No-one knows just how many trees the Church of England has on its land. It has some 10,000 churchyards, and many often provide the only, ‘green lung’ within a community and rare habitats for a wide range of biodiversity.
The Church is responsible for a large number of trees which, like churches, need managing. The often great age of churchyards, and the long term protection they offer, means many of these trees are particularly important, and others have the potential to become so. The longer protection offered by churchyards means they often contain ‘veteran’ trees – those with ancient characteristics – and as such hold particular importance ecologically and culturally. This natural heritage is often managed by people with little specialist arboricultural or interpretation experience.
Whilst churchyard yews are well known for their great age, there are many other species which provide a wealth of value to local communities. They may hold the secret to fighting threats to trees such as ash dieback and those affecting chestnuts, elms and oaks suggests David Shreeve, Environmental Adviser to the Archbishops' Council. “If you’ve a variety of elm for example, which has not been affected by disease, perhaps there is something special about them that make them resistant,” he explains. “Churchyards may be the Noah’s Ark for trees.”
Two free churchyard trees conferences supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund are being held this autumn. Aimed at archdeacons, clergy, churchwardens, DAC Secretaries and Diocesan Environment Officers, friends groups, tree officers and all those involved in the care of churchyard trees. They will promote greater awareness of the importance of churchyard trees and encourage maintenance, future growth and interpretation with the support of the community.
The conferences will be held in Liverpool Cathedral on 6 October 2016 and St John’s Waterloo on 2 Nov 2016 and feature leading churchyard and arboriculture experts who will discuss the support and management churches can use to protect the future of churchyard trees.
Both events are being organised by The Conservation Foundation in association with the Church of England’s Environmental Working Group, Mission and Public Affairs, Cathedrals and Church Buildings along with Caring for God’s Acre and The Charter for Trees, Woods and People.
Those interested in attending for the free conferences can register at: