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Devon Wildlife Warden Season 2 Episode 8: The Eco Church Scheme

Welcome to the Devon Wildlife Warden podcast with me Emily Marbaix. In this episode I will be throwing the spotlight on the eco church scheme – it’s something I’ve been working on here in Abbotskerswell for the last few months so I thought I’d talk a bit about what it is, why it’s useful and how to try and get your local church involved. We will also be hearing from Michael Wilkie – our local vicar about why the scheme is important to him. And of course as usual I will be bringing you an update on what our Teignbridge Wildlife Wardens have been up to over summer as well as our plant and birdsong of the month for October.  

Intro music 

The Teignbridge Wildlife Warden Scheme is run by Action on Climate in Teignbridge – or ACT for short. The idea is to have wardens in every parish or ward who can help their wildlife in a wide variety of ways. I am the wildlife warden for Abbotskerswell, but we have many others and are always looking for more! We do all sorts of things, from promoting wildlife gardening and recording local wildlife sightings to working with clubs and schools and commenting on local planning applications, and much, much more! It’s all about each warden doing what they feel is necessary in their area and which lies within their comfort zone. ACT’s Wildlife Warden Scheme would not be possible without the generous assistance of our donors, details of which can be found in the episode notes. Many thanks to them all!   

So let’s start with the Eco Church scheme. What is it and is it worth getting your local church involved in this initiative, or something similar?  

Well, churchyards are a bit of a haven for wildlife. They are often pieces of land which have remained relatively untouched for centuries. In fact, in some areas, they might be the ONLY green space within a community – so they serve as extremely valuable repositories for wildlife.  

Not only this, but churchyards are not usually treated with herbicides or pesticides which makes them more likely to be rich in wildflower and insect species, or ideal habitats for encouraging these organisms. The stone walls and gravestones can host all manner of moss and lichen species and the trees are often old and well established, creating a huge variety of microhabitats for insect species, which in turn attract birds, bats and other small mammals such as squirrels.  

However, the eco church scheme doesn’t just look at the outside space and maximising biodiversity, it looks at a host of other factors as well, so let’s take things back a step and look at what the scheme actually is and aims to do. 

The charity A Rocha UK launched Eco Church in 2016. They are a Christian charity committed to bringing care for the natural world into the heart of church communities. 

The scheme is open to all denominations and it basically provides a framework to support churches and their leadership to take practical action on caring for God’s earth. It includes a toolkit of resources, an online award survey, quarterly email update, online events, and conferences. The Eco Church survey helps guide you to ‘go green’ in all areas of your church life and offers Bronze, Silver or Gold Eco Church awards depending on how much action is taken to support nature. 

They have a free online survey and supporting resources which are designed to equip your church to express care for God’s world in your worship and teaching – it covers lots of things from how you look after your buildings and land, how you engage with your community both locally and globally as well as in the personal lifestyles of the congregation.  

The survey will guide you and help you assess your progress towards an Eco Church award – the more your church does, the more points you get! Some simple examples of how you can take action against climate change include things as simple as switching to a green energy company and using Fairtrade suppliers for your tea and coffee!  

The survey takes you through five key areas of church life:  

➲ Worship and Teaching  

➲ Management of Church Buildings  

➲ Management of Church Land  

➲ Community and Global Engagement  

➲ Lifestyle  

The survey takes about 20 minutes to fill in – but the amount of work your church does to qualify for an award and the time that takes is up to you! And once your survey indicates that you have enough points to apply for an award, you will be able to submit your application. The majority of churches reach Bronze in 4-6 months, so it’s quite an attainable project in a relatively short space of time.  

The award has three levels. At Bronze and Silver level, your church leader will need to sign off your application in order to confirm your survey responses. A Gold award will only be granted following a visit to your church by an Eco Church assessor – they want to encourage people to “go for Gold!” 

Taking part in Rocha UK’s Eco Church is absolutely free. You can register your church, complete the survey, apply for your award and receive your certificate without any charge from them. However, there may be costs attached to the work that your church decides to do in order to become an Eco Church. You also have the opportunity to purchase a plaque so that you can display your Eco Church award for all to see! 

So, how have we approached this project here in Abbotskerswell? Well, I had the opportunity to sit down with our local vicar for a chat about that! As usual, apologies if the sound quality is sketchy in places, this recording was taken outside.  

Chat with Michael 

Many thanks again to Michael for not only taking time out of his schedule to talk to me for the podcast, but also for his all-round support and enthusiasm for the project. 

Now, at this point, it’s probably worth mentioning that It’s all very well taking a look at the checklist and just starting to do stuff to meet the required criteria, but there is much more to it than that. It’s important to get the buy in from the church council and local community – without that, you could put in lots of work and find that you don’t receive the support to keep it going. So if you want to work on this yourself, you might want to take a first step by getting buy in from your local community. In Abbotskerswell we did this in a couple of different ways. Firstly we organised a public event – a mini bioblitz to take place in spring which Michael did mention in our chat. A fair few people turned up but we were hugely disappointed on the day to discover that the churchyard had been mown and strimmed just 24 hours before! At first, the sight of a stripped back churchyard filled us with dismay and we questioned whether it was worth going ahead with the bioblitz. But since we had advertised it, some of the team had baked cakes and we had all downloaded the INaturalist App and learned how to use it, we thought it was best to go ahead.  

On reflection, the fact that the churchyard had been mown might actually have been a useful thing – it provides a realistic baseline for the biodiversity present with the current management regime. It also provoked an emotional response from those involved which may have helped garner the support that the scheme needs to succeed. It certainly highlighted the need to review the mowing schedule as many spring flowers had been cut down in their prime and long before they had chance to set seed!  

In addition to our public event, we also sought to gain the support of established stakeholders such as the church warden. By ensuring that all relevant parties were consulted on the ideas from day 1, we helped to create a team spirit around what we are doing, which will hopefully help to ensure that the momentum keeps the project moving forward with little protest from the community.  

So after we had met with the relevant parties and got some villager buy-in, the next step was to take a map of the churchyard and go for a site visit as a team! We looked at which areas of grass could be reasonably left to grow long during spring, which trees might be suitable sites for bird and bat boxes, where a hedgehog house or two might go and whether we could introduce a small above ground pond and some bird feeders.  We also discussed establishing a compost heap, adding some Lavendar planters at the main church doors and how we might involve younger community members to take an interest by adding an information board or some seasonal spotting sheets. In addition to this, we got in touch with a local sign company because we decided as a team that it was important to stage signs at all entrances to the churchyard so that when members of the community came to visit, they could understand why some areas might appear to have been neglected when actually they are being managed to support wildlife. Again, in the hope that we would receive further support for what we were up to!  

At this stage, we had a good idea of what we could achieve as a first step, so we put an article in the parish magazine which outlined what we’d been doing as well as including a shopping list of items we would need to make the project a success…hoping that some members of the community may come forward with materials or offers of time to support us. As it stands, we are currently awaiting feedback on that part – so fingers crossed it yields something positive.   

So we are well on our way to addressing the “land” section in the eco church survey, but there is still much that the church will need to do in order to earn it’s eco church status. Other sections of the survey include looking at things like energy providers, insulation, how environmental issues are communicated during church activities and much more – I’m not sure how much influence I can have on those areas but Michael is very welcome to reach out to me should he feel I can assist, and I will be only too happy to do whatever I can to help!  

I’ll include a link to the eco church website so that you can take a look at the survey and supporting information in case this is something you’d like to look into further in your local area.  

Moving on, we have had lots of updates regarding what other wildlife wardens in Teignbridge have been up to over summer – here are some of the highlights.  

Sue over in Chudleigh organised a small mammal trapping demonstration as well as a bat evening at the end of August – a fantastic opportunity for wildlife wardens to broaden their knowledge and skill sets. Huge thanks to her for doing this.  

Dave in Chudleigh has also been busy. He took a group of 13 volunteers on a Dragonfly walk at Stover Country Park. They were lucky to see more than 10 species of dragonfly and damselfly. Stover is a dragonfly hotspot, and 24 species have been recorded since 1974, so if you’re interested in these beautiful creatures, it’s a great place to take an ID sheet and try to spot some! They are active from May to September, so if you’re quick you might just be in time to see some before the season ends!  

Helen over in Trustham has been working with her local churchyard to improve it for nature and she has also written a wonderful article all about it, which I will reference in the episode notes.  

Audrey, our illustrious founder, has been supporting skylarks on her farm and has also written a lovely piece about it, which again I’ll reference in the episode notes.  

In Bovey Tracey, Janet and Ann have been promoting the wildlife warden scheme and taking part in some dormouse monitoring.  

In Bridford, our volunteers organised a wildlife gardening competition 

 
In College Ward Christine has been working with Alistair who is a Kingsteignton WW and also leads Kingsteignton Swifts to install swift boxes in the bell tower of St.Mary’s Church. They are waiting for approval from the Diocese of Exeter and in the meantime, Chris is continuing to sow wildflower seed at St.Mary’s Churchyard and at Ogwell Cross Cemetery. 

 
In Dunsford, there was a moth survey undertaken in the local churchyard and 70 species were recorded!  
 
Linda asked villagers in Liverton to send her sightings of hedgehogs in the village as well as information about existing hedgehog highways. Linda had a wonderful response from people, and records were submitted to iRecord and PTES’s Hedgehog Street, which is fab!  Linda is also monitoring water quality through the Westcountry CSI and has signed up to do Riverfly surveys for the River Teign Restoration Project. She is also in discussion with her parish council about managing verges for wildflowers. Well done Linda – it sounds like you are a very busy bee indeed!  

Other wildlife wardens have been hosting stands to promote what we are up to, writing articles for parish magazines and more – including working together across Teignbridge to survey several Unconfirmed Wildlife Sites. These are sites that have been noted as potentially special for wildlife, but have never been properly surveyed. Reports on these surveys have been sent to the Devon Biodiversity Records Centre. If these sites meet criteria, they will be designated as County Wildlife Sites, which gives them recognition and some protection from development. This project will be ongoing and surveys will recommence next spring when plant species are more visible. 

It’s great to hear about so much going on across the borough – well done to all those mentioned here as well as those who weren’t!  

Moving on, let’s have a look at what our plant of the month for October. Now that we have passed the autumn equinox, flowers are fewer and further in between so let’s enjoy the last few that hang on while we can! In October, you can still keep an eye out for flowers such as Toadflax. Common toadflax is a common plant of waste ground, grassland, roadside verges and hedgerows. Its yellow-and-orange flowers appear in June and persist well into November; they look like the flowers of snapdragons (familiar garden plants), and are often densely packed. These flowers give the plant its other common name of ‘butter and eggs’. I’ll include a link to further information and a photo in case you’d like to take a look.  

And our bird to listen out for in October is the Jay. These birds will often be found collecting acorns to stash for the winter months, so woodland rich in Oak trees is a great place to settle down to listen for their call. Here’s a recording so you know what to listen out for! I’ll also put a link in the episode notes for more information on this bird.  

Jay recording  

And to finish off this months podcast, a few things you can do at home to support wildlife. The easiest one is to simply sign a petition. George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, wants to remove the Habitats Regulations to ‘simplify the planning process’. The Habitats Regulations implement the Habitats Directive, which is a European law that protects nearly 900 wildlife sites in the UK, and provides greater protection than our domestic designations (SSSIs). You can sign a petition asking the government not to do this via a link in the episode notes.  

Other things you can do to support wildlife in autumn include providing water sources, food and refuge for garden wildlife, Making your own compost to improve the health of soil in your garden. This will make plants more resilient and will increase the moisture holding capacity of soil. 

 
Another useful thing to do is to try and reduce your water consumption which will help to protect our rivers  

And you could also try to reduce your carbon footprint. ACT has a Carbon Footprint Tracker which is a useful tool you could use as a starting point – I’ll pop a link to it in the episode notes.   They are also running a Carbon Cutters Scheme so ill include that link, too!   

There is also a volunteering opportunity worth mentioning at ELM Hedgehog Rescue based over in Newton Abbot. If you’d like to know more, please message them via Facebook.  

So that brings us to the end of the September episode of the Devon Wildlife Warden Podcast. I hope that you feel inspired to do something, however small, to support your local wildlife 

This podcast was narrated and produced by me, Emily Marbaix. Music by  

by Poddington Bear 

Episode Notes:  

ACT’s Wildlife Warden Scheme is run by the Action on Climate in Teignbridge (www.actionclimateteignbridge.org) Ecology Group. The idea is to have Wildlife Wardens in every Teignbridge Parish who can help their local nature in a wide variety of ways – through promoting wildlife gardening, recording local wildlife, improving local habitats, working with clubs and schools, keeping an eye on planning applications and development and more! ACT’s Wildlife Warden Scheme would not be possible without the generous assistance of: Devon Environment Foundation; Teign Energy Communities’ Community Fund; Cllr Jackie Hook’s DCC Locality Fund; Dartmoor National Park Authority; the Nineveh Trust; anonymous donors. Many thanks to all. 

Devon Wildlife Warden Podcast – Wildlife Warden News and Updates (wordpress.com) 

Links referenced in episode:  

wwwactionclimateteignbridge.org 

Eco Church – An A Rocha UK Project 

Caring For God’s Acre – Protecting Wildlife, Preserving Heritage, Involving People (caringforgodsacre.org.uk) 

Helen_Harding_s_article_about_Trusham_Churchyard.pdf (mcusercontent.com) 

The_Lark_descending.pdf (mcusercontent.com) 

Common toadflax | The Wildlife Trusts 

Jay Bird Facts | Garrulus Glandarius – The RSPB 

Protect and restore nature in England (greenpeace.org.uk) 

Carbon Footprint Tracker – Action on Climate in Teignbridge (ACT) (actionclimateteignbridge.org) 

Home – Carbon Cutters (actionclimateteignbridge.org) 

(1) ELM Wildlife Hedgehog Rescue & Rehabilitation | Facebook 

This podcast was written, presented and produced by Emily Marbaix. Music by Poddington Bear  

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