Opening the Ark
Funder: National Lottery Heritage Fund/Green Recovery Challenge Fund
Delivered by Harriet Carty, Kirsty Stevens & Megan Gallant
Opening the Ark (OtA) ran for 12 months and came to an end in June 2023, following an agreed 3 month extension to allow us to utilise a small underspend. The project focussed on 26 churchyards within the Shropshire Hills AONB with the aim of engaging local people with the biodiversity in their churchyards and spreading that biodiversity out into the wider community.
Throughout the project OtA engaged with partners to extend the reach of the project and strengthen relationships with other local, ‘green’ organisations. These included: CPRE (Hedgerow Heroes project), Restoring Shropshire’s Verges Project, Shropshire Wildlife Trust, Buglife, Going Wild in Bishop’s Castle, Shropshire Dormouse Group and the Stepping Stones project (National Trust).
There were multiple strands to Opening the Ark:
• We delivered 8 ‘Love Your Burial Ground’ nature-based activity days, engaging nearly 400 people across the project area. The events ran for an entire morning or afternoon (3 hours) with the majority of participants staying for the duration and engaging with all of the activities on offer. The LYBG days attracted a broad demographic of local people, many of whom signed up to a mailing list to be notified of future events. The activities were delivered by specialists in their field and included: a moth release, day-flying moths, making nature themed clay tiles, churchyard poetry, wildflower identification and folklore, children’s activities, dormice and nibbled nut hunts, slow worm activities, swifts and entomologist / bug hunts.
• The project also delivered a wide range of activities aimed at connecting people with nature. 49 separate nature-based activity sessions were delivered to an audience of 1,104 people. These activities included: multiple school sessions, talks, bat walks, botanical training, bioblitz sessions, education events, moth releases, habitat creation, bird box building and siting (swift boxes), hay days, dormouse awareness sessions and training in volunteer management.
• In an effort to ‘spread the biodiversity outwards’ the project delivered tangible benefits to different habitats and species. 10 new volunteers were engaged to make a total of 70 swift boxes, which have now been installed, alongside swift calling systems, in 5 local church towers. Hedge planting schemes at 4 different sites, delivered in conjunction with CPRE’s Hedgerow Heroes project, improved habitat for dormice and other species. Finally, green hay from the most species-rich churchyards was offered to create new meadows. This was a popular activity resulting in a number of new meadows including publicly accessible sites at Aston on Clun village green and the Earl of Plymouth Estate.
• Management plans have been produced for each of the 26 sites. In consultation with our volunteer manager it was decided that the plans should take the form of an eye-catching poster, rather than a written document. The posters set out management operations season by season in a clear, graphic presentation and are intended to be less ‘technical’ and more ‘user-friendly’ than a written report.
There was definitely an appetite for a community engagement project of this type, with lots of positive feedback and many participants signing up to a mailing list for future events. In total the project engaged with 1474 people leaving a legacy of increased awareness of, and enthusiasm for, these rare, species-rich habitats.
OtA in Action