Spying on your secret visitors!
Would you like to know what creatures visit your local churchyard when no one is about? How about setting up a simple camera trap to find out. These can be purchased at specialist suppliers – the Natural History Book Service or NatureSpy for example, costing between £100 and £200. Perhaps a cluster of churches could buy one together?
To set up a trap, first find your location. It needs to be low to the ground so as to pick up small animals such as hedgehogs. Short grass is best, to avoid waving vegetation which will set off the camera which is activated by movement. The camera itself needs to be attached to something robust such as a tree, pole or building. Find a relatively secluded place where it is unlikely to be noticed by visitors, these cameras tend to be in camouflage colours and are rarely spotted, particularly if surrounded by vegetation or deadwood. Try to locate the camera in a place that animals are likely to use, along the line of a hedge or wall for example. Placing the camera to face a shallow dish with water in it might reveal many creatures stopping for a drink or a bathe, particularly in hot weather. You may even put out some food such as cat food or peanut butter to attract hungry visitors!
There is plenty of information on using camera traps on the internet, a little research will help you choose the right one for you. Once in place the camera will need checking and the video footage or photos can be downloaded and batteries recharged. Seeing what has visited is great fun, particularly enjoyable for people who might have reduced mobility so are less able to watch wildlife directly. Of course once purchased the camera need not only be used within your churchyard, it will shed light on the wildlife to be found in other churchyards or cemeteries, in gardens, school grounds and other locations, particularly at nighttime. You might expect to see birds and mammals such as mice, voles and squirrels. Foxes are likely visitors and hedgehogs cover a large area in the night so may well stop by, particularly if you are offering something tasty to eat!
If you do run a camera trap, please have a go at using the footage to make biological records via iNaturalist or iRecord, that way we can build a better picture of how important churchyards are for wildlife, and churchyard management can be tweaked to support the animals that you discover, many of which may depend on this special place.
All the best,
Diocesan Churchyard Environmental Advisor
www.caringforgodsacre.org.uk - individuals and groups in the diocese receive 20% members discount on all CfGA materials. Use the discount code diomem22