Credit: Caring for God's Acre

How wild is your churchyard?

Manage, don’t mow your churchyard and give space to endangered plant species. That is the message from Shrinking the Footprint, the CofE’s national environmental campaign, which has signed up to the United Nations’ International Year of Biodiversity (IYB).

Credit: Caring for God's AcreIn many urban areas the churchyard is often the only ‘green lung’ for the community and the rural churchyard can often be a haven of biodiversity surrounded by acres of chemical-drenched monoculture.  If all our churchyards were placed side by side and end to end they would form a huge national park open for all to share producing a festival of wildlife and nature rightly being celebrated in this very special UN International Year of Biodiversity.

Churches across the country celebrate Cherishing Churchyards Week every year in June as part of the nationwide project  run by Caring for God’s Acre (CfGA) and supported by Shrinking the Footprint. There are an estimated 12,000 CofE churchyards throughout the country and around half of them already run biodiversity projects, while remaining respectful to their users, particularly family and friends of those buried there.

During Cherishing Churchyards Week we are encouraging churches to run events to raise awareness and celebrate the treasures of their churchyard, and encouraging churches to submit wildlife discoveries as part of a new central database which will list all the biodiversity churchyards are holding in store for the country.

In St Albans diocese, St Peter & St Paul with St Andrew Flitwick Bedfordshire has recorded more than 100 species of wildflowers in the churchyard. All Saints, Odell also in Bedfordshire has won an award from the Campaign to Protect Rural England as an example of what churchyards can do with its community-led conservation project, including ‘adopt a grave’. St Andrew’s Fulham Fields in London diocese has a dedicated section to its churchyard called the Fulham Fields wildlife garden where most of the hardware, including material for the “wildlife tower”, and the herbaceous plants, have been either donated or found locally.

Judith Evans promoter of the Living Churchyard scheme for St Albans says: “Churchyards are a precious resource which can make a huge contribution to the biodiversity of the country and at the same time engage and educate the wider community. They often support species of plants and animals which have disappeared from the surrounding area, or are capable of so doing. Many churches in the diocese and nationally are managing their churchyards in an environmentally-friendly way, often with the help of their local wildlife trusts, but they are still in the minority. In the International Year of Biodiversity we hope to make them the majority to demonstrate that the church really cares about God’s creation.”

For more information visit: http://www.caringforgodsacre.org.uk/

Guest post by David Shreeve – Church of England’s national enviornmental adviser

How could you better manage your churchyard? How might you be able to celebrate Cherishing Churchyards Week (18-27 June)? Share you ideas and events in the comments section.

Further information: UK’s International Year of Biodiversity | Shrinking the Footprint | Caring for God’s Acre | Living Churchyards | Fulham fields wildlife garden | Ss Mary & John Churchyard Oxford

See also Supporting biodiversity in a churchyard – Case study

2 replies
  1. Helen says:

    Don’t strim all the weeds!

    People like to have a tidy churchyard for official events like services and weddings, but a churchyard can also be a haven for butterflies and bees. Insects need some “untidy” places, where the wild flowers and weeds are growing undisturbed, and churchyards usually have a few of these. So you can help our insects if you “Don’t strim all those weeds.”

    For example, a sunny quiet corner with a nettle patch is ideal for butterflies. Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Comma lay their eggs on nettles. So, by leaving a portion of grass uncut and allowing that sunny patch of nettles to grow undisturbed, your local churchyard can encourage some of our favourite butterflies to feed and breed.

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  2. Helen says:

    Butterflies in Churchyards by Michael Pitt-Payne

    One of the interesting features of old English Churches is that the land surrounding them has remained undisturbed for hundreds of years apart from the occasional disruption caused by the digging of graves. Most of our churchyards have not been treated with chemicals and as a result the soil has escaped the pollution which has turned much of our farmland into deserts which are incapable of supporting wild flowers and insects. They also contain the seeds of many types of native plants and grasses which will grow abundantly if they are given the opportunity to develop. This means that churchyards have the potential to become a haven for many of our butterflies, but this does not happen very often because people like to see a tidy churchyard with the grass neatly cut and the graves free of weeds. As a result the plants which will attract butterflies are not allowed to develop.

    In an environment where modern agricultural methods are threatening our native insects there is a strong case for protecting and developing those environments which are capable of offering a haven to endangered species and our churchyards have the potential to be ideal habitats for our native wildlife if they are managed effectively. It has to be recognised that the church and the churchyard are special places where people come to worship God and to pay tribute to those who have died and it is important that land management is carried out with the agreement of those who attend the church and that it is organised in a way which demonstrates that the churchyard is being cared for.

    There is often a conflict between those who like to see a churchyard with neatly cut grass and those who want to see the churchyard become a meadow which will be a home for butterflies and other creatures. One way of resolving the conflict between the need to show care and respect for the dead and to provide an environment where wildlife can flourish is to divide the churchyard into areas where the more recent graves are carefully tended and areas where there are no graves or the graves are so old that they tend to be neglected and there are no living relatives of the deceased to be upset when the wild flowers and grasses are allowed to develop.

    Please consider allowing a part of your churchyard to develop naturally so that it can become a haven for wildlife. The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust has produced an excellent book on this subject which is entitled “Yorkshire Living Churchyard Project” – “Churchyard Management Booklet”. This booklet explains exactly how churchyards can be managed and is available for downloading from their website – http://www.ywt.org.uk/living_churchyards.php .

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