Thursday, 13 December 2018

Birds, butterflies and bees... churchyard is an oasis for wildlife

Birds, butterflies and bees... churchyard is an oasis for wildlife

THE morning is bright and sunny and I think how lucky I have been this year as I prepare to go for a walk.

Only once in the summer have I had to take shelter from a brief shower.

Stepping outside, my attention is drawn to a red admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) basking in the warmth of the sun on the side of my house.

I wonder if it will overwinter, probably not but there will be others that will emerge in spring from pupae, find a mate and leave their eggs on my small patch of stinging nettles and realise another generation.

It is a truly beautiful insect and I believe that it was once called “admirable”, which makes good sense.

I assume that it has survived so long by supping the nectar from the ivy in my garden, which is in flower at the moment.

This beautiful creature reminds me of the small tortoiseshell butterflies that used to overwinter in the stairwell of my grandparents’ house where I was born.

I decide to visit the churchyard at St Peter’s Church in Caversham.

You may wonder why but churchyards are often oases for wildlife, often providing a glimpse of what lay beyond their walls many years back.

Even though it is now mid-November, I’m curious to see what I can find.

The church that stands today dates back to 1162 and was damaged during the Civil War. I find it curious how thundering traffic flows past as I stand among gravestones looking down at the busy road that runs alongside, the present and the past just feet apart.

Lichen (part fungi, part algae) partially covers many of the older gravestones here.

Sadly, it sometimes obliterates the names, dates and details of the deceased that were engraved on the stones long ago.

The most recent I find is 1909. As to the others, many are very old and now indecipherable. I search in vain for a few that I found years ago that bore nothing but a skull and crossbones and I wondered what that meant. Again the lichen has cast its cloak on history.

Just as I am pondering a large bumblebee, looking to all intents like a drunk trying to find the key to the front door, it finally finds home in a tiny burrow beside one of the old stones.

I hope that it has laid down some food for the winter.

There are some lovely trees here, yew naturally, not that old but reassuring nonetheless. What graveyard would be complete without one?

Among the turf between the gravestones I find salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor), a plant normally found on chalk grassland. The leaves have a lovely peppery taste but I think I’ll leave these alone out of respect.

As I leave, a murder of crows begins to caw.

Then, as the sun begins to set and I make a promise to return in the spring, a song thrush begins to sing and fills me with joy.

Vincent Ruane

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