FACED with the prospect of maintaining a churchyard that extends over almost four acres, a parish has turned to animal power to keep the vegetation in check.
A pair of alpacas, a breed originally from the slopes of the Andes, have joined the maintenance team at St Wilfrid’s, the 12th-century parish church of the village of Calverley, on the edge of Leeds.
The churchyard contains about 3500 graves: most are in a closed Victorian cemetery and in a small area where burials continue today. There is also a wildlife meadow. “It needs a lot of looking after,” the church’s licensed lay minister, who is charge of the alpacas, John Corbin, said. “We can’t mow it, as the graves are too close together. If you look at pictures from 20 years ago, you cannot see the graves for the vegetation.”
John CorbinPablo, with Jeffrey behind
For a while, a farmer used to let his sheep in during the summer to graze on it, but they no longer come. The parish acquired some goats, and has now been given the alpacas, Pablo and Jeffrey, by a villager. “They do an excellent job,” Mr Corbin said. “The goats are penned in, but the alpacas roam all over the place. They are adorable, docile and soft, and have become star attractions, especially during lockdown with many families visiting to admire them.
“The village school next door looks on to the churchyard, and the children can see the alpacas. They will remember that experience for the rest of their lives. One boy raised £700 to buy them a shelter.”
When the church appealed for help in looking after the alpacas, it was overwhelmed with offers, and now has a rota for volunteers. “It’s a really good outreach to the community,” Mr Corbin said. “People who are getting involved are not all churchgoers, and that’s a bonus for us.”
The assistant curate who is covering the vacancy at St Wilfrid’s, the Revd Dr Sue McWhinney, said: “We are all really pleased for a good news story; it has brought in young people from the village. They don’t come to church, but they just love to see the animals. It’s connecting us with all sorts of people, and, throughout lockdown, it’s been a great place to come. We are now planning to buy around half a dozen sheep to continue the work.”