CHURCHES must be more aware of the trees that they have in their grounds, so that they can nurture their biodiversity and develop their surroundings as a community resource, the Conservation Foundation says.
It has organised two conferences on churchyard trees to consider best practice and show those responsible for the upkeep of the country’s 10,000 Anglican churchyards what opportunities are available to develop their usefulness.
At the first, held at Liverpool Cathedral this month, the speakers and delegates agreed that, while appreciating the many demands of maintaining churches, their trees were a vital asset to the country’s well-being. The second will be held at St John’s, Waterloo, on 2 November. Places are free, but must be booked.
The Conservation Foundation’s project manager, James Coleman, said: “The hope is that these conferences will start discussions which can be rolled out into the dioceses. Churchyards have a disproportionately large number of veteran trees which are particularly important for the habitat: they provide wildlife and the wider biodiversity of their area.
“They also have a place in the wider community: schools, for instance, have used churchyards as outdoor classrooms.
“We are trying to reach people who already have responsibility in some way for the trees, such as PCCs or Friends groups, and help them care for the churchyards and use the trees as a way of engaging the wider community.”
The project, he said, had grown out of an earlier campaign to conserve ancient yew trees, traditionally found in churchyards. “The Church doesn’t really know what it has in its yards. There are isolated surveys, but no comprehensive record. There are tens of thousands of trees, but no one knows how many tens of thousands.”
The manager of the conservation charity Caring for God’s Acre, Sue Cooper, who spoke at the Liverpool meeting, said: “Veteran yew trees are globally important, and the great majority — about 800, with an age above 500 years — are to be found in our churchyards.
“They are known as the Noah’s Ark of biodiversity, as they are home to so many different species, but often the churchyard managers are not aware they have got such an important tree, or they are not sure how to care for it.”