it would benefit from a clearance programme before a mowing regime similar to Area 2 is put in place. There are likely to be problems in this area with the collapse of tombs, so any clearance of brambles and saplings (followed by application of herbicide) needs to be tackled in fairly small sections so that any problems discovered can be dealt with as they arise.
A source of advice, tools and labour (via the Green Gym project) is the local BTCV office (contact Ray Harrington-Vail or Simon Craddock Tel: 822282). They might also be prepared to organise a parish work day, if there is a group of enthusiastic volunteers. It would be better if any clearance occurs from September onwards as birds may be nesting in the brambles.

    1. Buildings, Walls and Memorial Management Options

The church building and gravestones
In view of the national importance of the church and gravestones for lichens, advice needs to be taken from the Diocesan Advisor, Dr Colin Pope before any work is undertaken to the stonework. When essential repairs to stone work are necessary care should be taken not to damage or remove lichen species.
Removing grass from the base of walls and gravestones will help to avoid shading of lichens.
The churchyard wall
This is in need of repair, a major expensive job, probably not occurring in the near future. Removal of the upper parts of brambles and woody shrubs, plus treatment with herbicide will help prevent further damage by roots. Ivy probably will not cause too much damage and could hold the stones together until repairs are started. Keeping a margin of tall grass, nettles etc next to the wall could help to keep people away from potential hazards. This margin will need to be cut in the autumn, however, to prevent woody shrubs establishing. A similar principle could apply in the area of the Mausoleum where a large patch of nettles left to grow up would discourage close inspection by people and at the same time provide a food source for caterpillars of Small Tortoiseshells and Peacock butterflies.
Churchyard trees
The churchyard is in the village conservation area and permission needs to be sought from the Isle of Wight Council’s Tree Officer prior to any work on trees being undertaken. There are some dead trees to the north of the site, which provide good wildlife habitat and they should be retained as long as they do not pose a safety hazard.
3.3 General Comments
a. The collection and removing of grass is very labour intensive and it is a good idea to maintain a compost heap for grass cuttings and dead floral tributes. This is a valuable site for insects and reptiles such as Slow worms and Grass snakes. A bin could be provided for plastic flowers and paper.
b. There is a need to monitor future management. A written or a photographic record should be kept.
c. Interpretation boards in the church are an excellent start to tell people what they are looking at. A draft board has been prepared for the Vicar and PCC’s consideration.


Godshill Churchyard

Margaret Burnhill 2002

Achillea millefolium


Alliaria petiolata

Garlic Mustard

Alopecurus pratensis

Meadow Foxtail

Anisantha sterilis

Barren Brome

Anthoxanthum odoratum

Sweet Vernal Grass

Anthriscus sylvestris

Cow Parsley

Aphanes arvensis

Parsley Piert

Arrhenatherum elatius

False Oat Grass

Arum maculatum

Lords and Ladies

Bellis perennis


Calystegia sepium

Greater Bindweed

Cardamine hirsuta

Hairy Bittercress

Carex muricata ssp lamprocarpa

Prickly Sedge

Centaurea nigra

Lesser Knapweed

Cerastium fontanum holosteoides

Mouse-ear Chickweed

Cerastium tomentosum

Snow in Summer

Chionodoxa sardensis

Glory of the Snows

Cirsium vulgare

Spear Thistle

Clematis vitalba

Traveller’s Joy

Conopodium majus


Convolvulus arvensis


Cotoneaster horizontalis

Wall Cotoneaster

Crepis capillaris

Smooth Hawksbeard

Crocosmiiflora C.pottsii x C.aurea


Cruciata laevipes


Cymbalaria muralis

Ivy-leaved Toadflax

Dactylis glomerata

Cocks Foot Grass

Digitalis purpurea


Dipsacus fullonum


Dryopteris filix-mas

Male Fern

Epilobium hirsutum

Hairy Willowherb

Epilobium montanum

Broad-leaved Willowherb

Erysimum cheiri


Eupatorium cannabinum

Hemp Agrimony

Euphorbia peplus

Petty Spurge

Galanthus flore-pleno

Double Snowdrop

Galanthus nivalis


Galium aparine


Geranium dissectum

Cut-leaved Cranesbill

Geranium molle

Dove’s Foot Cranesbill

Geranium pusillum

Small Flowered Cranesbill

Geranium robertianum

Herb Robert

Geum urbanum

Wood Avens

Glechoma hederacea

Ground Ivy

Hedera helix


Heracleum sphondylium


Holcus lanatus

Yorkshire Fog

Hordeum murinum

Wall Barley

Hyacinthoides hispanica x non-scripta

Hybrid Bluebell

Hyacinthoides non-scripta


Hypochoeris radicata

Cat’s Ear

Lamium album

White Dead Nettle

Lamium purpureum

Red Dead Nettle

Lathyrus pratensis

Meadow Pea

Leontodon saxatilis

Smooth Hawkbit

Leucanthemum vulgare

Ox-eye Daisy

Ligustrum ovalifolium

Garden Privet

Ligustrum vulgare

Wild Privet

Lolium perenne

Perennial Rye Grass

Lonicera japonica

Japanese Honeysuckle

Lonicera periclymenum


Lotus corniculatus

Bird’s Foot Trefoil

Lunaria annua


Luzula campestris

Field Woodrush

Medicago arabica

Spotted Medick

Malva sylvestris

Common Mallow

Myosotis sylvatica

Wood Forget-me-not

Narcissus pseudonarcissus

Wild Daffodil

Narcissus ssp major

Garden Daffodil

Persicaria maculosa

Red Leg

Phyllitis scolopendrium

Hart’s Tongue Fern

Picris echioides

Bristly Ox-Tongue

Pimpinella saxifraga

Burnet Saxifrage

Plantago coronopus

Buck’s Horn Plantain

Plantago lanceolata

Ribwort Plantain

Poa annua

Annual Meadow Grass

Poa pratensis

Smooth Meadow Grass

Polygonum aviculare


Primula vulgaris


Primula x polyantha


Pteridium aquilinum


Ranunculus acris

Meadow Buttercup

Ranunculus bulbosus

Bulbous Buttercup

Ranunculus ficaria

Lesser Celandine

Ranunculus repens

Creeping Buttercup

Rosmarinus officinalis


Rubus fruticosus


Rumex acetosa ssp acetosa


Rumex obtusifolius

Broad-Leaved Dock

Rumex sanguineus

Wood Dock

Senecio jacobea

Common Ragwort

Senecio vulgaris


Silene dioica

Red Campion

Solanum dulcamara

Woody Nightshade

Sonchus oleraceus

Soft Sow-Thistle

Stellaria holostea

Greater Stitchwort

Stellaria media

Common Chickweed

Tanacetum parthenium


Taraxacum officinale


Trifolium dubium

Lesser Trefoil

Trifolium pratense

Red Clover

Trifolium repens

White Clover

Trifolium subterraneum

Burrowing Clover

Urtica dioica


Verbascum thapsus

Common Mullein

Veronica chamaedrys

Germander Speedwell

Veronica hederifolia

Ivy-leaved Speedwell

Vicia sativa nigra

Common Narrow Vetch

Viola odorata

Sweet Violet

Acer pseudoplatanus


Chamaecyperis lawsonii

Lawson’s Cypress

Crataegus monogyna

Common Hawthorn

Euonymus japonica

Evergreen Spindle

Fraxinus excelsior


Ilex aquifolium


Laurus nobilis


Pinus sylvestris

Scots Pine

Prunus avium

Wild Cherry

Prunus domestica

Wild Plum

Prunus spinosa


Quercus robur

Pendunculate Oak

Sambucus nigra


Sorbus aucuparia


Taxus baccata


Taxus baccata‘Fastigiata’

Irish Yew

Ulmus procera

English Elm



Recorded on

Acarospora smaragdula

South facing beneath Copper window frame

Acrocordia salweyi

Arthonia lapidicola

Aspicilla calcarea

Buellia aethalea

Buellia ocellata

Caloplaca aurantia

Caloplaca ceracea

Caloplaca citina s.lat

Caloplaca crenularia

South facing Upper Greensand

Caloplaca dalmatica

South facing Upper Greensand

Caloplaca flavescens

Limestone headstones

Caloplaca holocarpa

Caloplaca saxicola

Caloplaca teicholyta

Candelariella medians f. medians

Candelaria f. vitellina

South facing Upper Greensand

Catillaria chalybeia var, chalybeia

Catillaria lenticularis

Cladonia fimbriata

Clauzadea monticola

Diplocia canescens

Vertical sunny sides of headstones

Dirina massiliensis f. massiliensis

South facing Upper Greensand

Flavoparmelia caperata

Hyperphyscia adglutinata

Lecania erysibe

Lecanora campestris

Sunny sides of limestones and sandstones

Lecanora dispersa

Lecanora gangaleoides

South facing Upper Greensand

Lecanora orosthea

Lecanora sulphurea

Lecidella scabra

Lecidella stigmatea

Lempholemma chalazanellum

Leptogium teretiusculum

Myxobilimbia sabuletorum

Ochrolechia parella

South facing Upper Greensand

Opegrapha calcarea

North side of the church on mortar

Opegrapha chevellieri

North side of the church on mortar

Opegrapha mougeotii

Pertusaria coccodes

South facing Upper Greensand

Pertusaria pertusa

Phaeophyscia orbicularis

Physcia aipolia

Physcia tenella subsp.tenella

Physconia grisea

Buttress facing east

Porpidia tuberculosa

Protoblastenia rupestris

Ramilina siliqusa

South facing Upper Greensand

Ramilina subfarinacea

Rinodina gennarii

Roccella phycopsis

South, North, and East end of church

Scoliciosporum umbrinum

Solenopsora candicans

Tephromela atra var. atra

Verrucaria acrotella

Verrucaria baldensis

Tops of limestone headstones; prefers sunlight

Verrucaria glauina

Verrucaria hochsteteri

South facing headstones

Verrucaria nigrescens

Base of headstones prefers damp limestone

Verrucaria pinguicula

Verrucaria viridula

Xanthora parietina

Tops of nutrient rich headstones in the sun

(Recorded locally 2004)

Whiskered Bat

Common Pipistrelle Bat

Serotine Bat

Brown Long-eared Bat

BUTTERFLIES seen in and around the churchyard, 22.5.04
Wall Brown

Large White

Holly Blue

Small Copper

Speckled Wood.
BIRDS seen in and around the churchyard, 22.5.04





House Sparrow


Black Headed Gull


Great Tit


Green Woodpecker


Carrion Crow

Feral Pigeon

Wood Pigeon

Collard Dove






(caught near by the church, 22.5.04)
3 Common Swifts

1 Treble Lines

1 Hebrew Character

1 Poplar Hawkmoth

1 Heart and Dart

1 Bufftip

1 Swallow Prominent

1 Shuttle-shaped Dart

1 Common Quaker
Other insects:

1 Cockchafer

1 Ichneumon fly

1 Caddis fly

Slow worm

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