Wymondham Abbey

Wymondham Abbey in Norfolk received a Bronze Eco Church Award in July 2016. Hilary Hunter describes some of the work involved…

‘Our churchyard is closed and maintained by the Town Council, but in 2015 it was agreed that we would take over part of it to establish a wildlife conservation area. Creating the foundations resulted in a large amount of consecrated soil needing a home. Where the soil was spread is an ideal site for wildflowers and grasses, so special wildflower meadow mix has been sown there. Round this area are short mown paths which lead to our Garden of Remembrance. The rest of the area was left uncut; part to grow to medium height, the remainder to full height to allow wildflowers and grasses to grow. We devised a three-year Site Management Plan and have recruited a Volunteer Task Team to help us maintain the area.

One of our first activities was a ‘Green Halloween’ event led by members of Wymondham Nature Group (WyNG). Children were shown where they could hunt for bugs and snails, discover hibernating ladybirds, and – the highlight – how to detect bats! Then it was time for craft-making and pumpkin soup, before finishing with a candlelit blessing of the churchyard.

In February 2016 we held a Churchyard Activities Day for the community. Adults made a grand bug hotel and children had a lovely time collecting pine cones and twigs to fill its spaces. They also helped create a woodpile for hedgehogs and other creatures whilst the adults made a compost bin. With the help of WyNG members we carried out a wildlife survey of the churchyard, recording over 40 species and identifying unknown plants with the help of reference books. We have since conducted surveys monthly, finding many new species in the areas where we have let the grass grow. A local ornithologist put up five nest boxes as part of a Nest Box Monitoring Programme. Blue tits bred successfully in one of the boxes, and the birds were all ringed as part of the British Trust for Ornithology’s Nest Records Scheme. We also had peregrines nesting on the tower on a platform provided by the Hawk and Owl Trust.

During Hedgehog Awareness Week, we had a large display about wildlife conservation and hedgehogs. As well as various activities for children, a representative from PACT Animal Sanctuary gave an excellent presentation on ‘Hedge-ucation’. We have since been able to offer a home in the churchyard to seven of their rescued hedgehogs!

In June we held an 1107 Living History Week for local schools, much of which took place in the churchyard where we have also created a medieval herb garden. Visitors find this of great interest, learning about herbs and their uses; and it attracts bees and butterflies. Our Learning and Events Coordinator plans special events for schools, so children can learn more about the wildlife in our churchyard.

Our churchwarden Brian Randall – a keen birdwatcher – has commented, ‘A conservation churchyard is obviously great for wildlife, but ours has shown that it’s also great for people. We’re getting more and more visitors who just come to chill out and enjoy the special atmosphere. It’s a real ‘win-win’!’