Cherishing Churchyards Week – June 2014

cherishlogo-week-green-206x300 June is a special time to celebrate churchyards and burial grounds and to raise awareness of the treasures they contain. Cherishing Churchyards Week is run by Caring for God’s Acre and brings together lots of events you can join – below are some we know about in the Diocese of Oxford and you can find a full list here.

Anticipating Summer… A community picnic in the St Mary and St John Churchyard

Thursday 5 June – 6pm onwards

A friendly social evening with the chance to explore the churchyard’s wildlife and its links with local history.

Bring and share food.  Soft drinks provided.

Family friendly and children welcome! Weather contingency plan.

Churchyard dry stone wall needed

Do you have a dry stone wall in your churchyard that needs rebuilding?

Conservation charity Caring for God’s Acre are looking for a wall to rebuild as part of a dry stone wall training course in the Diocese of Oxford. As the course will be for beginners the wall needs to be freestanding, below shoulder height, away from a road, on level ground and have enough stone to be rebuilt.

Caring for God’s Acre have repaired many walls via training courses. The course will be free to participants and only open to those managing burial grounds.

Please contact Andrea on 01588 673041 or if you have a wall or would like to attend the course.

Learn to Scythe your churchyard – 3 May 2014

Scything poster Oxford Scything poster OxfordOrganised by Caring for God’s Acre

Discover how to adjust, sharpen and use a scythe.

Saturday 3rd of May

10am-4pm at Chipping Norton Community Orchard

FREE to participants, only available to those managing burial grounds, limited numbers, booking essential

To book speak to Andrea at Caring for God’s Acre on 01588 673041 or

Austrian scythes available to use but if you have your own scythe feel free to bring it along.

Funded by The Heritage Lottery fund as part of Caring for God’s Acre’s National Project

Causing a buzz at St Thomas’s

by Jo Duckles

First appeared in the Diocesan newspaper, The Door

THOUSANDS of honey bees have been given a home in a church yard in central Oxford.

Since last spring the sound of buzzing could be heard in the grounds of St Thomas’s Church. Priest-in-Charge, the Revd Jonathan Beswick, has wanted to keep bees since he was a boy and is delighted with the occupants of the hives. They were introduced last spring after a conversation with an enthusiastic PCC and advice from a local bee keeping expert. In their first season alone they produced 100 lbs of honey.

Environmental Bee Summit

Jonathan, who will be going to Oxford Friends of the Earth’s Bee Summit as Bishop John’s representative on 7 February, says: “The churchyard is like an acre of the most gorgeous countryside. It feels like a village churchyard in many ways.

“One of the figures in the glass at St Thomas’s is St Ambrose, one of the fathers of the church, holding a bee hive in his hands. When he was a baby in his cot a swarm landed on his face. When they left, they had just left a drop of honey on his lips, foretelling of the sweetness of his future teaching and preaching.”

Jonathan says the bees and the Christian faith go hand in hand in many ways, from the beeswax traditionally used to make church candles through to parallels with individual bees forming colonies to individual Christians making up the body of Christ.

“I lived in a monastery for five years when I left school. Some of the older brothers were committed to keeping bees. Over the years people who keep bees have interested or intrigued me,” he says.

2,000 eggs a day

In the right conditions, bee colonies can grow very quickly, with a queen laying 2,000 eggs a day at the height of the season. Jonathan, who describes keeping the stripy insects as a life changing experience, says: “One amazing moment was a friend taking a swarm and letting them out next to the hive, seeing them find their way into their new home, especially taking my glove off and putting my hand into the hive. Contrary to a lot of people’s expectations when bees swarm they are unlikely to sting anyone. They are not aggressive. If you put your hand amongst them they will walk over it without hurting you. It was an experience putting my hand into 20,000 bees and feeling all of those tiny feet tickling but going about their business.”

Another memorable moment last year was encountering a swarm of bees on Holywell Street. Jonathan was told that pest control were going to remove them, so offered to give them a new home in the church yard. “My beekeeping friend, who has done this before, very carefully broke them off the gutter into a box and we took them to St Thomas’s. I see them as Beckett’s Bees.Thomas Beckett, our patron saint, used to walk through the church yard. It’s good that our patron saint was familiar with the area.”

The Revd Jonathan Beswick is buzzing with enthusiasm for bee keeping.

The Revd Jonathan Beswick is buzzing with enthusiasm for bee keeping.

Jonathan admits to a few stings in his first few months as a beekeeper but believes the pain has been worth it. “Historically clergy have been beekeepers. Keeping bees speaks of a different pace of life in a society where we are encouraged to run ever faster on the treadmill.”

And the hives have attracted plenty of attention from people who use the churchyard as a short cut, with interested passers-by even leaving notes on the hives asking Jonathan to get in touch.

So, as Jonathan prepares to go along to the bee summit, he has been reading up on the plight of this declining species. Watching More Than Honey a 2012 film by Markus Imhoof, hammered home the sobering thought that if bees die out, a third of the world’s food supply will disappear. It highlights how in China, where bees have died out due to excessive use of pesticides, migrant workers collect pollen and have to go around with paint brushes, pollinating plants.

Another film on bees is 2009’s Vanishing of the Bees by George Langworthy and Maryam Henein. For more on bee keeping contact the British Bee Keepers Association,, 0871 811 2282.

Swifts and churches

Swifts nest under the eaves of St Etheldreda’s Church Horley.

Swifts nest under the eaves of St Etheldreda’s Church Horley.

Swift numbers in Britain have decreased by up to 40% in the last 20 years. There are several likely reasons for this, but one is the loss of nest sites. Swifts return to the same nest hole every year, and so when buildings need repair or are demolished, nest sites can be lost. Also, almost without exception modern buildings do not have the gaps and crevices which are essential for Swifts to nest. So largely it is older, less well-sealed buildings with a few gaps under the eaves or tiles or in the pointing, which are favoured by Swifts – like some of our churches.

We are trying to encourage people to notice Swifts and where they are nesting. If local people know where the nest sites are, it’s easier to look after them, and to encourage Swift-friendly building work.

This is as relevant to churches as to other buildings, because churches are still important nesting places for Swifts. There are at least 10 churches in the Cherwell District which have nesting Swifts.

Swifts nesting in a church can easily go unnoticed. Parties of screaming Swifts may be obvious, but they are extremely adept at entering their nest holes; add the facts that nests are not visible from the outside and that Swifts leave no mess, and it’s not surprising that the nests are often overlooked.

There are several ways in which parishioners, PCCs and church authorities can help.

One is by being alert to the possibility that Swifts may be using the church for nesting.  Screaming parties of Swifts seen regularly near the church, are an indication that they are nesting in the building or very close by.

In the period when Swifts are actually nesting, the nest hole it is illegal to disturb it. The same applies to all birds. At other times the ideal solution is to leave the particular space alone if at all possible. If this cannot be done, advice should be obtained about Swift-friendly building work and about providing alternatives (see below*).

Also if Swifts are found to be using the church for nesting or if screaming parties are seen nearby, it may be possible to install a nest box behind the louvred windows in the tower. This would need the support of the PCC and approval from the Diocese, but it is relatively cheap and simple to do, and it does not involve drilling into the masonry. It has been successfully done in several churches in Cambridgeshire and local churches in Oxfordshire are now following their example.

The Cherwell Swifts Conservation Project has these aims:

  • to protect Swifts’ nesting places
  • to encourage the creation of more nest places and
  • to raise awareness of the reasons for Swifts’ declining population and what people can do about it

*For more information see the following websites:

or in Oxfordshire contact Chris Mason (

The Beautiful Burial Ground Conference

Caring for God’s Acre is organising a one day conference on managing churchyards. The Beautiful Burial Ground Conference will explore simple ways to use your churchyard to create a haven for wildlife, for heritage, and for people.

Saturday 28th September – 10-4pm at Thame Barns Centre, Thame, Oxfordshire

THAMES BARN POSTER EMAIL VERSIONThe day is aimed at everyone who cares about the management of burial grounds, and explore a range of themes including:

  • Caring for your grassland in a way that is sensitive to both wildlife and visitors
  • Involving people, raising funds and recruiting volunteers
  • Investigating, recording and conserving your burial ground and its stones
  • Writing brilliant new guides
  • Tree care – looking after your green monuments
  • and Case studies – incl. swifts, repairing walls & cemeteries

Places are limited – and booking is essential. Tickets cost £15 to include lunch & refreshments

To book complete the conference booking form – or contact Caring for God’s Acre 01588 673041 or email

The day will take place at Thame Barns Centre, Thame, Oxfordshire on Saturday 28th September – 10-4pm.

Poster: Contact Caring For God’s Acre for a printed version or download: POSTER PDF

Churchyard Action Pack

Even if you can’t go to the conference you may be interested in the new Churchyard and Burial Ground Action Pack from Caring for God’s Acre. The resource has a wealth of information to help with the sensitive management of your churchyard. There are guidelines on the management of wildlife habitats such as grassland and trees, and features such as lychgates, boundary walls and old stonework. It also includes information on how to involve others and how to make use of these places for learning and community activity.

It is available to buy or download from the Caring for God’s Acre website.

Cowley Deanery conservation project

This article first appeared in The Door July 2013 edition

AN Earthing Faith initiative to help congregations re-connect with nature has been launched in the Cowley deanery.

Andy with a feathered friend. The area, which is already renowned for the eco work done at St Mary and St John Churchyard, on the Cowley Road, is set to become the subject of a survey by A Rocha UK, a Christian environmental agency.

Dr Andy Gosler, (pictured right) a research lecturer in conservation and ornithology and a member of Holy Trinity, Headington Quarry, is the man behind the initiative. Andy has enlisted the help of local and national conservation and natural history groups. The scheme includes ringing robins so that children can identify them as individuals in churchyards and breakfast walks – early morning bird watching and wildlife walks in the deanery.

It is looking at a fungus survey in churchyards, looking at fungi and lichens that may have been growing for 800 or 900 years.

The Ashmolean Natural History Society, God’s Acre Foundation, Oxford Urban Wildlife Group and others are involved. “A Rocha wanted to set up an on-line system for recording nature in churchyards and wanted a couple of churches. I have offered them the whole deanery. They are looking at urban hubs, reconnecting urban situations with nature, and Oxford is the perfect place to test this,” said Andy, who is developing international links for the project and says it could spread from Cowley into other areas of the city. There is a lot that makes Cowley extremely suitable. There are significant areas of urban deprivation and problem areas. It’s exciting.”