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Living Churchyards updated with links

November 11, 2010:

Photo: Tib Chris

Faith and Form's Fall 2010 issue features an article, Lay of the Land, giving an overview of schemes established by various religious communities that integrate the worship experience with nature. Buildings designed to exclude urban chaos and direct worshippers to their environment - both physically and spiritually - are beautifully photographed across large page spreads. The article covers the UK-based Living Churchyard Programme, acknowledging current sites and how they strive to promote nature, not control it.



In Dorset we find an inspiring example of different Christian communities all working towards making their churchyards into wildlife havens. The Dorset Wildlife Trust has been running the scheme, linked to the national Living Churchyards and Cemeteries project, since 1996, and it is still very much alive today. They even run a competition between the Living Churchyards in the area:

"This year we have again had 32 churchyards taking part in the competition and the judges are currently out and about meeting up with them and seeing the work they have been putting in during the year.

"We have had 7 entries into the “Newcomer” category of which 3 are absolutely new to the competition this year, as well as a number of new enquiries from churchyards hoping to start next year, so I think that the project is certainly still thriving in Dorset. We have also had several enquiries from people who would like to get their local church involved in neighbouring counties, particularly Somerset and Hampshire."

- Sharron Abbott, Dorset Wildlife Trust

To enhance wildlife and its habitat in churchyards and burial grounds through conservation management. To create an atmosphere of benefit to grieving visitors, to encourage educational use of churchyards and burial grounds. To aid understanding of our natural and cultural heritage and its importance in God's creation. To enhance the amenity value of churchyards and burial grounds - Kensington Palace, May 1989

In Gwent we find another inspiring example; a 3-year project hosted by Gwent Wildlife Trust and funded by Heritage Lottery Fund, CCW, Wye Valley AONB and Gwent’s Local Authorities. The funds mean that the project has been able to appoint a part time Living Churchyards Project Officer, and she recently spoke to ARC:

"Often, people are unaware just how valuable their churchyards are for wildlife, or the variety of wildflowers that sometimes hide below a tightly mown lawn. To help change this, the project has been supporting training days and events to invite local people to learn more about their local living churchyard. Events at churchyards around Gwent have included hay days, opportunities to have a go at hedgerow planting and dry-stone walling, as well as sessions with local experts to learn more about bats, fungi and lichens. Other training days have looked at veteran yew trees, churchyard archaeology and how to map gravestones, and there have also been opportunities to visit established local churchyard projects outside of Gwent, to gain inspiration. Such events provide the opportunity for local people to learn more about the wildlife and history to which their churchyard is home and hopefully join in helping record it, care for it and enjoy it!

"The project offers baseline wildlife surveys and works with church groups on basic management plans to encourage wildlife friendly management. The level of involvement of each group is led by them. In some churchyards this means identifying appropriate areas for trial wildflower meadow areas, whilst in others it could be creating reptile refuges, restoring dry-stone wall boundaries, or in one case building a new compost bin, to replace an old pile located beneath a fantastic veteran yew tree.

A very wet hay day at Monmouth cemetery. Photo: D McCarty
"Churchyards are first and foremost places of tranquility, where people go to remember loved ones. Balancing the needs and expectations of visitors, with the needs of wildlife can sometimes be a challenge, but when achieved can have immense rewards for both. After all, who can fail to enjoy the spring spectacle of a host of golden daffodils (native ones of course!) or bats emerging from their roost on a warm summer evening?"

- Rebecca Price, Wildlife Projects Officer, Gwent Wildlife Trust.

Upcoming Events:

Recent Events:

September 18, 2010: Growing Organically; Using church land as a model for environmental change
This conference will cover the importance of church land management. It will also give practical examples of projects and open up opportunities to see what conservation potential church land may hold. The main speakers will be Professor Sir Ghillean Prance and Bishop James Jones, followed by informative and interactive workshops. Click here for a booking form. Note: this is not an ARC event.

June 18-27, 2010: Cherishing Churchyards Week
Several workshops will take place in Ludlow, Shropshire, with facilitators from Caring for God's Acre. Topics in this year's Flora locale training programme include: Community farming and landscape restoration; Managing churchyards and burial grounds for conservation; Ponies, wildflowers and wonderful landscapes; Restoring a lowland river; Creating new woods from seed and much much more. Note: this is not an ARC event.

Living Churchyards is a programme that ARC was involved with setting up in the 1990s. The vision was of churchyards throughout the UK - and overseas if possible - becoming places where wildlife could thrive, and wildflowers could grow.

Now more than 6,000 British churchyards run their small plots of land as sacred eco-systems. They are managed without pesticides, and by mowing the grass only once a year it ensures that birds, reptiles, insects and bats can thrive.

Orchids and cowslips. Photo: R Price
Today Living Churchyards is more of an idea and a movement than a centralised project. It is an ideal to work towards and it has captured the hearts of Christian communities - as well as more secular but ecologically-inclined members of communities throughout the UK.

If you are thinking of making your churchyard a "living one", then here is an excellent resources page provided by Eco Congregation, which should be the first stop for all Living Churchyard advice and information. It includes practical ideas for caring for church grounds and lands - including how to create homes for hedgehogs, plant trees for special events, create bird boxes, and conduct woodland burials.

Eco Congregation is part of A Rocha UK.


ARC's Living Churchyards page.

Eco Congregation - A Rocha UK is an ecumenical programme helping churches make the link between environmental issues and Christian faith, and respond in practical action in the church, in the lives of individuals, and in the local and global community.

Click here for Eco Congregation's fantastic resource page that contains most of what you need to know to begin making your churchyard a living one.

Click here for the Church of England's Living Churchyards project as part of the environmental campaign "Shrinking the Footprint".

Caring for God's Acre is a programme whose aim is to inspire and support local communities to care for churchyards and burial grounds in a way which benefits both people and wildlife.

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