A POPULAR initiative to protect wildlife and biodiversity in Somerset's churchyards and burial grounds is returning for its second year.

The Somerset Wildlife Trust and the Diocese of Bath and Wells teamed up last year to launch Wilder Churches with the aim of ensuring church land can contribute to efforts to reverse a loss of biodiversity within the county and across the UK. 

Last year, over 200 people attended the online launch of Wilder Churches and communities across the Diocese took part in the initative throughout the year.

Free online training sessions guided them as they learnt more about their local churchyard or burial ground and its value for local wildlife and taught them how to provide new habitats and preserve those already present. 

New communities are now being encouraged to help wildlife flourish in their churchyards through a training session, which will be held online on Tuesday, April 26 between 7pm and 8:30pm. 

Churchyards are often the oldest pieces of enclosed land within their parishes and many support a rich variety of wildflowers and wildlife.

Somerset County Gazette: Wilder Churches launched last year. Picture: Somerset Wildlife TrustWilder Churches launched last year. Picture: Somerset Wildlife Trust

This is because they have remained unscathed from the widespread loss of habitats seen across the wider countryside due to changing land management practices. 

Many churchyards also support wildflower-rich grassland areas, ancient trees and provide homes for invertibrates - food for birds, reptiles and mammals - and many species of bat.

Others support less biodiversity but have the potential to become important places for wildlife as well as people. 

The initiative is being organised by Pippa Rayner, Somerset Wildlife Trust's engaging with nature coordinator. Somerset County Gazette: Flowers grow in the churchyard in Lamyatt, Mendip. Picture: Jen Richards Flowers grow in the churchyard in Lamyatt, Mendip. Picture: Jen Richards

She said: “If we’re to reverse the loss of biodiversity across the UK and within the county, we need to secure a strong, county-wide network of green spaces that provide homes for wildlife and corridors through which species can move and expand.

“With sensitive management, churchyards and other burial grounds can make a really important contribution to that network, especially as many still retain fragments of species-rich habitats that have been lost from the surrounding countryside.

“Local people are best placed to really get to know and understand their local churchyard or burial ground.

“The Wilder Churches training has been designed to support communities in this and empower them to take positive, evidence-based, effective action for wildlife in a way that also works for their community.

“To help nature recover, we need more people to take action for nature and we want to support them at each step along the way, so we really hope more communities will get involved with Wilder Churches this year.”

Somerset County Gazette: Somerset Wildlife Trust and the Diocese of Bath and Wells teamed up last year. Picture: Richard MontaguSomerset Wildlife Trust and the Diocese of Bath and Wells teamed up last year. Picture: Richard Montagu

Sara Emmett, interim environment officer at the Diocese of Bath and Wells, added: “We have been so delighted by the positive response from so many people across the Diocese to Wilder Churches.

“With the Diocese embracing a new environmental policy, it has been fantastic to work together with Somerset Wildlife Trust to support church leaders and communities to increase the value of churchyards and other church land for wildlife.

“By regularly getting together online to celebrate successes, share expertise and solve problems as they arise, we have collectively achieved so much more, and we hope communities not already involved will come along to our dedicated welcome session this April to start their own Wilder Churches journey.”

For more information about Wilder Churches or to book a place on the online training event, visit: www.somersetwildlife.org/events/wilder-churches