In this highly readable book, Stefan Buczacki looks at the interesting and perhaps unique place that our British churchyards play in providing a habitat for our native wildlife.
The book discusses the churchyard in British history and its place in the landscape. Often relatively undisturbed in comparison with the neighbouring countryside it is argued that these areas can provide an insight into the landscape that once surrounded these churches. In addition, Stefan makes a strong case that the particular features provided by the gravestones, enclosing walls and the church itself all provide valuable microclimates and habitats that can support a wealth of plants and animals.
Each of the chapters looks briefly at plants and fungi, lichens, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, birds and other small creatures. Although the argument that churchyards support a rich and varied wildlife is well made, I was a little disappointed that it did not illustrate the points by reference to real data from actual studies. However, it certainly left me with a desire to learn more.
I found the discussion around the presence of yew trees in churchyards and the substantial age of many churchyard yews particularly fascinating. Also, why there are so few yew trees of great age outside churchyards. Those yew trees that are in excess of 2000 years old clearly pre-date both the building of the church and Christianity itself and the book leaves a tantalising question as to what may have been associated with these sites prior to the existing building.
I was also pleased to see that the book explored the rich lichen diversity that exists in churchyards. Gravestones offer a unique and relatively undisturbed habitat for these very slow growing symbiotic organisms to thrive and multiply.
The book is well written and charmingly illustrated with drawings throughout by Felicity Price-Smith. The inclusion of historic verse is also used to illustrate the undoubted interest in churchyard natural history throughout the years.
The final chapter deals with the current and future challenges of maintaining and conserving the rich natural history of churchyards. In an era of diminishing congregations and limited funding the book offers some practical suggestions on how to retain these interesting environments for future generations.
Publisher: Unicorn Publishing Group