Churchyard Nature Note with Andrew TompsettSeptember 2014
Bramble notes (Andrew)
You may recall that we planned to keep a ‘long-term bramble patch’ beside the path leading to Merritt’s grave. However, gravestones had become deeply embedded in the tangle and being alongside the bungalows, the risk of a fire being started amongst the dry canes was one we had to take into account. Thus for safety reasons that particular bramble patch has been cleared and another area designated elsewhere, namely on the south side of the old tower, with some access paths for visitors to graves and blackberrying!
Earlier this year, Keith Spurgin, a botanist and bramble expert, visited the churchyard and we are delighted to hear more about one of our most familiar shrubs.
BRAMBLING IN A COUNTRY CHURCHYARD
Everyone knows brambles, loving their luscious fruit while resenting their thorns and extraordinary ability to grow, spread and persist. Introduced to Australia, partly no doubt by Cornish miners, in some areas they have become a serious threat to the environment. In the Galapagos, eradication of one non-native species has proved extremely costly and largely ineffectual. Although we at home have mostly learned to live with our unsociable bramble neighbours, farmers, gardeners and conservationists are only too aware of how easily they can get out of hand.
In their favour, we have raspberries Rubus idaeus (named after Mount Ida) – surely one of the tastiest of fruits, and the garden Blackberry R. armeniacus – one of the largest and most abundant. Both have been recorded from the churchyard. Thornless varieties have been bred, and some wild species are so well flavoured that they are tolerated in hedges, verges and woods while being kept (more or less) under control.
Other advantages are the contributions they make to the environment. Their flowers, which have been described as “miniature roses”, are visited by bees – so under threat at present; and their leaves are mined by moths and other insects. These life forms provide food for birds, which also use the brambles for cover.
The word “brambling” is used to describe the study of brambles in the field. Five species have been identified from Illogan churchyard and there are probably as many more waiting to be named. Over 300 species have been listed for Britain and Ireland, and nearly 100 for Cornwall. Experts look for small differences in petal form and colour, the shape of leaves and the thorniness of stems. Cornishman Francis Rilstone named 16 species new to science and is commemorated in the name R. rilstonei – abundant in mid Cornwall and one of the brambles recorded in the churchyard.
There is another feature of brambles that may or may not be appreciated by the gardener wrestling with a scratchy weed patch or a scientist struggling to identify a species; seen closely, especially with a hand lens or via macro photography, the structures of the flowers and even the stem are extremely beautiful.