Have you ever stopped to take a close look at the intricate and beautiful living patterns that decorate the stonework within burial grounds? These are organisms known as lichens. They are easy to find at any time of the year but seem to stand out particularly during the winter months when other wildlife takes a step back. Although found almost anywhere on land, churchyards and other burial grounds have long been known to be an important home for lichens as a result of the rich variety of stone substrates for them to grow on. They may also be found on wooden structures such as benches and lychgates, as well as on the bark and twigs of old trees. Churchyards and other burial grounds provide a stable and protected place for lichens to flourish.
Churchyards and burial grounds are of supreme importance for lichen conservation, particularly where there are no natural outcrops of rock. Of the 2000 UK lichen species, over 700 have been found in burial grounds. Almost half of these are rare and seldom if ever occur in other places. Many burial grounds have well over 100 species of lichen in them. They can be thought of as lichen sanctuaries.