St Denis, East Hatley, churchyard tidy-ups
Words Peter Mann
Photographs Carole Cooper and Peter Mann
▲ David Fisher cutting the long grass in St Denis' churchyard, East Hatley, 18 July 2015. Click on the photo for an enlargement – there are more pictures below
With the help of the 'St Denis' scythe / scissor mower and a band of willing volunteers, the 'big' cut / rake up / strim of the very long grass in the churchyard, around the church and the gravestones is a relatively pleasant annual activity.
But, why the bother and why allow the grass to get so long?
Well, the churchyard is a Local Nature Reserve, so you can expect to find plenty of wild flowers in the spring and early summer, lots of insects and butterflies hopping and fluttering around and quite a few small mammals, all enjoying (one assumes!) the undisturbed meadow that is the churchyard.
Unfortunately, the grass will grow... and grow and if not cut back form patches of thick tussles, which are a pain to deal with, and choke out the cowslips and ox-slips that are such a feature of the Hatley countryside.
Likewise, hawthorns and other bushes / trees will also either self-seed or have seeds 'planted' by passing squirrels and jays and if left would, within five or six years, present a formidable problem. Mole hills and, in particular, ant hills, produce another obstacle.
On top of this, of course, it is a 'living', consecrated graveyard, where any of us has the right to be buried; several of the graves are still attended by relatives of those interred there.
With the help of Rob Mungovan, Ecology Officer at South Cambridgeshire District Council, the churchyard management committee, formed some 25 years ago, agreed a management plan in 2010 which calls for the south side of the churchyard to be cut in March, again in April or May and with the whole churchyard to be cut in July and September.
Strimming around the church and the graves and cutting back excessive growth in the hedges around the edge of the churchyard is part of each session.
In practice, it doesn't quite work out so simply, for it relies on unpaid volunteers – and kind weather, 2012 in particular being difficult weather-wise, which is when the idea of a scythe / scissor type mower was first considered.
Blessed are the mowers
This mower, in the centre of the photo below and blessed by the Reverend Steve Rothwell in June 2013 (see bottom picture), cuts the base of the grass much more efficiently than a rotary mower. And while since 2013 there has been less wet weather in the spring so the grass has been dry, by the time of the 'big cut', the sheer volume of grass the new mower 'produces' is simply enormous, hence the need for many hands to rake it up and cart it away.
With their help, the churchyard looks tidy, loved and an asset to the community – please be prepared to come and lend a hand next time you see a request for help... and also when the long grass at the back of Hatley St George church is to be mowed. Your help to rake up the grass will be much appreciated.
▲ 1 September 2013 – the hard working team: Becky Fisher, Sarah Brennan, John O'Sullivan, Peter Mann, David Fisher, Linda Hudson and John Lanchbery.
▲ 19 July 2015 – still at it! The volunteering team this time included Sarah Brennan, David Fisher (with the 'St Denis mower'), Becky Fisher, Mervyn Luck, Nicola Jenkins, Joyce Denby, John Lanchbery and John Wright. Sofie and Jeremy Hooper (assisted by Alexandra and Thomas) joined in a little later and Linda Hudson kindly provided refreshments. Peter Mann was hiding behind the camera.
▲ 19 July 2015 – David Fisher using the 'St Denis' mower to cut the long grass...
▲ ... as we were in August 2013 while others in the team rake it up...
▲ ... then load the trailer...
▲ ... and there was plenty of grass.
▲ Becky Fisher had an alternative to the trailer!
▲ Some of the July 2015 team hard at it.
▲ 12 August 2013 – St Denis churchyard: still much to do.
▲ 18 August 2013 – St Denis churchyard: south side beginning to looking tidy again....
▲ ... although at the time, the north side had still to be tackled.
▲ But when seen like this, it makes the effort feel so well worthwhile.
▲ 9 June 2013 – the Reverend Steven Rothwell blessed the new mower, purchased with the aid of a grant from SCDC to make cutting the long grass much easier. With him are Sarah Brennan, John O'Sullivan and Peter Mann.