Churchyard Survey Report

In 2005, prior to closure, a survey report was commissioned which identified the flora and fauna within the churchyard, and made recommendations as to how the various areas should be managed. We are pleased to set out the report below.

Survey Report
St. Michael's Churchyard, Myland, Colchester
David R Bain, March 2005

This medium sized churchyard is undergoing two changes with its formal closure this month and transfer of management to the local council and secondly the massive housing expansion all around. Over the last 2-3 years with building behind, the semi-rural aspect of the churchyard is rapidly changing. This makes its secondary role as a haven of peace and refuge for wildlife of increasing importance.

Morant in "History & Antiquities of Essex" 1763-8 notes that Mile-End or Myland is "quite a rural parish" with only 94 charged Poll Tax in 1692. "However, many houses or rather cottages have been erected in several parts since" [in first half of 18th Century]. He describes the small, earlier St Michael’s Church and notes the first recorded rector as John Hetoun in 1310. The present mid-19th century structure was built on a new site. lt is noteworthy that surveys in Essex have found churchyards of Victorian origin are often equally rich ecologically as older sites. Myland is situated just north of Colchester but is increasingly part of the urban area. Historically the Royal Forest of Kingswood stretched across Colchester’s northern fringe with areas of heath as well as woodland.

The angled north boundary is probably an ancient ditch and bank with remnants of a mixed hedge of native species; also a fine oak here is the most notable tree. The smaller ditch and bank running half-way back on south side between church and parish hall seems an original feature, its intermediate position may indicate the initial extent of the mid-19th century site, with subsequent expansion? The well maintained holly hedges on outer southern and eastern narrower back boundary suggest a slightly later date.

The churchyard has been traditionally maintained with gradual piecemeal cutting over the summer of the rear half and more regular mowing in front and around the church. The good selection of insects and wildflowers seen indicates this pattern has been sympathetic to wildlife while also keeping it a pleasant place to visit. The back quarter has under-managed in the past year in an area where untended kerbed graves make cutting not straightforward. The variety of wildflowers here has also been somewhat suppressed by tall robust grass such as cocksfoot and false oat-grass. The soil in this back quarter may be heavier clay while nearer the church it is lighter sandy soil — as noted when a grave recently opened. lt is noteworthy that the lawn areas have retained a good flora including species that cannot compete in longer growth eg mouse-ear hawkweed and lady’s bedstraw. The removal of grass-cuttings does prevent mulching and over-enrichment.

Trees

The mature oak on north side of church has already been noted, the pollard limes [presume hybrid] behind the front wall are other large deciduous trees, that are cut on 5 year cycle. Evergreen yew and holly are in notable numbers and most of similar age. Two young coppiced sallows at back of churchyard are unexpected and good early pollen source for insects. There appear to be no obvious tree problems and the absence of many very large ones means expensive tree surgery is not an obvious, imminent concern. Sycamore seedlings should be eradicated as they are invasive.

Key

Y — Yew
H — Holly
Ht — Hawthorn
Lc — Lawsons Cypress
S — Sallow
O — Oak
E — Elm
El — Elder
YP — Yellow Privet
C — Cherry
Sy — Silver Birch

 

 

 

 

 

Flowerless Plants

No attempt has been made to survey the mosses or lichen but their presence should be remembered, with the stonework of churchyard being an important habitat particularly for the latter that are indicators of air quality as well as food for some invertebrates. Fungi similarly should be appreciated and churchyard grassland species can include the colourful Waxcap [Hygrocybe] group.

Insects & other invertebrates

The good numbers of insects seen last year impressed me — from small harmless solitary bees and digger wasps in the spring to gatekeeper brown butterflies and bumblebees on late flowering purple knapweed. The light soil, bare areas on some graves and old hedge banks are good for burrowing insects. The Common Blue butterfly has already been mentioned and their caterpillar’s foodplant: yellow birdsfoot trefoil. They have 2-3 generations in the summer so are not always to be seen but I have seen up to 6 together here in 2003; on 3rd June 2004 I saw 3 together in favoured central medium cut area where foodplant quite dense. This is an important site for this butterfly whose name is now a misnomer as it is no longer common. Although I have not seen Holly blues, they should be present given quantity of holly; it also uses ivy for second brood. My visits may not have coincided with its flying season and it has been less numerous for past 2-3 years locally, probably due to parasite cycle. Last year on 28th April, Green-veined Whites were noted on their foodplant Garlic Mustard near bottom holly hedge. On 22nd July good numbers of gatekeeper and skipper butterflies "nectaring" on flowers, including non-native flat-leaved pink Sedum on some kerb graves in central part. Bumblebees and even grasshoppers enjoyed one patch. Roesel’s bush—cricket heard on last date, a mobile species favouring longer grass, has greatly extended its range within Essex in the last ten years. Ants and their hills should be allowed to flourish in the less mown areas. Green woodpeckers depend on them as large food item. The gall on Spear Thistle is caused by a gall insect — probably a tiny wasp.

Plant-Life

There is a good selection of wild flowering plants that were once mostly common grassland species. A list of those I have seen follows in 2004.  It is not exhaustive as this would require study over several years at various seasons, but the obvious ones l hope have been listed.

Common Horsetail [Equisetum arvense]

Wall Rue fern [Asplenium ruta-muraria]

Yew [Taxus baccata]

Meadow buttercup [Ranunculus acris]

Bulbous buttercup [Ranunculus bulbosus]

Opium Poppy [Papaver somniferum]

Garlic Mustard [Alliaria petiolata]

Hairy Bittercress [Cardamine hirsute]

Common Whitlow Grass [Erophila verna]

Thale Cress [Arabidopsis thaliana]

Sweet Violet [Viola odorata]

Common St John’s Wort [Hypericum perforatum]

Square-stemmed St John’s Wort [ Hypericum tetrapterum]

Common Mouse-ear {Cerastium fontanum]

Lesser Stitchwort [Stellaria graminea] `

Common Chickweed [Stellaria media]

Common Lime [Tilia x vulgaris?]

Cut-leaved Cranesbill [Geranium dissectum]

Sycamore [Acer pseudoplatanus]

Holly {llex aquilofolium]

Common Birdsfoot trefoil [Lotus comiculatus]

Red Clover [Trifolium pratense]

Common Vetch [Vicia sativa]

Hairy Tare [Vicia hirsuta]

Common Hawthorn [Crataegus monogyna]

Creeping Cinquefoil [Potentilla reptans]

Hybrid Cinquefoil [P. anglica x reptans Mixta]

Barren Strawberry [Potentlla sterilis]

Cherry [Prunus sp]

Blackthorn [Prunus padus]

Dog Rose [Rosa canina]

Bramble [Rubus sp]

White Stonecrop [Sedum album]

Retlexed Stonecrop [ Sedum retlexum]

Ivy [Hedera helix]

Ground Elder [Aegopodium podagraria]

Bur Chervil [Anthriscus caucalis]

Cow Parsley [Anthriscus sylvestris]

Common Sorrel [Rumex acetosa]

Dock ?sp [Rumex]

Mind Your Own Business [Soleirolia soleirolii]

Stinging nettle [Urtica dioca]

Elm [Ulmus sp]

Birch [Betula sp]

Oak [Quercus robur]

Goat Willow/Sallow [Salix caprea]

Germander Speedwell [Veronica chamaedrys]

Common Field Speedwell [Veronica persica]

White Deadnettle [Lamium album]

Red Deadnettle [Lamium purpureum]

Marjoram [Origanum vulgare]

Ribwort Plantain [Plantago lanceolata]

Greater Plantain [Plantago major]

Goosegrass [Galium aparine]

Lady’s Bedstraw [Galium verum]

Field Scabious {Knautia arvense]

Yarrow [Achillea millefolium]

Lesser Burdock [Arctium minus]

Daisy [Bellis perennis]

Knapweed [Centaurea ni gra]

Spear Thistle [Cirsium vulgare] ‘

Mouse-ear hawkweed [Hieracium pilosella]

Ox-eye daisy [Leucanthemum vulgare]

Common Ragwort [Senecio jacobaea]

Groundsel [Senecio vulgaris]

Dandelion [Taraxacum sp]

Spanish Bluebell [Hyacinthoides hispanica]

Field Woodrush [Luzula campestris]

Grey Sedge [Carex divulsa] or

Prickly sedge [ " muricata] ‘?

Grasses not recorded but include Sweet Vernal Grass [Anthoxanthum odoratum] &

Yellow Oat [Trisetum flavescens]

Notable Plants

Wall Rue fern [Asplenium ruta-muraria]— is given precedence as 6-8 plants are growing on inside of front wall just south of main entrance. This small fern should be cherished as uncommon in our dry area.

Field Scabious [Knautia arvensis] — A smaller native version of the familiar garden plant, an indicator of lighter soils and not frequent in this area.. Grows in area behind parish hall.

Wild Marjoram [Origanum vulgare] — 2-3 plants seen flowering in late summer near Scabious, showy aromatic herb, pink flowers favoured by butterflies - not to be confused with the similar species grown in gardens. Normally grows on chalk, very rare in NE Essex, I know of it in another churchyard at Thorpe-le-Soken - possible accidental introduction with limestone monument?

Square-stalked St John’s Wort [Hypericum tetrapterum] - Surprising record: 2 plants beside path in SE corner, a marshland species, suggesting heavier retentive soil here - a localised plant in this area.

Birdsfoot Trefoil [Lotus corniculatus] — While much more widespread than above species it is noteworthy in this churchyard for its quantity and as a consequence contribution of colour and success in supporting a reasonable population of Common Blue butterflies — see comments under insects.

Lady’s Bedstraw [Galium verum] — now largely confined to old churchyards, esp. next to headstones where not mown out.

Key

F.S. — Field Scabious
Maxj — Marjoram
S.S.J. — Square—stemmed St Johns Wort
M.E.H. — Mouse—ear Hawkweed
L.B.S. — Lady’s Bedstraw
W.R. — Wall Rue
Pot. Mixta — Hybrid Potentilla
Carex — Sedge (2 clumps)
Sp.T. — Spear Thistle (galled)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birds

The evergreen yews and hollies will be a great bird attraction in the berry season.

Localised tiny goldcrests have been heard especially on 25th June 2004 a time suggestive of nearby breeding, they favour evergreens. Coal tits should also be looked for with so many evergreens in one place. Stock doves have been heard calling here. The adjacent housing development may discourage them remaining but a medium sized nest box might encourage them as they, unlike most other native doves, are hole—nesters, so favour old, undisturbed trees. The surrounding hedges as well as grassland will become of increasing importance with the changes all around for birds as well as other wildlife.

Mammals, Reptiles & Amphibians

My short fairly random visits have not made recording more mobile, secretive wildlife very feasible. I have seen evidence of fox and rabbit and would expect the 4-5 common species of small voles and mice as well as perhaps 1-2 species of shrew to be present, also hedgehog. Common lizard and slow- worms are likely, possibly grass-snake, frogs and even toads should visit to feed in longer grass when damp. Building is disrupting the corridors of natural habitat for such creatures to move about and the isolation, movement and replenishment of populations will become more problematic.

Conclusions

This is a pleasant churchyard with clear benefits for wildlife that will become more obvious with drastic changes to local environment. Several management aspects have already been pointed out and I would recommend as few changes to the existing cutting frequencies as possible. That is essentially continuing to divide the area into three with frequency of cutting decreasing progressively towards back: while appreciating the back third in 2004 was allowed to get a little too long for some tastes. A smaller "leave alone" area here that was cut on a two yearly basis would be useful however. It is appreciated in writing this report that the churchyard’s primary purpose must not be forgotten.

Suggested Cutting Frequencies

A - Lawned area

B - Intermediate

C - Least mown with one small area left to over year

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David R Bain

11/3/05

 

Selected References

Wildlife in Church and Churchyard: Nigel Cooper, Church House Publishing, 2nd Edition

(2001)

God ’s Acre - Flowers and Animals of the Parish Churchyard: Francesca Greenoak, WI

Books (1985)

Wild Flowers of NE Essex: Tarpey and Heath, Colchester Natural History Society (1990)