Kathleen Gifford – an inspirational churchyard champion at 93. All Saints, Crudwell8th November 2021
In September 1939, 11-year old Kathleen Gifford was whisked away from her London home. She was evacuated to Charmouth, where she spent nine happy months exploring the Dorset countryside. When Kathleen returned to London, she brought with her a life-long fondness for wildflowers and a dedication to conserving nature.
Almost 50 years later, Kathleen’s enduring love for wildlife inspired her to undertake an ambitious and pioneering project: the creation of a Living Churchyard at All Saints Church in Crudwell, Wiltshire.
Kathleen’s conservation work at Crudwell began with her 1989 Bats in Churches survey of five North Wiltshire churches. As a volunteer surveyor, Kathleen was asked to record the flora and fauna in each churchyard. She documented 61 species of plant at All Saints Crudwell, as well as a wide range of animals including slow worms (which local residents had misidentified as snakes).
When a friend who knew about Kathleen’s interests gave her a copy of Francesca Greenoak’s 1985 book, God’s Acre: The Flowers and Animals of the Parish Churchyard, she knew she had found her calling. She proposed a churchyard management plan for All Saints church and in 1989, took the first steps towards making it an exemplary Living Churchyard.
For more than 20 years, Kathleen managed, recorded and communicated the natural wonders of Crudwell’s churchyard. She created beautiful, detailed churchyard diaries and wrote articles for local newspapers. She drew and painted the flora and fauna in the churchyard, some of which was rare and noteworthy. Her work was widely recognised and won numerous awards including Bishop’s Awards.
In 2008, at the age of 80, Kathleen decided that it was time to pass the All Saints Living Churchyard torch to a younger generation. But without her energy and leadership, the churchyard began to lose its focus on wildlife. By early 2021, in spite of being beautifully maintained, All Saints could no longer be considered a Living Churchyard.
However, that situation is just about to change. With the approval of the All Saints PCC, we are embarking on once again managing for wildlife as well as for people. At the age of 93, Kathleen has been integral to our project. Not only has she been incredibly generous in sharing her diaries, but she is a fount of knowledge about every aspect of the churchyard. As an early citizen scientist who produced detailed records of 20 years in a North Wiltshire churchyard, her archive is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in climate change and its effect on wildlife. For that reason, we are thrilled that Caring for God’s Acre has agreed to look after digital copies of Kathleen’s records, which are as beautiful as they are useful.
As we begin the task of encouraging wildlife and sensitively managing All Saints Crudwell churchyard, we are fortunate to have Kathleen’s work as a model. In her own words, the churchyard is a ‘haven of peace, a living history book and a sanctuary of rest.’ We only hope that we can live up to the very high standards she set as an early champion of caring for God’s acre.