Flowers in St Denis’ churchyard and its management

St Denis' church East Hatley, Cambridgeshire - a Star of Bethlehem growing in the grave of Martha Perkins, 19 May 2014. Photo: Nicola Jenkins.

A Star of Bethlehem growing in the grave of Martha Perkins, 19 May 2014. Photo: Nicola Jenkins.

The Star of Bethlehem (left and above) is one of the many flowers in the churchyard of St Denis – it was photographed on 19th May 2014 during a routine churchyard tidy-up.

From spring there is a profusion of cowslips, cow parsley, bugle, knapweed, ground ivy, vetches, oxeye daisies, bird’s foot trefoil, selfheal, buttercups, clovers and violets.

And throughout the year there is a rich variety of grasses, including quaking grass, and some rarer plants such as the bee orchid.  Daffodils and autumn crocuses are among the not-so-wild flowers planted in the churchyard.

Among the native trees are oak, ash and elm – as well as the spindle, which is said to be a sign of the Roman occupation of Britain.

In June 2012 and building on earlier work, Siân Williams, Conservation Officer at The Wildlife Trust, surveyed the flora and fauna of St Denis churchyard and produced a survey report, map and species list, supplemented by updates in 2014 and 2017:

They compliment the churchyard management plan devised by Rob Mungovan, when he was Ecology Officer at SCDC, for the ideal grass cutting times throughout the year.

Insects in St Denis’ churchyard

Report by John O’Sullivan

While cutting, strimming, raking and carting around St Denis’ on 14 August 2011, the participants came across a variety of wildlife.

Above us, a buzzard (until quite recently, unheard-of in these parts) circled on broad wings and gave its distinctive mewing call.  Plenty of Small White butterflies were enjoying the sunshine and a variety of ladybirds buzzed, or crawled, by.

The purple knapweed flowers at the north end of the churchyard, deliberately left uncut this time, played host to numerous insects, including the attractive, orange and black, Marmalade hoverfly.

On the walls of the church, three species of cricket climbed out of our way; a sombre brown one was the Dark Bush-cricket, a bright green one probably the Oak Bush-cricket, and a Roesel’s Bush-cricket, a relative newcomer to Britain, showed off the distinctive lime-green horseshoe-shaped mark on its side.

Cave spider under St Denis: a special spider

Story and photo by John O’Sullivan

St Denis' church East Hatley, Cambridgeshire - a Cave spider; it lives in the undercroft beneath the church and is quite harmless to humans. Photo: John O’Sullivan, 19 May 2014.

A Cave spider; it lives in the undercroft beneath the church and is quite harmless to humans – but not slugs. Photo: John O’Sullivan.

Under St Denis’ church something deadly lurks.  Well, deadly if you are an insect or a slug.

This is the Cave spider (Meta bourneti to specialists), which is quite harmless to other locals, including ourselves.

In fact, we have been able to help it – and the tiny chamber under St Denis’ is just to its liking.

Our spiders were introduced to their man-made ‘cave’ in 2006.  Rob Mungovan, at the time South Cambs District Council’s Ecology Officer, needed to find a good home for a population discovered in an old air raid shelter near Papworth Hospital which was being demolished for development.

Beneath St Denis’, which sits in its own Local Nature Reserve, looked suitable – and so it has proved, with the introduced population thriving and keeping up their numbers.

Despite a leg-span of 5 cm, the adult spiders don’t move around much.  They stay in the dark and await their prey.

When well-fed, the adult female lays her many eggs in a round white ball of silk that hangs from the wall or roof of the cellar, looking like a miniature ping-pong ball.  The young spiders hatch into a world full of threats – and nationally this is an uncommon species.

So next time you pass through the churchyard, give our special spider a thought, and reflect that Hatley is doing its bit to help.

And if you’d like to see the spider in greater detail, just click on the picture…

NB  Their home, in what was once the furnace chamber for the stove in the church, is kept locked.

Gravestones in the churchyard

There are only a few gravestones in the St Denis’ churchyard – the most notable ones are highlighted on our page about the churchyard.

If you’re wondering if any of your ancestors are buried here, do check the list printed in Grave inscriptions 1987.

A wider source of lists of memorial inscriptions (via parish records) in the churchyards of East Hatley (and Hatley St George) can be obtained on CD from the Cambridgeshire Family History Society – see their website  There is a charge of £12.00 for each CD.

Published on the original Hatley website.  Minor changes for this website Dec 2018; updated 17th March 2020.