Life that lies within churchyards – 11th January

Gravestones get their own liver-spots as they age – scatterings of lichens which are often as old as the stones upon which they live.

Wildlife in some of London’s churchyards has been left undisturbed for nearly 1,000 years. These ancient habitats have disappeared from elsewhere in the city as homes and offices squeeze in.

A study on the city’s 550 churchyards has revealed quite how much life lies within these urban reserves, including some of the country’s most threatened bats, lichens, insects and birds.

One of the most exciting findings was a juvenile jumping spider (Macaroeris nidicolens) at St Mary’s Parish Church in Leyton. It is the fifth site in the country where the species has been found!

St Pancras Gardens – which was formerly the graveyard of the 11th century St Pancras Church – has almost 90 plant species and 35 species of lichen. All Saints Isleworth is home to an extremely rare, small bird called a firecrest as well as the brown long-eared bat, which is rarely recorded in London.

Many of the lichens were unexpected finds. Subtle variations in stone (for example, limestone, sandstone and granite) and the type of memorial (chest, headstone or ledger) create big differences in what species will grow. St Lawrence Whitchurch in Harrow is home to an astonishing 67 different types of lichen.

These findings come from the Churchyard Ecology Survey, the first comprehensive study of London’s churchyards. The research is ongoing and I’m told they need £60k to finish it off so if there are any kind sponsors out there….

In the meantime, send me pictures of your churchyard finds or post them on Twitter with #rewildinglondon. Happy 2019!

lichen-covered-gravestone

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