Three local churchyards have been visited by Easingwold Deanery’s ‘Caring for the Environment’ group in order to learn about and promote the ways they are managed to encourage wildlife, as well as being a dedicated and dignified space for the parish.

The ‘Living Churchyards’ project reports, “As the countryside in Britain becomes more industrialised and urbanised, there are fewer places for wildlife to live and wildflowers to grow.” In some parts of the country churchyards are the only protected eco-systems where remnants of the local flora and fauna can survive. 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.”

  • Huby and Sutton-on-the-Forest All Hallows Cemetery (a churchyard extension between the two villages) has been managed to encourage wildlife for 25 – 30 years, with a signed area set aside as hay meadow. This is cut once annually, and the 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 is important to keep the vicinity of still-visited graves tidy and accessible; the wild areas tend, by contrast, to enhance this, and mown paths through them stress that the land is being properly managed. A noticeboard by the gate lists the wild flowers which have been identified there (over 68 varieties) and birds (over 39 species recorded).

  • Marton-on-the-Forest churchyard has been very well managed for wildlife for the last three years by a dedicated volunteer. The whole area is kept as ‘wild’, with mown paths to allow access, demonstrating 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 (middle picture) 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 has been managed for wildlife since about 1990. A detailed information board in the church porch explains the philosophy and progress. The large cemetery is kept tidy, with a number of separate ‘wild’ plots and short-mown grass for regularly-visited graves, and also where houses are adjacent to the churchyard. The long grass is cut down once a year; a scythe would not be practical for so many large plots, so a ‘Sickle Bar Mower’ is used (lower picture), which very efficiently cuts through the long grass and even shrubs and small saplings. Again to avoid enriching the soil, the cuttings are burned.

Michael Wansbrough of Easingwold Parish Church said, “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.”