Lockdown has generated a beautiful benefit for St John the Baptist church in Lincoln as over the last few months, when income has been restricted and they have not been able to afford for the grass to be cut in the churchyard, wildflowers have started to grow and as a result the church is now on its way to becoming a case study as perhaps the first example of rewilding in an urban context.

Revd Rachel Heskins, Vicar at St John the Baptist, said: “We have a magnificent church situated in a quarter of an acre plot that is entirely grassed. The costs of cutting the grass are quite substantial compared to our income so when we were placed into lockdown we had to look at ways to save money. We discussed our ideas with the congregation and they were immediately on-board as we could reduce our carbon footprint and create a biodiverse environment for wildlife in one fell swoop. 

“People have differing opinions on how ‘tidy’ a churchyard should be or whether in God’s Acre, if burial sites, wildflowers and biodiversity can sit alongside one another in a happy co-existence. We don’t have a burial ground or any memorials in our churchyard so our site is ripe for transformation.” 

She continued: “The grass grew quickly and our churchyard was soon like a lush wilderness and I think our Saint would have felt quite at home! Among the variety of grasses we started to see wild flowers emerge with daisies and yarrow wafting in the wind and lower down a lovely yellow bird’s foot trefoil was emerging. With the flowers came the butterflies and snails. So now we had a rather large urban meadow developing and so we contacted the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust for advice on how we might nurture it.”

They met with Mark Schofield, a Conservation Officer at the charity, and he surveyed the area and gave some advice on how to manage it. His report indicated that given the soil in the area it had ‘valuable potential to restore and manage lowland limestone grassland which can be very rich in colour and biodiversity - providing scarce habitat for pollinators and wildflowers characteristic of the Lincolnshire Chalk and Limestone’. Indeed, he went on to say that it had the potential to ‘attain a habitat quality rivalling our own quarry nature reserves carpeted with orchids in June.’

There is work to be done when nurturing a meadow – there needs to be a balance between the wild flowers and the right types of grass otherwise the grass smothers the flowers. Rachel said: “Mark painted a lovely picture of what our meadow could look like. He wrote that we would hear a ‘glissando of seed-feeding finches and a sibilant fizz of crickets and grasshoppers would combine to chorus a rich soundscape’ so you can’t say no to that!”

The grass will still need cutting and the clippings removed so this was a concern, given the likely costs, but in the Spring next year the Lincoln Conservation Group will be able to support the church’s efforts with a team of people armed with scythes! “We will also be able to apply for some small grants to support the work” Rachel said “and we might even be able to draft in some volunteers from our local schools who have taken an interest in what we are trying to do.”

After the grass has been cut, Mark will return with seeds harvested from the Lincolnshire Coronation Meadow and seed a metre-wide strip around the edge of the churchyard with native wildflower seeds. 

“It’s very exciting as we hope our churchyard will become part of a case study on the impact of rewilding a green space in an urban context.  We don’t know of any others quite like it” Rachel said.  She continued: “By September next year, the initial border will have flowered and the seeds can be harvested to widen the area of wildflower meadow possibly either side of the desire line (footpath) created by people cutting through the churchyard. Everyone at church is so excited by the prospect of this transformation and its importance with helping to protect biodiversity and habitat.” 

In time, the churchyard will be transformed into a truly wild and colourful space and the church has plans to increase engagement with the wider community, schools and volunteer organisations. “We all feel so joyful about our meadow which will truly demonstrate that the place on which we are standing is indeed holy ground” Rachel concluded.

This item was published on 17th September 2020.