Biodiversity of old churchyards in England

A fascinating little article about old churchards as nature preserves. Seems like something that would make a great iNaturalist project. Any naturalists in England care to comment?


I’m not from England, but this seems like a cool idea!

It absolutely is! I lived in Kent for a while and I can see that being a great activity with younger kids, for example. You’ll likely find one close to you, it’s safe and I have yet to come across anything quite as good in my current area when it comes to finding especially mammals.


I find that even in the U.S., cemeteries can be a great place to go iNaturalizing. There tends to be at least an edge of untended land to a cemetery and you’re encouraged to wander through a cemetery.


Yes! As it says these are places that have remained wild for hundreds of years, they aren’t usually intensely cultivated like gardens, and they aren’t monocultural farmland like most of the countryside. Plenty have very old trees in too - which of course attracts insects, which attracts…

Often there’s some very locally-unique plants in these areas. One local graveyard of mine has a population of Irish Spurge, an extremely rare plant here - with just 1 current iNat record in the UK. They’re also meant to be some of the best places to see stuff like Bee Orchids.


Neat article. It would be really fun to botanize a church yard like that, but alas, there’s an ocean in the way.

But, in the same vein, there are a few graveyards near me that host one of very few populations of certain rare plants. I can think of two species off the top of my head that have less than 25 populations globally, but there are probably others. With proper management (or sometimes not) these can become artificial grassland in areas that would eventually revert to forest.


I remember seeing a UK project for graveyards, and there ws one for churches, but don’t remember from which country, so there’re people on iNat with the same interest!

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When I lived in the UK, and I was mapping the distribution of the non-marine molluscs of the British Isles, especially when I lived at the edge of the Fenland in Cambridgeshire, I would deliberately seek out the old churchyards because they were great for finding land snails, including many species that could not be found anywhere else, because the churchyards were serving as relict woodland in areas where there was otherwise nothing else but agricultural land for growing sugar beet.


Aldo Leopold touched on this in his July entry of “A Sand County Almanac”, when he wrote of finding a prairie plant (Silphium laciniatum) hanging on in an acute angle corner of an old 1840s cemetery where the mowing machines and grazing animals hadn’t been able to consistently cut it.

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I love european graveyards and used to spent a lot of time there… always seeing amazing stuff like hedgehogs, hares, foxes and owls…

Graveyards all over are biodiversity hotspots:

Scientists recently did a study about Chinese graveyards within agricultural areas:

Interesting reads!


There have been 2 projects in the UK:

  1. The Living Churchyard Project

  2. Caring For God’s Green Acre

You may be able to find information about them on Google.

We have been actively recording Churchyeards in Cheshire and Merseyside in teh UK for teh last 20 years. Intersting species are to be found as many churchyards have been untouched for many years.


After quickly skimming through Gong et al., I really appreciated the cultural analysis. Funerary customs and the social and political context of the cemetaries matter a lot.

Most cemetaries near me, despite featuring mostly gravel and very few untouched spaces due to their history of absorbing huge and abrupt population growth in the 19th/early 20th century, have at least made a public commitment to reduce or eliminate herbicides.

It’s a fascinating place to explore the interplay of social and natural history!

When I was last in England a couple of decades ago, I came across a churchyard left “wild” and converted into a genuine nature oasis (I don’t remember if it was the church, the local authority or friends/relatives of those buried there), complete with a mini-nature trail and explicatory boards and signs. I was absolutely entranced and would love to have explored further, perhaps finding other similar projects nearby, but time was short. Here in Italy I don’t think the concept would have much success as in general graveyards here are all about order, tidiness and a great deal of concrete.

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Cemeteries have protected a number of threatened species here, particularly this one:
“Prasophyllum taphanyx is known only from the
type location at St John’s Catholic Cemetery … The graveside location is reflected in the specific epithet (Greek taphos, grave, and antyx, edge or border, literally ‘edge of the grave’), which also reflects the perilous predicament of the species (Jones 2004).” (Threatened Species Listing Statement)
There are also several threatened species preserved in the “rough” at a golf course.

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Yeah, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by this. Several nice golf courses along the Pacific coast in the USA have preserved bits of the original dune complexes for sandy rough and scenery, and I’ve had better luck finding (and getting permission to collect) some fly species there than in the narrow coastline parks.

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Exactly three observations on iNat.

A tangentially related English garden article

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