Butterfly Conservation - saving butterflies, moths and their habitats
Butterfly Conservation
saving butterflies, moths and our environment
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St John's - Stone
Photo © Michael Pitt-Payne

The amount of land around a Church can vary from a concrete yard to an extensive churchyard which, in many cases, will once have been part of a species-rich ancient pasture or meadowland. A churchyard should, of course, be a pleasant, reflective place for its congregation and visitors but there's no reason why it shouldn't also be a valuable ecological habitat - a haven for grasses, wildflowers, trees, birds, butterflies, moths and other wild creatures.

UTB runs an annual Churchyard Butterfly Survey and several of our surveyors have been working with church wardens for a number of years to create a working churchyard management plan and this is being rewarded by an increased number of butterfly species recorded there.

Helen Hyre took over the role of Churchyard Recording Co-ordinator in 2009 and will be organising the team of surveyors and writing reports of the annual survey results. If you feel you could spare some time to assist with one or more surveys please contact Helen.

You don't need to be a UTB member to join the survey team but we hope that, once you've found out more about what we do, you will want to join Butterfly Conservation!

Churchyard Management Plan

The following are some basic guidelines for churchyard management, designed to be sensitive towards the needs of both people and wildlife. With the churchwarden's approval, the Churchyard Management Plan could be displayed in the Church, maybe with a few photos, to show that the churchyard is a beautiful place to visit as well as being beneficial to wildlife.

Grass Cutting

All grass cuttings should be removed - delicate flowering plants can be smothered by grass cuttings and they also encourage stronger growing plants at the expense of wild flowers.

Paths and other well-used areas probably need to be mown as often as a lawn.

Grass around infrequently visited gravestones can be cut less often, to a height of about 3 inches (7cm). If possible, do not mow these areas from May to mid-July, to allow a good variety of plants to flower and set seed.

Mown paths through longer areas of grass will guide visitors through the "wildlife areas" and show them that it is part of a properly managed churchyard.

Rarely visited areas could be mown once a year in late September to allow a good variety of plants to grow. Longer areas of grass will be used by breeding 'Brown' butterflies, numerous moths and other creatures and the flowering plants within the grass by many more, making these areas the most productive part of a wildlife churchyard.


Try not to use artificial fertilisers, insecticides, herbicides and other chemicals.

Wingrave Churchyard showing different grass lengths


Ivy should be left untrimmed where possible. It is one of the main foodplants of the Holly Blue (along with holly). It provides bird nesting sites during March to July and is a late nectar source for butterflies in late summer and autumn.

Stinging Nettles

Stinging nettles in a sunny position could act as the foodplant for Comma, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Painted Lady or Red Admiral and many moth species.

Planting New Trees

Ideally these should be native trees and planted where they will not shade out wildflower areas in years to come.


List of Churchyards Surveyed

The following is a list of the 68 Churchyards currently being surveyed (as at January 2014):

Berkshire Buckinghamshire Oxfordshire
Reading cemetery
Stratfield Mortimer
Tilehurst, St Michael
Wargrave cemetery
Wargrave, St Mary
Aston Abbotts
Chesham Bois
Drayton Beauchamp
East Claydon
Great Brickhill
Little Kimble
Middle Claydon
Monks Risborough cemetery
Monks Risborough, St Dunstan
Old Amersham
Stoke Mandeville
Stoke Poges
Weston Turville
Brightwell cum Sotwell, St Agatha
Brightwell cum Sotwell, St James
Chipping Norton, St Mary
Crowmarsh Gifford
Didcot, All Saints
Dry Sandford
Henley, Holy Trinity
Kings Sutton cemetery
Newnham Murren
Oxford, SS Mary & John
Stanford in the Vale
Wallingford, Memorial Chapels
Wallingford, St Leonard
West Hanney
Whitchurch Hill

How You Can Help

Is your churchyard good for wildlife? Could you visit it on 4 occasions during the year to record the butterflies you see? Would your local school like to look for butterflies in the churchyard? If so, Helen Hyre would love to hear from you, especially if you live in the following areas:

- West Berkshire

- South Bucks

- North Oxfordshire
- West Oxfordshire

and anywhere else in these 3 counties - your help will be very welcome!

Downloadable documents

  • Download the Churchyard Management Plan - Churchyard_mgmt_Jan2010.pdf (290Kb PDF file)
  • Click here for the Churchyard Butterfly Survey form.
  • For a free PDF file reader, click this image:  

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