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SOUTHWOOD ST. EDMUND
Size: 0.3 ha (0.7 acres).
Grid reference: TG 391 053.
Habitats: Church ruins, hedgerows, scrub & lowland grassland.
Main conservation interest: Scrub & vestiges of meadow flora.
Conservation status: Included in the NWT Churchyard Conservation Scheme.
Management: In the care of Limpenhoe Parochial Church Council. Managed by BADCOG since 1990 in collaboration with the PCC & NWT.
Location: The ruins of St. Edmund's church and its churchyard are west of Southwood village, in an area of intensive agricultural land.
How to get there: Via the minor road signposted Limpenhoe/Reedham and Cantley/Norwich, west of the village at either grid ref. TG 390055 or TG 393050.
Parking: If visiting by car, park adjacent to the tall hedge at the front of the site. Take care not to obstruct farm machinery and heavy vehicles which use this narrow lane frequently.
The thatched church of St. Edmund was taken out of use in 1881 when the ecclesiastical parish of Southwood combined with nearby Limpenhoe, and by the end of the 19th century it had become a ruin. Today, the ivy-clad church tower is a familiar landmark in the area and it has become a traditional nest site for jackdaws and stock doves. Ivy also clads the church walls, providing food, shelter and breeding sites for birds and small animals. During late autumn, many insects are attracted to the rich nectar source provided by flowering ivy.
Left: The Church ruin about 1900
The churchyard contains semi-improved grassland with vestiges of a meadow flora, including pignut, greater and lesser stitchwort, tufted vetch and common bent. Bluebell, dog's mercury, and male fern are also present. The species assemblage is atypical of most churchyard floras in the BADCOG area, with common sorrel, germander speedwell and oxeye daisy absent.
Patches of short sward have been created by rabbits which graze selectively; many rabbit burrows can be seen around the churchyard. Short-tailed voles also inhabit the grassland, revealing their presence when the grassland is mown. In early to mid autumn look for the large mounds of cut grass and herbage which after mowing is raked up and piled, forming an ephemeral habitat valuable to wildlife. Extensive patches of nettle, creeping thistle, rosebay willow herb and bramble occur throughout the churchyard, with a scrub and semi-wooded area behind the church where several bird species typical of woodland scrub, including turtle dove, blackcap and bullfinch, have been recorded. Vigorous nettle growth is indicative of the phosphate-rich soil. Some of the old headstones remain, providing a substrate for lichens and mosses.
Prior to BADCOG's involvement, almost all the grassland had been encroached by bramble, which has since been cleared. Nettle and rosebay willow herb patches are
managed to provide sites for butterflies, moths and other invertebrates. Gaps in the hedge were planted up in 1992 to restore the definition of the site boundaries, maintain foraging corridors for birds and small animals, and maintain a barrier against pesticide sprays drifting off surrounding farmland. The mature oaks and hornbeams are valuable site features and these have been augmented by planting several native tree and shrub species, including hazel, ash and field maple, around the periphery of the grassland and in the scrub area.
Ongoing management aims to retain the site's present character and habitat mosaics, while restoring the grassland to how it may have been during the early to mid 1800's when the church was in constant use. Over time mowing should, it is hoped, increase the floristic interest of the grassland. Behind the church, the scrub and the planted native tree and shrub will be allowed to develop 'naturally', with only minimum management intervention. Woodland scrub is important as a breeding habitat for several declining bird species, and for many invertebrates. The scrub has been enhanced by mowing rides and 'scalloping' to create structural diversity and interfaces between the different types of vegetation. This is particularly important for invertebrates, many of which require different microhabitats for different stages of their life cycles.
Following a report from the ‘Buildings at Risk’, it was recommended that ivy be removed from some of the walls to reduce the weight, therefore reducing the risk of falling masonry. In 2007 work began and ivy removed from the east wall up to a height of approximately 10ft. If deemed successful, this management will continue.
In the longer term, the site will become more wooded in character as the planted trees mature and, without management, the site will become enclosed and shaded. Management is necessary if we wish to maintain the site's present habitat mosaic, and an appropriate compromise may be the selection of some trees for coppicing to perpetuate the varied structure.
When to visit: there is something of interest at all times of the year, not least the church ruins themselves. The row of hornbeams along the southern boundary is a prominent feature. Visit in May for bluebells, July-September for dragonflies, and on sunny October days for insects foraging at the flowering ivy.
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Below: Spring 2010. Below: Feb 2012 after ivy cut back.