A church which has a stained glass window depicting British wild flowers should certainly have its grounds surveyed. And I have accepted a mission to be part of the team carrying out that investigation this spring and summer on behalf of Norfolk Wildlife Trust.
Ashwicken Church, which has its foundations in the 1300s, has never been considered in this way before. But now it has joined the wildlife trust scheme which aims to record and conserve wild plants in the county’s churchyards and wildlife sites.
All Saints Church is small and neat and welcoming and stands in a small area of land in the Gaywood Valley about six miles from King’s Lynn. It is reached down a narrow, winding lane and is surrounded by fields and farms and, as a result, there is a large array of other wildlife in the vicinity. On our preliminary visit we were told of various owls, birds of prey, and hares. Also, an impressive starling murmuration has been seen nearby this season.
This is my second attempt at being a volunteer plant surveyor with NWT. I still don’t feel at all confident about my botanical skills, but when I learnt I’d been attached to the team working at this site, I did some research on-line and thought it sounded like a place where I might encounter lots of new things and wildlife. And that assumption seemed right on my first visit.
The plan is for a conservation area to be established at the churchyard, which, because of its use over the centuries, would have had no artificial fertilisers put on it. The Churchwarden described how it may have been cut with a scythe years ago. Even during our February inspection, we wrote several plants on the list – yarrow, daisy, chickweed, greater and lesser celandines, creeping buttercup and herb Robert – to name a few of them. This is where I admire my fellow surveyors and the expert from NWT who came to start us off on our task – they have the ability to recognise plants just starting to poke through the ground by their leaves! I have a lot to learn! One of our team commented: “The plants seem to think it’s nearly spring, even if we don’t!”
There was also a beautiful display of snowdrops and a few primroses were already open. That was very apt, for the plants illustrated on the special window for January and February are snowdrops and primroses respectively. The flowery window was installed in the west tower – the oldest part of the church – to mark the millennium and 2,000 years of Christianity. It was decided to feature wild flowers “to enhance our very rural ‘Church in the Fields'” it states on the church website. Each of the 12 panels of the window features a simple drawing of plants with a religious significance and is finished with muted, earthy colours which would have been used in mediaeval times. It features all our national floral symbols. Not surprisingly the window has become one of the most loved parts of the church.
I was intrigued to see how stonecrop had become established on graves at Ashwicken. I’ve seen something similar at Gayton Parish Church. We’ll have to wait and see what colour the flowers turn out to be before we can identify it properly. I found a very pretty, dainty moss, aptly named “swan’s neck moss” growing at the top of a gravestone, and there are various lichens. I’m told there may be wild daffodils, too, which I’d love to see.
I look forward to continuing, and hopefully improving, my wild plant identifying skills here over the coming months. And I have my fingers crossed for all the other wildlife which may come along as well!
Last year, I worked with another team in Reffley Spring Wood, a county wildlife site, and learnt over the last few days that our survey has now been finalised by NWT in preparation for a management plan to be put together. I hope to keep tabs on this lovely wood too this year.