What is Eco Church? It is a Christian environmental movement encouraging church communities to make changes to their worship, teaching, land and buildings management, community and global engagement, and lifestyle to reflect God's care for the Earth
Summer has come and gone and our contracted maintenance man is completing the final cut of the churchyard. Our monthly ‘churchyard gang’ have met intermittently this year due to our focus being less on eco matters and more on fundraising events for the extension. However, we will continue through the winter, weather permitting, to manage the bramble patches, fallen branches and the bonfire. The photo is of field vole holes which can be seen amongst the short grass at the bottom of the churchyard. They are the most common British mammal, often unnoticed or mistaken for mice, though much more endearing. They have dense fur which covers their ears, so no need to hibernate. They eat mainly grass and only live for a year during which time they may have several litters of 5-6 young. They are a very important part of the rural food chain. Their numbers are controlled by foxes, owls, kestrels, buzzards, weasels and stoats, all of which are our local predators.
Our eco philosophy is being supported by Gareth Martin from Climate Stewards who will speak at our Frugal Lunch on 29th October. He will be talking about carbon offsetting projects around the globe and encouraging us all to offset our personal carbon footprint. For the past 2 years the PCC has started to offset the annual carbon footprint of St Margaret’s, which is now a requirement of all churches.
Spring is finally on its way with signs of new life and bird song. The hawthorn sprigs we planted last year to increase biodiversity in the holly hedge on the western boundary, have survived last summer’s drought and sprouted into leaf. The dying Red Oak which was severely pollarded last year has sprouted new young growth.
The daffs and primroses are in full bloom and birds starting to build their nests. The cuckoo, usually a regular visitor to this area, is now on the red endangered list. Let us know if you hear one. They should be arriving from Africa in April to breed in the UK. It but will be gone again in June.
We have placed a sign near the compost and bonfire asking people only to leave organic matter in this area and to take their rubbish home with them. There is no refuse collection down at the church and our volunteers have been taking old plastic wreaths, artificial flowers, cellophane and offensive dog poo bags home to dispose of correctly. We have also removed the rubbish bin. The initial response to this strategy seems to be a positive improvement.
It has been a long and dreary winter in the churchyard. A major branch from the huge eucalyptus tree in Church Cottage garden, blew down in a gale and fell over the fence. Our churchyard gang made it safe and got it chopped up, burned and remaining logs put alongside the rotten tree trunk, which is a natural insect habitat.
The badgers have been at work snuffling for worms and have made quite a mess of the grass paths. Apparently they can eat up to 800 worms in a night!
We have moved a second water tub from the defunct community garden down to the church, in preparation for another drought this year.
At the end of last year, we were delighted to install an information lectern board by the gate. This tells a story of the geology and history of our churchyard and explains why it is so important we care for its biodiversity with an environmental management plan. It is an illustrated attempt to communicate this message to those who visit and use the public footpath and it has been warmly and enthusiastically welcomed.
from the churchyard
The grass in this area is mown fortnightly during the growing season, yet despite this disturbance, we have noticed that these little holes are multiplying, with tunnels just beneath the grass. We believe these to be the work of field voles which happily inhabit the churchyard feeding on seeds, roots and leaves. Interestingly, people who live around the church speak of hearing many more tawny owls ‘twit-twoo-ing’ in the night hours, than in years past. It may be that these two observations are related? The field vole is a favourite snack for the tawny owl!
The PCC has installed an information lectern board at the entrance of the churchyard entitled Living Churchyard to interest and inform people who visit the church or frequent the public footpath, about the importance of our historic churchyard and its current environmental management.
Please stop and take a look next time you pass.
Around this time last year the PCC was discussing how we can improve our messaging to the public about our eco-management of the churchyard, whilst at the same time, promote the churchyard as a space to be valued for more reasons than just burials. Thanks to a very generous donation from Horsmonden Parish Council and a contribution from the church, plus personal donations from members of the PCC, we have been able to afford a professionally designed outdoor informational lectern board, similar to the ones that you find at National Trust properties. The Diocese has approved our initial application and the board design is nearing completion. It will be of interest to anyone who passes through the churchyard, walking dogs, visiting graves, or just exploring the idyllic countryside. It identifies the churchyard as important in its own right, with its own history and not just some land that our beautiful church sits on! We hope you like it. Watch this space.
Other progress includes major remedial work by our tree surgeons continuing the care of our ancient trees, including the copper beech, which we were told is over 200years old. Our churchyard working parties continue, generally on the first Saturday of the month attracting a happy band of volunteers who enjoy the outdoor challenge in such a tranquil place. The views across the countryside on any day refresh the spirits, as does the coffee and cake! All welcome. In this season of drought, the water butt is almost empty, but the new hawthorn is surviving and our wildflowers have already turned to seed for next year.
Ecochurch is not just about the care of our land,
but also about promoting our response to global issues affecting communities in
other parts of the world who are impacted by climate change. In recent weeks we
have appointed two representatives from the congregation to keep us informed about
Fairtrade and Tearfund projects.
As we draw to the close of the year we can be pleased with progress in our environmental credentials as a church.
The churchyard has been put to bed until the spring, although some tree
work is underway. You may notice the dying red oak alongside the footpath has
been pollarded for safety, leaving the trunk and main limbs for their habitat
value. We’ve planted hawthorn in gaps in the holly hedge as advised by Kent
Wildlife Trust to increase our biodiversity. Hawthorn is recognised as one of the best hedges
for wildlife, supporting over 150 different species of insects which in turn will
support our birds, bats and other
creatures. We also have a new composting area beside the bonfire which we hope
will reduce the need for bonfires and eventually compost our cups.
As a church family we acknowledged Climate Sunday and have had much more focus on climate issues through our intercessions, songs and talks particularly running up to COP26. All through the year we had a monthly eco-theme in the Parish News encouraging householders to measure and reduce their carbon footprint and we are trying to develop more sustainable practices in everything we do; from reducing our paper usage and using recycled paper, to Fairtrade goods. Not least holding our first Green Christmas Market!
We have increased our charitable donations too, adopting Medair and forging a relationship with a field worker who sent us a message from Ethiopia for our frugal lunch in October. We also attempted a first measurement of our carbon footprint as an organisation (something every organisation will have to address in the years ahead.) As a result of this the PCC agreed to offset our emissions through A Rocha Eco Church.
Our eco-journey is a work in progress, taking one step at a time, so well done everyone and thank you for your on-going support.
As autumn draws near we look back on exceptionally wet weather throughout the summer months and an unprecedented flash flood which deluged from the skies over Horsmonden, resulting in road closures and devastating damage to some unfortunate properties. Clear evidence of the reality of climate change upon us.
Our churchyard atop a rocky outcrop drained quickly, but like everywhere else the grass has grown thick and fast and caused some difficulties accessing old graves in the ‘biodiversity corridor’, where the grass is cut once a year in sequence. Our response to this is to strim more access paths so families can tend these graves.
Thank you for the many complements and comments in support of our eco-management that we have received from people who visit the churchyard or walk the public footpath. More and more people are aware of the urgency to protect nature, encourage biodiversity and adapt personal habits to live more sustainably.
There are around 20,000 burial grounds in the country, often uncultivated and undisturbed for generations. Conservationists regard this combined area similar to a national park and a refuge for precious plants and wildlife.
We are learning more about the fragile life that our own churchyard supports and nature’s remarkable food chain. The cinnabar moth and the harmless yellow meadow ant for example. Both common insects in decline, threatened by loss of habitat as ragwort and meadows are intensively ‘managed’.
Its early June and COVID regulations still dominate our lives, but our tranquil churchyard is a place of respite and beauty to refresh the spirit, with views across the agricultural countryside and spectacular patches of colourful wildflowers now in full bloom along our paths and between the graves.
The corncockles (annuals) which were seeded outside the west door and appeared for the first time last year, have made a comeback and honoured us for a second year with a spectacular display of nodding pink and white blooms.
The saga of the little owl continues. Despite all efforts to block its entrance when it was legal to do so and deter it from roosting in the chapel above the organ pipes. It remains stubbornly in situ with all its accompanying mess. Indeed, we should be congratulating it on the arrival of one perhaps two owlets which are close to fledging.
Residency in the owl box that we put up in the hope of tempting our lodger out of the church, has been taken up by a colony of bees!
January 2021 News
The autumn witnessed a devastating loss of habitat around our remote rural churchyard. Two stretches of old established hedgerow and undergrowth have been removed by neighbours totalling approx. 200m, now replaced by stock fencing and split rail tidiness to comply with grazing legislation. It leaves a stark sense of openness and significant loss of biodiversity precious to our eco church efforts in the churchyard. Last summer I noted the variety within these old hedgerows and photographed insects feeding and pollinating the blossoms.
Hedges are essential to bats in agricultural landscapes for their insect diet and eco-location flyways. For as long as anyone can remember there have been bats roosting within the church roof. Last year we identified them by the frequency of their calls as Pipistrelle, Soprano Pipistrelle and Noctule bats.
We will watch with interest for fresh droppings when they wake up from hibernation. It may well be that they have moved away to Lordship Wood nearby where the Weald Scouts have erected bat boxes and where they will have more protection and feeding opportunities due to the impact of this habitat loss.
On a more cheerful note, the wildflower seeds planted in the autumn are starting to show signs of growth and we have identified our ‘resident’ owl as a Little Owl, though it was very adept at dodging the camera! We have however utterly failed at locating where it gets into the church. Concerned about its prolonged residency into the breeding season and legal constraints, we have called its bluff by playing a recording of a predator’s cry in the church, in the hope that it leaves the premises of its own accord. This began shortly before Lockdown 2 started so I can’t report on the results yet.
Little owl perched high up on the church beams.
June 2020 News
Bat and mouse droppings and
Our lovely church has been emerging from 12 weeks of corona virus lock down. Frankly, the church in places looked like the inside of an aviary with additional bat and mouse droppings everywhere. One of our valiant team of volunteer cleaners said, ‘It just shows how quickly Nature would take over a derelict church building.’ However, on closer examination we discovered that what at first glance looked like dog poo was in fact owl pellets! Which on further examination indicated we have a visiting Barn Owl or Little Owl and that in turn suggests that the churchyard must also be home to voles, their favourite prey.
It’s early days of owl watching, but I hope to report back later in the year…
Meanwhile over 30 wild flower species have been in bloom in the new eco-zone left unmown in the churchyard. Ancient lichens continue to thrive on the stonework. Slow worms and grass snakes have been reported in the longer grass by our groundsman and swallows, sparrow hawks, buzzards, kestrels and garden song-birds have been seen in the sky above. Plus, most recently a swarm of bees! At dusk the bats can be seen flitting about too.