St Luke’s Sway Gains Silver Eco Church Award Through Careful Churchyard Management

St Luke’s Sway Gains Silver Eco Church Award Through Careful Churchyard Management

St Luke’s Church lies in the heart of the village of Sway in the New Forest. They recently gained an A Rocha Silver Eco Award, with particular thanks to the hard work that has gone into making their churchyards places of greater biodiversity.

The green spaces at St Luke’s, in the two churchyards and the Garden of Remembrance, are loved by many villagers and those with connections to Sway. As for many churches, the community have had many discussions about how to manage these spaces – seeking both to keep them neat and tidy, especially for those visiting the graves of loved ones, but at the same time recognising that churchyards can be places of rich biodiversity when some areas are left to grow more wild!

Record Keeping

Tending them has been the work of a few dedicated parishioners over the years and some excellent records have been kept about the flora, which is how we know that in the 1980s, one gentleman, along with the Sunday School, sowed some wild flower seeds. Up until that point, the grassy areas were largely kept very short.

Building on this legacy of careful record-keeping, in May 2022, St Luke’s got together a group to identify all the wild plants, shrubs and trees which were growing in the churchyard, garden, and other outdoor areas. The results of this exercise were amazing – they took pictures and wrote explanations, then filled the church noticeboard with the array of information for everyone to enjoy.

Using the records dating back to the 1980s, the volunteers found the botanical names of 64 species of wildflower which were growing in the areas surrounding the church forty years ago, and compared this to today. Of the original species, 39 were still growing, while 17 new, previously unrecorded, species were also found.

PCC Discussions

The PCC then had further discussions about the best way forward to manage the churchyard. The also made use of ‘Caring for God’s Acre’ Churchyard and Burial Ground Action Pack in their meetings, and videos from their website, to help them agree a way forward. A management plan was put together for the land which incorporates areas of short grass, medium grass, tussocky grass and long grass, depending on the time of year. It is a large document which includes images, reference material, and information about why and how St Luke’s wants to care for its burial ground and garden. A decision was also taken to invest further in the biodiversity of the green spaces and a policy was agreed by the PCC. In the face of a changing climate, intensifying the conditions in which wildlife thrives seemed the most important factor.

We live and worship in a beautiful area in a National Park and feel the church is now connected more to God’s creation and mission through this eco church work and engagement with the community.   

Revd Jane Mitchell

New Measures Introduced

Over time, habitats for hedgehogs, water for all creatures, and new bird boxes were introduced to the churchyard. The Eco Church team at St Luke’s has also added bat boxes and an owl box, plus bug hotels after an evening’s workshop with the Brownies. New signs now punctuate the landscape to tell people about the way the church cares for their grounds and why.

It’s not all been about leaving the churchyard to grow wild – it has also required lots of hard work managing the grounds by a team of dedicated volunteers. Some other lovely features have been added too, including a fuchsia bed in memory of the gentleman who had gardened there every Tuesday morning for some decades – the same one who sowed the wild flower seeds with the children! – and wooden engraved plaque engraved with ‘The Joy of the Lord is my Strength’ – Nehemiah 8:10.

Altogether, this careful and strategic approach to managing their churchyard and communicating with the whole congregation was instrumental in gaining them a Silver Award. They were so encouraged that now they have their sights set on Gold!