The Living Churchyard
The Churchyard & Nature
Visitors to Newport Cathedral entering the churchyard through the lych-gate may hardly notice the neatly mown grass as they walk towards the tower entrance. Should they continue around the north side of the Cathedral, leave the tarmac paths and edge past the hall to the east end, they will discover a wilder area where Victorian graves lie amongst brambles and saplings that were taking over before recent clearance work.
A survey by the Gwent Wildlife Trust shows that this area, in fact, has a wide variety of plants including common mouse-ear, enchanter’s nightshade and oxeye daisy and rather worryingly, devil’s-bit scabious, to name just a few. Alternatively, for an easier route, they may approach the area along a path that starts near the vehicle entrance from Clifton Road.
The Newport Cathedral Living Churchyard project is part of the Cathedral’s outreach and service to the community along with other projects such as participation in the Newport Night Shelter for rough sleepers and the Befrienders Bereavement Support Group, both ecumenical initiatives.
We are delighted to have received a grant from the Gannett Foundation that will enable us to continue and expand the Living Churchyard project for the benefit of both people and wildlife. The grant may enable us to provide information sheets, signage, interpretation boards, benches, bird boxes and feeders and bu and hedgehog hotels, as well as to pay for more mundane matters such as tools and waste plant material removal.
The Churchyard Setting
The Cathedral is set in a grove of trees on the site of an ancient Celtic clas or Christian enclosure dating back perhaps 1500 years. A survey of the churchyard in 2016 by Gareth Morgan and Lowri Watkins of the Gwent Wildlife Trust identified 16 species of grass and sedge, and 56 species of wild flowers, saplings and shrubs of which 6 are Ancient Woodland indicators. A survey the previous year of the mature trees found at the time that there were then 39 trees including 14 different species. All these species of plants and trees are found in just over an acre of ground in the centre of the city.
The Cathedral decided to set aside an area of the churchyard to the north and east of the building that would be managed to encourage the wild flowers and other plants to thrive and provide a valuable habitat to be enjoyed by visitors and providing a food source for insects, birds and other wildlife. We hope the area may also provide a resource for local schools and organisations that are interested in nature and we invite them to discuss this with us. Activities might include nature trails, identifying trees and plants, siting and maintaining nest boxes and feeders, studying visiting birds and maybe forest school activities or just sitting quietly to contemplate nature in God’s Acre.
A Tranquil Haven
In 2017, we began to cut a grass path to provide access and the first bird feeders, a nest box and insect hotel were introduced. A battle with the resident grey squirrels over the bird feeders seems to be a draw so far! During a visit in the summer, Roger James, President of the Gwent Wildlife Trust identified several Ringlet butterflies that he was surprised to find in the centre of a city suggesting the site may provide a haven for these and other species blown off course. In order for the wildflowers to grow and seed the Living Churchyard area will only receive one big cut a year.
Maintaining the Grounds
At present, a small team from the cathedral carries out the maintenance work in the project and grounds. Other volunteers are welcome.
As well as the Gannett Foundation and Gwent Wildlife Trust, we are grateful for the support we are receiving from Newport City Corporation.
People and organisations who would like to know more about the project should in the first instance contact the Cathedral Administrator
Here some of the ways you or your group or organisation might become involved with the Living Churchyard at Newport Cathedral:
- Carry out a bumble bee survey, there are quite a few flying around the churchyard at present.
- Test your plant identification skills. 56 species have been identified in a survey.
- Tree identification, there are 14 species of trees.
- Set up moth traps.
- Butterfly identification, can you see the unusual species that was identified recently?
- Creepy crawly search in the grass and on the trees. What can you find?
- Bird song recording and identification, if you cannot see them, you can hear them and there are bird song apps for phones to help.
- Do we have bats? Could some children come with parents on a summer evening and see if they can hear any bat squeaks.
- Keep a journal of what is happening in the churchyard month by month.
Contact us for further information about becoming involved with the Living Churchyard.