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Parish Magazine God's Acre Content - May 2024

Seeking Slowworms

There’s often a secret to be found within a churchyard or cemetery, slowworms may be living there, rarely seen by visitors as they tend to hide within the vegetation and don’t emerge to bask in the sun like other reptiles. Slowworms are not particularly slow and they are not worms, neither are they snakes. They are actually lizards without legs and, when warmed up and active can be pretty nippy! Slowworms hunt in hidden places such as compost heaps, thick vegetation at the base of a wall or hedge and within piles of logs or stones. They catch slower moving prey like slugs and can ‘drop’ their tails to escape predators, a characteristic of all lizards.

May is a good time to look for them and the easiest way to do this is to put out some pieces of old roofing material, about 50cm square. You can use corrugated tin, but this can have sharp edges, onduline is better and a supplier may give you some offcuts for free. Following a conversation with those who manage the site, place a few of these squares in areas that catch the morning sun and are away from paths, perhaps in rougher vegetation such as tussocky grass. Slowworms will go under the squares to warm up in the mornings before going out to hunt and may be there at any time of day in colder weather.

Check the squares about once a week, lifting one side carefully and looking underneath. Try and check between 8:00 and 10:00am for best results as this is when the animals are warming up. You may be rewarded by a slowworm and also many other creatures such as worms, beetles or woodlice. Why not take a quick picture as the square is lifted, before too much scurries or slithers off! It may take animals a while to find the squares so be patient, having more squares gives a better chance of seeing slowworms.

Churchyards and cemeteries are havens for reptiles and also amphibians such as frogs, toads and newts and we’re collecting information to better understand just how important they are for these animals. Please take a photo using the iNaturalist app or let us know what you’ve seen via email if you don’t use iNaturalist. You can keep checking for slowworms from April or May through to September. Why not include a peep under the square as part of a Churches Count on Nature event during Love Your Burial Ground week - 8th and 16th June.

All the best,

Harriet Carty

Diocesan Churchyard Environmental Advisor  - individuals and groups in the diocese receive 20% members discount on all CfGA materials. Use the discount code diomem22



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