Here is an invitation for you. Next bit of sunshine pack up your picnic and walk along to your local church. Yes, the building may still be closed but just look around you. Despite COVID , a cheerful bunch of enthusiasts have been making sure that our churchyards are being well looked after.
Caring for God’s Acre (CfGA) is a national charity based in Craven Arms in Shropshire. It is an environmental charity dedicated to the care, preservation and enjoyment of the unique enclosures that are our churchyards. These places not only surround our ancient places of worship but are havens of wildlife which have been there even longer than the old church building. Over the centuries they have been left undisturbed, not mowed regularly (excellent for grass paths) or sprayed with chemicals, and so the wildlife has been allowed to live quietly, even secretly, for more than a thousand years.
Locally, CfGA have a Churchyard Task Team that works in a number of villages in Shropshire with a few in Herefordshire and Wales. The work is aimed at maintaining and nurturing the habitats, so that insects, small mammals, reptiles, birds from the tiny wrens to the biggest owls, wild flowers and trees, especially our ancient Yews, can flourish not only in our lifetimes but for future generations.
The sight of a scythe may surprise people driving past or visiting the churchyard to pop flowers on Mum’s grave, and we have heard all the grim reaper jokes, but not cutting the grass with a lawn mower preserves a thicker ground cover which sustains so many of the creatures living there.
At this time of year it is more than a joy to work in such places. The wild flowers provide a rainbow of colours from primroses and cowslips, celandine and buttercups representing the yellow party to bluebells, violets and ground ivy shouting out for the purple/blue team; white wood anemones have taken over from the snowdrops, biding their time until the lily of the valley and stitchwort appear. The cuckoo flower is coming out in pale pink to spread the pallette even wider.
I have named a few of the flowers you may find, but do not forget to look up and spot the trees greening up with leaves, alongside the darker shade of the evergreens, some of which may be a yews. If the bark is hollowed out, the tree will be over 600 years old. Open your ears and listen to the bird song and, as churches are often on higher ground, look at the views.
Not all our churchyards get the CfGA treatment but if you want to come and see what we are up to, we are inviting the curious to Stoke St Milborough on 22nd June 2021 or Hopesay on 29th June 2021. We would love some new volunteers. Could that be you? Both dates are after the latest date in the government plans.
Anni Holden Trustee CfGA and member of the Churchyard Task Team – Secretary of SCTG and member of HCTG Executive