(A Wildscaped Church)
Wildscaping Worldwide was commissioned by Mother Cherry, at Saint Mark's Church, Westcliff On Sea, to EXTENSIVELY wildscape the church & surrounding land.
This has been an INCREDIBLE opportunity to truly serve both the local human population and all of the wildlife there, from Bats to Butterflies.
The slogan for this project (for Mother Cherry and her Parishioners) was: "God's House For ALL Species."
Accepting a 'Wildscaping Challenge' is about recognising the unique opportunities within THAT space.
Based on what is wanted by the Land Owners/Local Community, WW then works out how to serve not only THEM but ALL of the other species (animal & plant) in that locality: finding that CENTRAL BALANCE POINT for all to coexist in harmony, as much as possible.
In the case of St Mark’s Church, the best way to wildscape was as follows (project completed November 2021)…
WW PROJECT MANAGED THE WILDSCAPING OF SAINT MARK'S FROM THE FIRST CONSULTATION IN FEBRUARY 2021 TO COMPLETION IN NOVEMBER 2021. WE HIRED LANDSCAPERS TO PREP EVERY INCH OF AVAILABLE GROUND (LIFTING UP AND REMOVING ALL OF THE PATIO SLABS, TO LIBERATE THE SOIL BENEATH) AND WORKED VERY CLOSELY WITH 'WILD ROOTS' (WILD REGENERATORS) WHO ADVISED US THROUGHOUT ON THE DIFFERENT DESIGN POSSIBILITIES WITHIN EACH SPACE (THE PLANTS THAT WOULD BE HAPPIEST IN EACH SPACE) AS WELL AS WILDSCAPING THE SPACE WITH US: THIS COMPANY ALSO HELPED TO CREATE AN ONGOING MAINTENANCE PLAN.
WE HIRED A WONDERFUL LOCAL BUILDING COMPANY (WHO ENDED UP SPONSORING THE EFFORT) TO CREATE ACCESS POINTS IN THE WALLS AND INSTALL THE BIRD & BEE BRICKS, AS WELL AS DRILLING HOLES FOR HEDGEHOGS TO USE TO GET INTO THE SPACES.
WE TRIED TO CREATE AS LITTLE WASTE AS POSSIBLE: UPCYCLING AS MANY OF THE MATERIALS THAT WERE REMOVED AS WE COULD. IN THE END: ALL OF THE BRICKS KNOCKED FROM THE BORDER WALLS WERE REUSED TO CREATE BUG HOTELS, THE MATTING FROM THE BACK COURTYARD WAS UPCYCLED INTO HEDGEHOG HABITAT AND EVEN THE PATIO SLABS WERE ADOPTED BY THE CHURCH WARDEN TO TAKE HOME. ALL OF THE RUBBISH CLEARED FROM THE SPACE WAS RECYCLED - WHERE POSSIBLE - AND EVEN OLD BINS (REMOVED FROM THE BACK COURTYARD) WERE ALLOCATED NEW JOBS: AS CRISP PACKET COLLECTION POINTS FOR 'THE CRISP PACKET PROJECT.'
OVERALL, SAINT MARK'S WAS TRANSFORMED AND BOTH THE CHURCH AND WW ARE ECSTATIC WITH THE END RESULT.
BEFORE WE WILDSCAPED
This land was previously patio (with some large shrubs/bushes grown in odd gaps) with a border wall that prevented access (for local residents and wildlife) to the space AND a lot of rubbish that had been thrown over the walls.
We knocked down ACCESS POINTS in the wall and designed the space around the shrubs and rose bushes that were already there...
This space is an easily accessed (South facing) community garden for the local human residents to enjoy, with a bench (with a 'Scent Of Heaven' Rose Bush planted to grow up and over the arch, in years to come). Wildlife habitats have been hidden amidst the larger foliage but most wildlife focused efforts border the Eastern side of the church.
Where the patio slabs were pulled up, there was a lot of bare soil. Mother Cherry envisioned her local parishioners experiencing a sanctuary within which they could enjoy the strong scents of Lavender, Sage & Thyme and all of the other wonderful herbal & floral scents). So, we planted great pollinator friendly plants for ground cover.
Trellises were put up to support the Honeysuckle... One day soon there will be enough intertwined shoots wrapped up and around the trellising to allow birds to nest behind them.
DISCOVERY PATCHES (THE MOST IMPORTANT SPOTS)… All of the bare soil along both sides of the gravel path (that hasn't been filled with pollinator friendly flowers) is now recognised as a 'Discovery Patch'. (This makes up around 60% of all land within this 'Community Sanctuary'). The 'Discovery Patch' is of paramount importance. This is where any dormant seeds (previously suppressed under paving slabs) are given the space to grow: allowing 'self seeded botanicals' (generally called 'weeds' but that name suggests that they don't deserve to be there, whereas I believe that they deserve to thrive) to take their own place in the new landscape. (A 'Discovery Patch' will NEVER be ‘weeded’: 'Self Seeded Botanicals' will be allowed to either die back over Winter and regrow in Spring or be cut shorter annually, to maintain the space).
This is one of 2 Access Points that was knocked out of the border wall (by the wonderful builders who sponsored us to help us wildscape) to allow access for both local residents and wildlife.
2 holes have been drilled in border walls to provide access to 2 'sanctuary spaces' for hedgehogs.
[The church and I knew that we wanted to create access points for hedgehogs so WW hired local builders to advise on the best way to create them, which turned out to just be drilling a 6 inch by 6 inch hole straight through the brickwork.]
As well as speaking to the council to ask them not to spray herbicides around the border walls, we have also put up 2 signs - to remind them - over the hedgehog entrances. (We got these made bespoke at a local signage firm).
ONE OF OUR ‘HEDGEHOG CORNERS’
This is the only shrub that we have transplanted from one spot to another. It was shading out one other plants (that were planted years ago too and was struggling) and it is now thriving in this new spot and has created a shaded space (filled with a pile of small twigs) for hedgehog habitat, very safe from prying eyes.
Over 8 Hedgehog Habitats were created in the land bordering the church: made up of rolled up rubber matting (upcycled from the Courtyard) and both filled and covered with leaves and twigs to create warm, safe environments.
[On seeing the leftover matting from Back Courtyard, WW phoned a Hedgehog Expert and - on video call - showed the space and the matting and asked if the matting would be suitable for hedgehog habitat. When we were given the go ahead, we created as many hedgehog habitats as we could.]
WILDLIFE WATER SOURCES
We have submerged 5 shallow, ceramic bowls in various parts of the perimetre of the church to catch rainwater to provide a more consistent water source for local wildlife. During the hotter months, church volunteers will top up the bowls to support the local wildlife community.
Parts of the bordering walls have been knocked down (in 2 spaces) to allow access for humans & wildlife: in the one spot where we didn't knock down access, flower boxes were placed either side of a low wall to allow hedgehogs to climb in and out of the space during their nightly search for food.
BAT & BIRD BRICKS!
We made space (within the actual structure of the church) using 4 (2 of each) BIRD & BAT bricks (installed by professional builders). These brick spaces are hollow (creating habitat within the actual bricks themselves) and reinforced so as not to undermine the structure of the building.
[The bricks themselves come from a fantastic company, www.BirdBrickHouses.co.uk who advised us from start to finish on the type of boxes required. They also matched the brick pattern perfectly, to blend into the building effortlessly. On the day of the bricks going in, Bird Brick Houses also chatted to the builders we had hired on the phone and advised on the best placement.]
BIRDS & BUGS!
Two small areas around the church were stone foundations (rather than patio slabs) and couldn't be pulled up to reveal the soil beneath (we only discovered this when we started wildscaping) so these spaces have now been designated as 'bird sanctuaries’ and 'bug hotels' with bird baths as well as plenty of dusty spots for birds to have dust baths/sunbath, alongside bug hotels and bee bricks.
BATHS & BUG HOTELS
Bug hotels were created (from upcycled bricks that WW took from the border walls when the access points were knocked through as well as twigs, sticks and leaves) BOTH on the South facing land AND on the North facing land: this allows for different species to utilise the bug hotels as they will have different micro climates to choose from.
(The Bee Bricks - 2 of them - were only situated in the South facing Bug Hotel, as Solitary Bees generally require a warmer environment).
THE BACK COURTYARD
Mother Cherry wanted this to be a quiet, contemplative spot, for local parishioners, when the church is open (as it is only accessible through the church itself).
The ground was covered in black matting (that was pulled up and repurposed as rolled up hedgehog habitat) and Ferns, wall climbing Hydrangea (which will soon climb up the white painted wall and contribute towards a gorgeous, colourful, sacred space) and a Laurel tree were planted into the bare soil with Pea Shingle then covering the remaining ground and surrounding the new plants.
A Blackberry Briar was already in residence so we have begun to train it to grow along the wall.
2 tiered containers were moved into the space and filled with Mints, Strawberry plants, Oregano and Curry plants and a host of other shade-friendly herbs.
In the Spring, this Courtyard will be much greener with strong fragrances and fruits from the Strawberry plants and the Blackberry Briar.
WALL CLIMBING HYDRANGEA
FRUITS OF THE FOREST SPOTS (X2)
[ORIGINALLY, THESE SPACES WERE COVERED IN PATIO SLABS WITH SOME PLANTS GROWING AROUND THE EDGES AND THE SPACE - AS WELL AS THE 3 PLANTERS - WERE FILLED WITH RUBBISH.
WW HIRED A LANDSCAPER TO SPEND 2 DAYS PULLING UP NOT ONLY ALL OF THE PATIO SLABS BUT ALSO ALL OF THE MEMBRANE THAT WAS PLACED ABOVE THE SOIL TO STOP PLANTS GROWING THROUGH. THEN ALL OF THE RUBBISH WAS CLEARED BY THE CHURCH CARETAKER AND TAKEN TO THE TIP (WITH EVERYTHING PROPERLY RECYCLED AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE) SO THAT THE WILDSCAPING OF THE SPACE COULD BEGIN.]
Rasberry & Strawberry plants were already planted around the edge by a wonderful previous community effort, so we continued this example by planting further Raspberry & Strawberry plants, Current bushes and a variety of Apple & Pear trees.
THESE ‘FRUITS OF THE FOREST SPOTS’ ARE OFF LIMITS TO THE LOCAL HUMAN COMMUNITY, TO PROTECT THE WILDLIFE THAT MIGHT MOVE IN.
[THE 'HEDGEHOG ACCESS HOLES' LEAD INTO THESE 2 SPACES]
ALL TREES/PLANTS ARE BEING TRAINED TO GROW UP AND CLOSE TO THE BORDERING WALLS - USING THE ESPALIER TECHNIQUE - TO MAKE FRUIT EASILY ACCESSIBLE TO THE PUBLIC.
HERBS FOR THE LOCAL COMMUITY
[A GREAT DEAL OF DISCUSSION WITH THE CHURCH WENT INTO THE DESIGN OF THESE SPACES, UNITING WHAT THE LOCAL HUMAN RESIDENTS WOULD BENEFIT FROM, AS WELL AS LOCAL WILDLIFE.]
These planters (left very kindly by a previous community food growing effort) are now filled with Lemon Balm & Mint, BOTH for the sensory smells as the local community walk past and also for them to lean through the branches of the trees and take however many handfuls they’d like, to take home for their own kitchens.
A second bird bath (and one of the submerged water bowls) has been placed in this space because of its sanctuary set up: no humans can enter the space or easily access it so local wildlife can make the most of the protected space.
'SELF SEEDED BOTANICALS'
'Self Seeded Botanicals' is the term that WW uses for what most people generally call 'weeds': weeds are only a plant that humans have decided should not grow in a certain spot so WW are using our own description of plants that grow independently of humans: 'Self Seeded Botanicals.'
After pulling up all of the patio slabs, dormant seeds soon started springing up to start expanding into the fresh soil. These plants will be respected and local Scouts groups are already signed up - through the church - to start learning about the plants and both their medicinal and other benefits. These plants will never be removed (unless they prove to be poisonous to humans and likely to spread into local gardens) and will be allowed to die back naturally every winter or be cut down to 2 feet high with a scythe every autumn.
WORKING WITH THE TREES THAT ARE ALREADY PRESENT
We have gently guided a plum tree up and over the doorway.
WORKING WITH THE ROSES THAT ARE ALREADY PRESENT
We have started to gently guide the rose bushes up and around the windows, to let the maximum light within the church interior.
This little square of land is situated to the left of the main church doors.
Originally, the space was littered with rubbish and gravel covered most of the ground.
Thanks to the incredible effort of the Church Warden, Sharon, who tirelessly emptied 80% of the gravel and moved it to the 'Bird Sanctuary Spots', fresh soil was revealed.
Symbolic of the 'New Saint Mark's Church' a Silver Birch (the 'Pioneer' tree) was planted with a shallow ceramic bowl submerged next to it (to fill with rainwater) for wildlife to access.
Already, new 'Self Seeded Botanicals' have started shooting up through the bare soil to claim their territory.
These plants will never be removed (unless they prove to be poisonous to humans and likely to spread into local gardens) and will be allowed to die back naturally every winter or be cut down to 2 feet high with a scythe every autumn.
Hops have been planted here to climb the drainpipe and trellis to create further habitat for local wildlife.
In an unprecedented move - as far as WW is aware - Saint Mark's Church has set the most incredible precedent by signing an agreement with Wildscaping Worldwide to not only preserve the completed design for a minimum of 5 years (with only limited, pre-agreed maintenance during that time) but ALSO (and as far as we know, this has never been done before, by an organisation) committing to NO pesticide use and NO use of any lethal methods to deter wildlife: no poisons or traps.
Saint Mark's Church have instead LEGALLY agreed to allow Wildscaping Worldwide to assist them in getting advice from humane, wildlife friendly companies, to help deal with any high numbers of rodents (that local residents may be concerned about) or other perceived 'pests' (although, in actuality, 'pests' don't really exist: they are just wildlife in what humans think of as the wrong place).
Due to the nature of the wildscaped design of the land, there shouldn't be an imbalance in wildlife numbers to ever require humane 'pest' companies needing to be consulted: we know that foxes are present in the area (who prey on rats, mice and other wildlife) and natural food sources run seasonally, which deters mice and rats from overpopulating the area.
This agreement is SO important because it sets a unique precedent, by the Church Of England, to truly coexist harmoniously with all other life. Having set this standard, there's no reason for other organisations not to follow suit!
A DECORATIVE TOUCH
Wildscaping Worldwide always endeavours to meet the highest requirements of the client that we are serving: in this case (because the wildscaping of Saint Mark's Church was completed in November, when most plants were conserving their strength and no flowers were blooming) it was suggested to the church (and they cheerfully agreed) that a number of colourful, glass decorations be affixed to the exterior walls to truly announce the space as newly regenerated.
This thought originally came from the fact that Saint Mark's Church had been previously used as a handy space for passers by to throw rubbish and a lot of local drug users had even taken to sleeping in the doorways and throwing used needles over the walls. In an effort to really mark the space as 'regenerated and renewed', these inexpensive wildlife focused decorations were purchased from the local garden centre and a family from Saint Mark's congregation helped to choose where they should go and helped to put them up.
The 'Bin It Don't Leave It Banner' was by a local artist and the church had had it for a number of months and were very excited to have it hanging above the newly wildscaped land, to symbolise a fresh start for the church and all of the local community.