Conservation Management of the Churchyards

Background
This lovely little Church, standing remotely from the local village and surrounded by fields, dates back to the 11th century. The churchyard to the south supports an ancient hay meadow flora which may have persisted since at least Anglo Saxon times. The main conservation aim in this area has been to maintain it as a traditional species-rich hay meadow, largely how it may have been managed over many preceding centuries, with mowing at the end of June and an additional cut in late autumn or winter. This area has been managed by the local Blofield and District Conservation Group (BADCOG) since 1985, though Dr R. M. Leaney surveyed the area in 1982 for Norfolk Wildlife Trust.

The churchyard was much extended in 1953 when land to the north was kindly donated to the church. Part of this area is used for new interments. This agricultural land originally supported only coarse grassland with abundant hogweed.

In 2007 it was agreed to organise a working party to prune the hedgerow, which had grown to such a height that the church could not be readily seen from the roadway. Since then the southern churchyard area has been well managed by BADCOG with the support of parishioners and the Friends of All Saints (the Friends). More recently the Bure Valley Conservation Group (BVCG) has undertaken cutting and raking in the northern churchyard area, so the diversity of plants and wildlife there has substantially increased.

Over the last two years, the Friends group has been instrumental in co-ordinating interest and practical working in the two churchyards both with the above conservation groups and parishioners/Friends of the church, in collaboration with Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Churchyard Conservation team.

A small team of volunteers surveyed the churchyards monthly between April and September in 2016, occasionally in 2017, and regularly in 2018, recording and reporting the wild flowers and wildlife identified. This lengthy document together with historical notes and photographs has been exhibited in the church at various times to let visitors know that it is a very valuable wildlife habitat.

A lead member of the Friends Group, Mrs. J. Burtenshaw, has also taken on the role of surveying and recording the state of the poplar trees that were planted on the boundary of the churchyard some years ago, as they are a cause for concern on this exposed site.

Although the records we hold only go back 35 years, they show that the southern churchyard area had been well and sympathetically managed for many generations and illustrate the richness and variety of wild plants that can thrive if given the opportunity.

Regular and well planned conservation measures over the intervening years, especially by BADCOG, offer a richness and diversity that can be appreciated by parishioners and other visitors to the church. The more recent efforts by BVCG and the Friends have shown an encouraging expansion in wild flowers in the northern churchyard, which with good management will only increase.

The original 1982 report listed 14 “interesting and rare species” in the churchyard, and a 2000 report listed 27 species in the southern churchyard and 23 in the north.

The May, 2017 report boasted 113 species over the two areas, plus 17 tree and hedge plants.

Current working practices
Since 2017 the Friends group has been recording birds, bees, butterflies and mammals, boosted initially by a wildlife day in May 2016 (“Let’s go Wild in the Churchyard”), featuring input from Norfolk Wildlife Trust, BADCOG, BVCG, the RSPB, the BTO, Norfolk Bat Group and the Friends. This event was well attended by local families and increased interest in bird, bug, moth and butterfly watching. During 2017, 34 bird and 7 butterfly species were recorded.

The Friends group has also implemented “The Big Churchyard Birdwatch” over the last four years, as part of the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch. One Friend visited the local primary school, encouraging children to make paper birds to be exhibited in the church during the Birdwatch, and also to come along with their families to help keep a count of birds seen. The numbers recorded were added to the RSPB website. These sessions have also encouraged people to learn more about the wildlife in the churchyards as well as enjoy the facilities (and soup and cake!) available to them.

Such is the enthusiasm of the Friends and associated conservation groups, that regular surveys will be undertaken each year, under the auspices of Norfolk Wildlife Trust and the Beautiful Burial Grounds project. Surveying dates have been agreed in March, April, May, June, July and August 2019 by the Friends Committee and forwarded to Friends and others interested in recording wildlife. A poster for the spring/early summer dates is on this website.

Records will also be entered on to the Norfolk Biodiversity Information Service (when available) as well as being used to update the exhibition boards, which are often displayed in church during Heritage Open Days (weekends in September each year) and during any appropriate festivals held at the church.

The habitat surveys undertaken since 2016 together with the site management plan and a regular survey of the state of the poplar trees that mark the boundaries on the southern and western sides of the churchyard (and which cause concern because of moth damage and age) are readily available to interested visitors and displayed as part of the Churchyard Wildlife displays described above.

Norfolk Wildlife Trust Survey
Tree Surveys

2018 Norfolk Community Biodiversity Awards
Every year, the Norfolk Biodiversity Partnership organises the Community Biodiversity Awards to recognise outstanding community efforts to conserve biodiversity across Norfolk.
In 2018 we were told that an Award would be made to All Saints Church, Hemblington under the Churchyards and Cemeteries Award Category for the innovative way the Friends group had approached conservation of the churchyards, taking professional advice and working with others.