In many urban locations churchyards and burial grounds represent some of the few remaining peaceful havens for wildlife and people in an increasingly busy world. Even in the countryside, much of our biodiversity has been lost to intensive agriculture and infrastructure development. Often founded on ancient sites, our sacred places may then also provide a welcome respite for much of our native wildlife including amphibians and reptiles. Living in the damp corners that so often characterise old churchyards we often have reports of common frogs and toads, newts, slow-worms, common lizards, grass snakes, and in some exceptionally special places even our most vulnerable native snake, the adder.
However, many reports are anecdotal, and whilst many burial grounds have a ‘wild area’ which is often in the older and harder to maintain part of the site. This is often simply left and little done to map the wildlife using it or to target habitat improvement for specific species.
ARG UK (Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK) working in partnership with the Caring for God’s Acre ‘Beautiful Burial Grounds’ has developed a project focusing on our forgotten creatures, those that inhabit the damp corners and provide a safety net for those falling through the cracks and crevices. The project has the three main aims of finding out more about amphibians and reptiles in churchyards and other burial grounds, informing and enthusing people managing and using the areas about these amazing creatures and advising site managers on ways of tweaking the management to improve the area for wildlife including herps.
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Amphibian and Reptile Group (CPARG) is one of 9 county based volunteer amphibian and reptile groups (ARGs) already signed up to the project. At this time of uncertainty when we don’t know how far we will be allowed to travel and who we can work with it gives us a chance to obtain useful records and raise the profile of amphibians and reptiles in our local areas. It builds on work we have been doing with the estates team at Cambridge City Crematorium. We have built a hibernaculum and helped cleared out overgrown ponds. Regular monitoring shows the great crested and smooth newts are benefitting.
We hope to involve members of church congregations or teams looking after other burial grounds in the project so more people become interested in and knowledgeable about amphibians and reptiles and wildlife in general.
If you would like to take part, please contact Terry Moore (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.