Team Wilder story: Chinnor Churches Go Wild!

Team Wilder story: Chinnor Churches Go Wild!

Chinnor Churches Go Wild! is a group of volunteers from five churches improving their churchyards for wildlife and engaging their local communities
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Imagine a wilder world on your doorstep, with more nature everywhere in urban and rural areas. Read about how a group of churches in Oxfordshire is making this happen as part of Team Wilder.

Chinnor Churches Go Wild! is a group of volunteers from five churches in the United Parish of Chinnor, Sydenham, Aston Rowant and Crowell, Oxfordshire. The group has commitment from all five churches and the Rector, Jackie Barr, for their work. 

Chinnor Churches Go Wild! has been active for several years, and BBOWT has been working with the group since 2019 through the Lottery funded Rough Around the Edges project, part of the Chalk, Cherries and Chairs Landscape Partnership Scheme.

Rough Around the Edges supports Chinnor Churches Go Wild! by advising on how to adjust how the grounds are managed, providing training, and helping with community engagement.

Chinnor Churches Go Wild!’s overall aims are:

  • to understand the habitats and wildlife in each of the individual churchyards and grounds
  • to improve these habitats for the benefit of wildlife and the local community
  • to target at least one declining or threatened species for specific action
  • to increase the number of people engaging in nature and the depth of their engagement

Churchyards are special places and unique habitats for wildlife. The churchyards of Chinnor United Parish are no exception, and each churchyard is different, providing space for many plants and animals. Some have swifts nesting in the bell tower, others have patches of long grass and wildflowers for bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects.

Areas of rough ground, long grass, and compost heaps are perfect for slow worms and grass snakes, and the old trees in each churchyard provide food and shelter for birds, bats and many invertebrates. Chinnor Churches Go Wild! work hard to celebrate and enhance this uniqueness through:

  • Regular plant surveys in Crowell churchyard
  • New surveys in Sydenham and St. Andrews
  • Creation of reptile and amphibian habitat
  • Provision of hedgehog boxes
  • Training in plant, pollinator and butterfly surveying from BBOWT and CEH
  • Plant identification training from BBOWT and Caring for God’s Acre
  • Engagement with other local environment groups
  • Changes to mowing in churchyards, leaving more areas of longer grass and wild flowers
  • Community activities for families:
    • Dawn chorus walk
    • Moth night
    • Scavenger hunts and making bee homes
    • Online talks

Chinnor Churches Go Wild! are more confident about what to do and are engaging locally with other groups, for example with Prestwood Nature for support to run a hedgehog survey, with Greening Chinnor, and Mill Lane Community Garden to link activities and support one another.

Group of people surveying plants

Surveying a churchyard for plants. Photo by Katie Horgan

They have regular articles in the parish magazine and are growing support for their activities amongst the congregation and wider community. The links to faith and wildlife are often made throughout the parish magazine, with beautiful images of the wildlife in the churchyards.

Participants in the simple survey training sessions run by BBOWT also found that sitting and observing nature have mental health benefits, creating a space to be quiet and immersed in the world of the wildlife around them.

Wild flowers and areas of long grass have increased and although there aren’t yet detailed records, slow worms, grass snakes, swifts, bats, hedgehogs, several butterfly and bee species are all resident in the various churchyards. As the groups’ and the local community’s awareness of this increases, then hopefully the records will also increase.

Churchyards have a very specific role to play for people and balancing this with the needs of wildlife requires careful communication and slow steps. A willingness to be mindful and to make changes at pace that work for everyone has been very important in this project. Leaving the grass to grow long can give the impression that the churchyard is not being cared for, for example.

It has been very important to work on communicating with the people who look after the churchyards – usually the church wardens – and to be mindful that people are visiting the churchyard for their loved ones.

The group is planning some hedgehog surveying and training to encourage families to help hedgehogs where they live. This started in September 2021 and will carry on through to Spring 2022.

Find out more about Chinnor Churches Go Wild!

Our Rough Around the Edges project partners and supporters

Heritage Fund Chilterns AONB Chalk, Cherries and Chairs

More Team Wilder community projects

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Team Wilder is a growing community of people from across our three counties and beyond, who are taking direct action for nature.

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Volunteers by Jess Gallagher