Churchyard Nature Note with Andrew Tompsett

Novrmber 2014

Churchyard tidying-up continues

Now that autumn proper is upon us there is still more ‘tidying-up’ needed so that spring flowers like primroses can show through. Leaves are falling fast, some more rapidly than others.  Did you notice that the leaves of Sycamore and Oak have been falling since early September probably due to the heat and dry weather?  Ash trees hold their leaves longer and when they do drop the trees become bare quickly revealing the graceful shape of the tree and depositing a beautiful yellow carpet on the ground?
Appropriately, the American name for autumn is ‘fall’ and this reminds us that the clocks fall back at this time of year whilst in spring clocks spring forward. This helps us avoid making a mistake!

The seeds of sycamore and ash with their helicopter wings will soon become loosened from the branches and spin down to the ground. Nature obviously intends these to drift away some distance from the parent tree but this requires a strong wind which does not always happen and we see them accumulating in odd corners. Consequently many of these seeds settle in unwanted places between gravestones where the growth of the saplings becomes a real problem. Cutting back seems to make them grow even more strongly so this is the one situation where we use a herbicide which is carefully injected into a hole in the unwanted stems. A year or two ago a well intentioned visitor warned us that a mass of young plants of the dreaded Japanese Knotweed were becoming established near the church. On closer inspection we were able to confirm that these were in fact young sycamore seedlings. Apparently, the hated Japanese weed very rarely grows from seed in this country.

One part of the churchyard is allowed to grow long grass like a traditional hayfield. This is a valuable habitat encouraging butterflies and other insects but being filled with gravestones and curb stones is very difficult to deal with by our limited team of volunteers. So, we are grateful that the Illogan Parish Council undertakes to cut this in late August each year prior to the RAF memorial service in early September. We were sad to see that someone had ignited the dry grass on part of the area and we sympathise with anyone whose graves were scorched by this thoughtless arson attack. The police have been notified and will seek any direct evidence. We have requested that in future the Council will see that the dry grass is raked off to avoid any repetition of such a thoughtless act which has damaged both memorials and some ancient ants nests.
Some Link readers will know that amongst our helpers the Trust for Conservation Volunteers (TCV) have been working with David Glasson and his regular team. We very much appreciate the work that David does organising the churchyard work including that of the TCV led by Clare North. Churchyard work takes place every Thursday at 10.00 am with a break for tea and biscuits at 11.00. Why not join us and help to keep the churchyard looking wonderful?