The environmental policies of St Mary’s Church
The large churchyard, which is still open for burials, occupies an elevated position on top of the North Downs with extensive views over the Weald. It attracts many visitors who come for a wide variety of reasons, not least its natural and beautiful setting.
The churchyard management plan is designed to ensure that reasonable access to graves, particularly the more recent ones, is maintained whilst natural plants and habitats are encouraged to provide a varied environment and food chain for wildlife.
A survey in 2007 listed 126 different plants. There are several large beech trees that have required appropriate surgery in recent years in order to promote their health and the safety of churchyard users. Yew trees also add to the character of the area and are occasionally trimmed when they encroach on tended graves.
The immediate surrounds of the Norman church, dated c.1075, are kept closely mown and grave spaces are trimmed in order to provide a suitable setting for this attractive flint building. Most recent graves are in the lower areas of the churchyard and good access is maintained here by regular mowing and strimming of the path system. Some areas of the central part are allowed to grow for their grasses and wildflowers, only being cut later in the summer. One such area has been left over the winter to provide resources such as food for birds but unfortunately this has now become infested with brambles and has therefore been strimmed earlier in this year. The north eastern perimeter is kept largely untouched and dead wood is left for insect habitat.
There are a few visitors who say they would like to see the entire churchyard kept permanently closely cut and the church makes strenuous efforts, including notices and parish magazine articles, to explain the environmental merits of the management policy. A main refuse area and some smaller ones for grass cuttings are kept neatly and are providing some useful compost and mulching material for local residents. With the exception of major tree surgery, all the maintenance is provided by volunteers. Six are particularly active during the week in their spare time: others support the monthly Saturday morning tidy-ups. The floral displays include hanging baskets and the planting of flowers flanking the narthex entrance to the church and the Church Hall. A composting area has also been created.
For many years there had been a circular bed to the north-east of the church which, at various times, contained roses and annual bedding. This bed did not receive full light and was not easily visible to visitors. It was therefore decided to turf it and create a new bed closer to the main path from the lych gate to the church porch. Furthermore it was felt that it would be more appropriate to the area if the planting were permanent and with some all-year interest and environmental benefit for birds and insects. A local professional garden designer kindly gave his time to the design and sourcing of the plants and two other volunteers planted the bed in May of 2009. The bed has been sited just off the path to allow space for the plants to grow without inhibiting path users. Its shape has been kept fairly simple to assist grass mowing. The bed is now maturing well and provides another valuable feature to the churchyard.