Deanery Environment Group Churchyard Visit

Easingwold Deanery Environment:
Group Churchyard visit 30
th June 2018

It has been reported by the ‘Living Churchyards’ project that: “As the countryside in Britain becomes more industrialised and urbanised, there are fewer places for wildlife to live and wildflowers to grow. But there are tiny areas in every village, town and even city that are holding out against the onslaught. These are churchyards, and in some parts of the country they are the only protected eco-systems in their area where remnants of the local flora and fauna can survive. Nationally, the powerfully-named ‘Living Churchyards’ project is not so much a vision of the dead rising up as the dead providing sanctuary for species whose living space had been cut back. Now more than 6,000 British churchyards run their small plots of land as sacred eco-systems – without pesticides and mowing the grass only once a year – ensuring that birds, reptiles, insects and bats can thrive. This is an example of restoring something that has always existed – the local churchyard – as an embodiment of the church’s core teachings about respecting nature.”

This concern has been taken up as one of the current initiatives of the Easingwold Deanery, which is a group of 24 individual churches, part of the Diocese of York in the Church of England, clustered round the market town of Easingwold. The ‘Caring for the Environment’ Interest Group first reviewed information which is available nationally on this topic and then arranged to visit some of the churchyards in the area where progress has already been made in this field.

Our first visit was to the Huby/Sutton All Hallows Cemetery. This has been managed to encourage wildlife for 25 – 30 years, with an area of hay meadow set aside and signed as such. This is cut once annually, and the grass cuttings removed so as not to re-seed the area with grass and not to fertilise it (wild flowers generally do better in poor soil.). It was emphasised how here, and in graveyards in general, it is important to keep the vicinity of still-visited graves tidy and accessible; the wild areas tend, by contrast, to enhance this, particularly if they have mown paths through them, which stresses that the land is indeed being properly managed and not just allowed to run wild.  A helpful feature is a noticeboard by the gate with lists of the wild flowers which have been identified there (over 68 varieties!) and birds (over 39 species recorded!).



We moved on to the small churchyard at Marton. This is very well managed for wildlife by a dedicated volunteer, who has been working the plot for the last three years. The whole area is kept as ‘wild’, with mown pats to allow access, which demonstrate that it is being looked after. Some additional flowers have been planted or sown as seeds, but these have still to establish themselves. The grass is cut once a year using a scythe in preference to a mechanical strimmer, since this is feasible for such a relatively small area.  Many butterflies were in evidence, as well as a bumblebee nesting hole.

Sheriff Hutton churchyard was the longest-established of those we visited, in terms of management for wild life, which commenced in about 1990. There is a detailed information board in the church porch, explaining the philosophy and progress. It is also the largest, with a number of separate ‘wild’ plots established. Again, the cemetery is kept tidy, with short-mown grass for regularly-visited graves, and also where houses are adjacent to the churchyard. Mown paths provide access to the ‘wild’ sections. Again, the long grass is cut down once a year; a scythe would not be practical for so many large plots, so we saw an interesting demonstration of a ‘Sickle Bar Mower’, which very efficiently cut through the long grass and even shrubs and small saplings! There is no market for the cuttings, so, again to avoid enriching the soil, they are raked up and burned.

Our final port of call was Strensall churchyard. Here, the management for wildlife was only started about 18 months ago, but significant progress has been made. An important feature is the posting of signs by the ‘wild’ areas, to explain that they are not being casually neglected! They hope to gradually increase the ‘wild’ parts over the next few years and also set up a ‘Quiet Garden’. They will also try to set up a mutually beneficial arrangement with the adjacent Primary school.

It proved to be a most interesting and informative morning for the members of the Deanery Interest Group, who will be taking many useful ideas back to their own churches. Our thanks to all the churchyard ‘carers’ who came out to share their knowledge and enthusiasm. M.W.



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