Caring For God's Acre > Case Studies > Grassland Management > Using A Churchyard As A Donor Site For ‘Green Hay’

Using A Churchyard As A Donor Site For ‘Green Hay’

Site

Cwm Head Church (donor site) and Brokenstones (private land – recipient site)

Left, Cwm Head church, Right, Brokenstones

 

Aim

To use hay from a flower rich churchyard (Cwm Head) to restore a disused pony paddock to flower rich grasslands

Actions
Step 1

We approached the church to ask permission to use their hay and explained the reasons why.

Step 2

We prepared the recipient site by scarifying/ rough raking just prior to the hay collection.

Step 3

We arranged with the church to collect the hay immediately after it was cut (strimmed in this case) and immediately transferred it to the recipient site. The hay was cut at the usual time (August – early Sept). We collected the hay from an area of around 5x5m into carrier bags and transferred it by car.

Helping with the churchyard management

 

Step 4

We strewed it by hand, the same day, in patches, over an area of around 10x10m.  In the absence of trampling animals, we trod and raked it in ourselves!  Aftercare involved allowing the meadow to flower and set seed each year before cutting.

Left, Spreading the green hay; Right, A well earned cup of tea!

 

Costs and Income

None, but there is a potential market for green hay for restoring flower rich meadows.

Results and Benefits
  • Good engagement with church and community.
  • Huge improvement of ecological value of recipient site with no detectable impact on donor site. There is not just an increase in botanical diversity, but there will be benefits to all of the associated wildlife, from invertebrates (including pollinators) to those birds and mammals that feed on them such as bats, swifts and hedgehogs.
  • The success of the project meant that the churchyard was no longer the only remnant of flower rich grassland in the area.
  • At a local level the habitat is now slightly less vulnerable as there is more of it and there is an increased benefit to the associated wildlife.
Issues and Lessons Learnt
  • It is important to have good communications with the churchyard manager to ensure hay can be collected as soon as it is harvested.
  • Some species did not transfer, presumably as seed was not present at time of harvest. Most advice involves taking the hay from the recipient site before the seed drop, but in order not to disrupt the usual churchyard management, we agreed to take the hay when it was normally cut – in this case late August /early September.
  • The church requested that we did not take all of the hay but left some to dry on site as usual. This did not cause a problem – about 20% was taken.
  • It took several years for species like orchid to establish in the donor site.
  • Although we transferred the hay in bags, if such restoration were to be done on a larger scale it would be necessary to use a trailer to move the hay. The hay must be strewn the same day, otherwise it will start to compost and destroy the seed.
  • Yellow rattle seed was scattered in the recipient meadow the previous year, and it is likely that this will have helped in the establishment of wildflowers as it is known to weaken the grasses present.
  • Although hay was originally strewn only in patches on the recipient site, ten years later orchids and other flowers spread are now established across the entire site (around 0.25ha).
Conclusions and Next Steps

This was easy and fun to do on a small scale with just a few willing helpers.

Further Information

Caring for God’s Acre Action Pack Sheets:

Section A sheet 2              Caring for Grassland

Section A sheet 3              Cutting Long Grass and Dealing with Grass Cuttings

Section B sheet 10            Surveying for Plants and Animals

The Burial Ground Botanical Companion

A patch of orchids at Cwm Head Church