Top award for green fingered team committed to conserving churchyards

A green-fingered team have won the top honour in volunteering for their work in conserving and protecting churchyards.

The Churchyard Task Team at Caring for God’s Acre, who received a grant from Allchurches Trust for new tools and equipment earlier this year, has won the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service – the equivalent of an MBE for volunteer groups.

The team has undertaken 30,000 hours of conservation work at over 40 burial grounds across South Shropshire and Herefordshire since being set up 11 years ago. It also visits other churchyards who have their own volunteer workforce to give advice.

Andrea Gilpin, Communications and Development Manager at Caring for God’s Acre, said: “This is a huge honour for the volunteers who generously give up their time every week. The team has helped sites to be managed in a way that reflects the views and sensitivities of local people, while at the same time preserving the old memorials and making them special spaces for wildlife.

“Conservation of burial grounds is about active management, not neglect. The work of our volunteers has transformed many sites, leaving them better managed, with increased value to wildlife whilst looking more attractive to visitors.”

In the summer months, the team mainly undertakes grassland management, which involves scything, raking and making hay with a manual hay baler, pruning bushes and shrubs, cutting back overgrown vegetation and building compost bins.

In winter, some volunteers get the chance to lay hedges, learning this ancient technique that rejuvenates and restores natural boundaries. The team plants and maintains new hedges, looks after ancient trees by clearing competing vegetation and even restores and rebuilds dry stone walls.

In addition to practical conservation work, volunteers undertake memorial and species surveys, as well as helping to make wildlife homes with habitat piles, hibernacula and bug hotels.

Volunteer, Martin Garland, said: “I've met and worked with a remarkable bunch of like-minded people, who want to get involved in countryside work, like scything and hedge-laying. These are just some of the new skills I've learned. It's always rewarding to see, over time, how a seemingly sterile burial ground can become an oasis of wildflowers and wildlife."

St Paul's Church in Knowbury, Herefordshire, nominated Caring for God’s Acre for the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service after it was given advice in 2014 on how to manage its churchyard, what the results might be and a plan of how to tackle it.

Kevin Wholey, from the church, said: “This was made possible using the services of their Churchyard Task Team - a group of extremely capable, committed and friendly volunteers.

“Over the past few years, with their invaluable help, we have managed to improve the churchyard by about a thousand per cent! We now maintain it as a wildlife area, especially since one of the friends of the church completed a survey and discovered that we now have over 70 species of wild flowers in the churchyard.”

Caring for God’s Acre will be presented with the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service at St John the Baptist Church, Bishops Castle, Shropshire, on September 25th by Lord Lieutenant, Sir Algernon Heber-Percy.

James Laing, Director of Grants and Relationships at Allchurches Trust, said: “It was a privilege for us to be able to provide funding to such a wonderful team of volunteers, conserving everything from heritage to hedgerows.

“They have transformed the churchyards in their region into havens for both people and wildlife, improving wellbeing and honouring the spirituality of places rooted in the memory of local people. Congratulations to Caring for God’s Acre on this prestigious and richly deserved award win.”