Ken Gillance, Secretary of Moorsholm PCC, tells the story of St Mary’s Moorsholm's wildlife garden.
Lying on the northern edge of the beautiful North Yorkshire Moors National Park, midway between Whitby and Middlesbrough, Moorsholm is home to a community of around 370 people – a mixture of local farming families, commuters working mainly in the Teesside conurbation and retired people. St Mary’s Church stands in the centre of the village with a large churchyard burial ground which now extends into the grounds of the neighbouring Church Hall. It demands a great deal of labour to maintain it to a satisfactory standard and three years ago when the small PCC could no longer cope they appealed to the community for help. Rescue was at hand. An enthusiastic group of community volunteers came forward and joined in the task with enthusiasm. Initially devoting regular Tuesday mornings to work in the churchyard, the team has now taken on the care of the whole village, including conservation projects.
The work at first involved regularly mowing the grass and holding back nature’s threat to create a wilderness. Someone suggested that a wilderness can be a place of beauty. In December 2009 we were advised by the Assistant Diocesan Secretary that 2011 was to be the “Diocesan Year of the Environment” and parishes were asked to focus on initiatives to help in reducing “Carbon Footprints” and conserving wild life habitat. We responded and called in Dr Sue Antrobus of Tees Valley Wild Life Trust, an expert on churchyards. Following her survey and report we began to appreciate the value of what we already had, particularly the many wild flowers and grasses which were inhibited by constant mowing but still present. Realising the potential for creating a wild life haven we called on Martin Allen of Wildflower Ark in Middlesbrough who surveyed and advised on the nurturing and improvement of the existing wealth of native plants. We were to create small areas of the churchyard where mowing would not take place until July or later, corresponding with the bygone days of ‘hay time’ mowing, allowing the wildflowers to mature and seed before being cut back.
This required sensitive handling since many who visit the churchyard to visit graves, like it neat and tidy, and conservation areas are seen by some as untidy. Appropriate discussions within the community identified areas which could be used as ‘conservation areas’ and not mown until mid-summer. In the second year of the project we are discreetly enlarging the wild life plots. So far we have not received any complaint about the conservation areas.
The existing wildflowers are now beginning to re-appear with ox-eye daisies, cowslips, and the latest – a small colony of hare bells.
We have also placed bird boxes across the churchyard, including the Archbishop’s gift which is set high in our Weeping Ash and presently houses a family of fledgling tree sparrows.
The roof at the East Gable of the Church houses a colony of wild honey bees which have been reproducing and swarming there for the past 30 years or so. To help sustain them we have recently planted a collection of ivy, cotoneaster (firethorn) and similar climbing pants which are late flowering or of special value to bees and hoverflies.
Our latest innovation is the establishment of a Quiet or Sensory Garden in the Church Hall lawn. This required a Faculty granted in December last and the planting of the garden has just been completed with a wide variety of flowering plants and wildflowers which are now beginning to bloom. It is hoped that this will provide a more accessible source of nectar for the bees as well as a place of beauty and quiet for all who visit St Mary’s Church and Wild Life Garden.
A rain water butt has been installed at the Church Hall to provide water for the Quiet Garden. Composting bins have been built at the bottom of the churchyard in which we can recycle all the grass-cuttings and all the fallen leaves from the large sycamore and ash which line the churchyard walls.
Ken Gillance, Secretary of Moorsholm PCC