Special interest groups

Cornwall's Living Churchyards

Secret nature

Restormel Branch and church members supported a successful afternoon in St Mewan churchyard in May. A cold wind ensured that we all enjoyed going inside for tea and to look at Rowena Varley's PR hats. With a barn owl roosting in the tower, a flourishing Cornish hedge, various trees and shrubs and over 50 species of wild flowers in bloom, it was a good example of how rich in wildlife a churchyard can be.
A most interesting church search organised by David Attwell of the North Cornwall Heritage Coast and Countryside Service was held on a sunny afternoon in June at Tintagel. A local historian spoke on the church building and Andrew Langdon on the ancient stones, after which Denis Harding and Chris Haes were on hand to help us discover the secrets of the churchyard. What appeared at first sight to be an unpromising piece of grassland proved to be rich in species.
The insects especially were enjoying the south-facing boundary, where a few feet of brambles, grasses and other plants had been left to flourish in front of a Cornish hedge. The needs of economics and conservation are well served here by a sensible regime of three grass cuts a year, thus enabling the wild flowers to thrive even around the gravestones - a fitting carpet ft)r this ancient church in its dramatic setting.

Carol Simpson

Lanteglos' living churchyard

Lanteglos-by-Fowey is surely one of the most beautiful parishes in Cornwall. Bounded on three sides by rugged cliffs, river estuary or tidal creek, it has a gentle, rolling hinterland of farmland with wooded streams. The farming is mostly dominated by sheep or stock cattle and is small in scale. Much of the parish is with the National Trust. In the geographical centre lies the ancient parish church which seems to be
Church at Tintagel
Church search at Tintagel. Photo: Carol Simpson
quaintly and perversely remote from the main population clustered in the village of Polruan or the hamlet of Bodinnick. This 13th century church is surrounded by three acres of churchyard, which is itself bounded by grazing land and mixed woodland. The churchyard is an important place for local people. It is generally recognised as a place of beauty and great peace. Its cultural and historical links are manifold - hardly an hour goes by without a visitor.
Because the churchyard matters so much and is of concern to the whole parish, not just churchgoers, it presents a management problem. Who should pay for its upkeep? The church or the local authority? What do we expect to find? A dignified tidiness perhaps. But do some people expect the lawns of a cemetery or crematorium? Recognising the pastoral and environmental pressures. in 1992 we formed a Churchyard Guild to advise the Church Council on the management of the churchyard. Essentially though, the Guild was to provide a forum for the Parish Council, the ecologists, archaeologists, historians and users - including, of course, the Methodists.
The Guild quickly adopted a "living churchyard" policy and its intentions were recognised by English Nature who grant-aided the purchase of a brushcutter. This machine enables the burial grounds to be zoned. Certain zones are then allowed to grow long so that the wild flowers and grasses can seed before cutting. At an early stage we called in the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, and Mary Atkinson expertly recorded 75 species of plant. As our regime begins to bear fruit, after four years we can see the results - especially important is the effect of not only just cutting grass to the right height but also raking it in order to keep soil fertility down. Our management skills have been greatly enhanced by the recruitment to the Guild of our retired local National Trust warden, who brings a lifetime's experience to bear. We are also fortunate that we are able to work closely with our grass-cutting contractor who is a local man. He now looks out for clusters of wild flowers as he strims.
We are about to enter our next phase. The new ground is to be enclosed by a wildlife-friendly Cornish hedge and we are "tuning up" the zones of grass in the older burial grounds as we look forward to a comprehensive wildlife audit in 1997/98.

Revd John Halkes

Pentreath Industries

Pentreath Industries, the mental health charity offering work rehabilitation and training to people with, or recovering from, mental health problems has set up a mobile amenity horticulture team in the west of the county. From the perspective of Pentreath's workers, churchyards are an ideal place to heal the spirit. The peace and tranquillity engender the right atmosphere and the work gives the satisfaction of providing a worthwhile service to the community.
If your churchyard has become a little neglected, for whatever reason, and you believe we can help, please contact Steve Turner on (0374) 855280 or myself on (01736)752994 and we will visit you to discuss your requirements.

Tim Linehan

Ancient Yew Hunt

Do you knoiv of any ancient (over a thousand years old) common yew's? The information is needed for a new book by the national Church and Conservation Project Please contact Carol Simpson on (01872) 862168.

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