Churchyards are very important places for those whose loved ones are buried there, but a survey of visitors to some churchyards in Sussex found that they are often visited by people who value their peace and beauty.
The Churchyard Award Scheme has been running for over 30 years. It’s run by volunteers to celebrate the work of volunteers in maintaining and developing churchyards and church gardens across the diocese of Lichfield. The Award Scheme was originally conceived as a way to encourage care, in the sense of ‘grounds maintenance’ and that is still an objective. But as we have become more aware of ecological issues, the scheme has devoted more attention to the role of churchyards as precious habitats, and as a diocese we have been blessed to receive lots of support and advice from ‘Caring for God’s Acre’ (www.caringforgodsacre.org.uk), a conservation charity focussed on burial grounds, that habitat found in every community.
During the months of May, June, July and August a team of volunteer ‘judges’ visit the churchyards and gardens and make notes on a wide range of aspects and features. In September the judges meet and prepare certificates for each entrant and draw together some feedback for each individual churchyard or garden. There is then an awards ceremony, usually in October, when achievements are publicly celebrated and ideas are shared. In addition to these elements of the scheme we hold a garden tea party to which all volunteers are warmly invited as a way to express thanks to all who work hard and give time and loving care to maintaining these special places.
When steps are taken to make churchyards more ‘nature friendly’ this is not always consistent with perfect tidiness, but it demonstrates that the church is actively seeking to address concerns over loss of natural habitats and biodiversity. For these interventions to be appreciated information needs to be provided to explain the presence and purpose of the nature friendly elements.
Whether large or small, rural or urban, a churchyard or garden, all are invited to participate. Entry is free – see the full details of how to enter. The closing date for applications this year is 10 April 2023.
Dr Alison Primrose has led the Churchyard Awards team for the last five years and can be contacted on 07794 515142