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Kinoulton Churchyard Conservation Project

 

It’s now nine years since we started the Churchyard Conservation Project.  Most of the trees and shrubs we planted are thriving, though we’ve had to replace one or two.  The two wild cherries on the left of the path are growing quite fast and have produced lots of blossom each year.  

The oaks and a hornbeam are growing, though more slowly, and we have had to replace two alders, one of which had apparently been nibbled at the base by some creature which managed to chew through the plastic tree guard!  We also have a silver birch, planted by the Beading Group to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.  The hawthorn whips we planted along the western boundary are gradually forming a hedge and the dogwoods in the far north-west corner are doing really well; they now form a definite backdrop to that part of the graveyard. 

 

Although we’ve planted quite a lot of bulbs under the trees, most have not so far proved very successful; perhaps they rot in the heavy clay soil.  We have had some aconites flowering (and these are notorious for taking a while to settle in) and narcissi have done well, but neither the wood anemones nor the bluebells have yet produced flowers.  However, we planted snakeshead fritillaries in an area of long grass just inside the main gate and these have flowered profusely each spring.  We’ve also been able to establish oxeye daisies and yellow rattle in this meadow area and hope that it will gradually become richer in a variety of wild flowers.  Excitingly, there have been several ladies smock amongst the long grass each spring, and one common spotted orchid in 2015.  .  Elsewhere in the churchyard the well established patches of snowdrops are spreading, as are the clumps of primroses and cowslips.   Whilst we obviously need to keep the grass short around the gravestones so that they continue to be accessible, we hope that by leaving some areas of grass un-mown during the spring and early summer we will allow the flowers to bloom and the insects which rely on them, especially bees, to thrive.   Without the insects, the birds we love to see in the summer – swallows, house martins and swifts – cannot survive.


 

The hedgehog houses we installed early on are still in situ but as hedgehog numbers throughout the UK have dropped dramatically in the past few years, so we are seeing them much less often in the churchyard.  However, we did see one this last summer and we can only hope that by leaving piles of logs and areas of longer, undisturbed vegetation, we can make life easier for them.  (The other thing we can all do is to make sure that hedgehogs can move from garden to garden – they just need a small hole in the bottom of any fence).  We can’t be sure whether or not our bat boxes are being used, but there are certainly bats around on summer evenings, apparently catching insects around the trees.  Of the eight bird boxes we put up several have been used by blue tits and great tits but we haven’t as yet persuaded the robins in the churchyard to use one of them, and whereas we used to see spotted flycatchers on a regular basis, these charming little birds seem to have disappeared altogether from Kinoulton, as they have from much of England.

 

On a more positive note, the swifts in St. Luke’s tower seem to be holding their own.  Whilst it is probably too soon to feel confident that we have an established colony, we are delighted by the progress thus far.  After installing our first unit of boxes on the north side of the tower in 2011 and, to our amazement, attracting one pair to breed in a box that spring, we have gradually installed more boxes and have attracted more birds.  We now have a unit of boxes installed behind each of the four louvred windows in the tower so eventually we should be able to see whether the swifts have any preference for north, south, east or west.  All sides of the tower are now being used, even though the boxes on the south and west were only installed in 2015, but there are still considerably more nests on the north and east where the boxes have been in situ for longer. 

There have inevitably been some problems.  In 2013 the two occupied boxes were invaded briefly by honey bees which spooked the adult swifts and resulted in the loss of a newly hatched chick and two eggs.  This was a huge disappointment but didn’t happen again until this year when a swarm of honey bees occupied box no. 14 (on the east) and their comings and goings also put off swifts in the boxes immediately above and below (12 and 17).  However, the bees didn’t deter the swifts breeding in other boxes nearby, and the birds disturbed by the bees may well have been amongst those which later used boxes on the south and west.  

Another problem has been the occupation of boxes by starlings.  Because the starlings are resident here and begin looking for nesting sites very early in the year, they can obviously claim boxes long before the swifts arrive in May.  For the first year or two we discouraged the starlings by keeping the entrances to the boxes covered until the beginning of May, by which time they had found themselves nest sites elsewhere, but in 2015 they were much more persistent and so we decided to reduce the size of the entrance holes.  This was all a bit fraught as we were worried that we might put off the swifts as well, but in the event it seemed to work and the swifts were still able to get in.  Whether the new, smaller entrance holes will continue to deter the starlings ad infinitum remains to be seen – they are intelligent and inquisitive birds, and more than a match for a swift. 

 

Over the eight seasons since we put up the first boxes the number of pairs breeding successfully has risen each year; this year eighteen pairs raised thirty-seven young. In total we have fledged just over one hundred chicks.  Of course it is likely that many of these fledglings didn’t survive their first migration to Africa and in any case they won’t return to look for their own nesting places for two or three years (they rarely actually breed until their fourth year), but for now at least we can still enjoy swifts screaming around Kinoulton in the summer months.


 

Carol Collins, December 201.

carolwcollins61@gmail.com

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