St Chad’s churchyard (approximately three hectares) surrounds the Victorian church dedicated in 1868. It is an valuable wildlife haven, as in earlier times, the land was used by Ivy House Farm (situated on the site of the present Parish Centre) for hay meadows and grazing. The ground has never been treated with chemicals (herbicides, fungicides or artificial fertilisers). Seventeen years ago, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Churchyard Officer gave us valuable advice on maintaining the land for the benefit of wildlife, whilst always remembering its primary purpose as a resting place for the deceased. A highlight of this visit was the discovery of traditional Yorkshire hay meadow grasses, such as sweet vernal, which gives hay its distinctive aroma. We keep a small section of the grass in front of the church as a mini hay meadow, with a traditional cutting regime. Gradually wild flowers are colonising this area.
There are a variety of habitats within the churchyard. It benefits from being bordered to the west by Church Wood and within the curtilage there are mature trees, hedges, bushes, and a border of flowering plants providing pollen and nectar “a supermarket” for insects. The grass is cut at different lengths – for the benefit of “brown” butterflies and to encourage wild flowers which grow in shorter sward. Bumble bees nest in old mouse and vole holes. We have seven bird boxes which are monitored and cleaned annually and three clusters of bat boxes. Hedgehog hibernation homes, made by the Church Youth Group are tucked into the hedge bottoms. Close to the Garden of Rest we have a mini-beast hotel, built by a group of young people on a “Work Experience” day. In the Garden of Rest we encourage relatives to plant spring-flowering bulbs which provide pollen and nectar for early-flying spring insects such as queen bumble bees. Two years ago, a group from Santander Bank (on a Community Day) planted up a border of shrubs to provide nectar-rich flowers and autumn berries.
We keep records of our wildlife – if we don’t know what we have, how can we conserve it? The bird list (which includes winter visitors and summer migrants) now stands at forty five species, the most recent being a pair of Hobbys. It is interesting to note that red kites and buzzards are frequently seen – unheard of fifteen years ago. The butterfly list is a remarkable thirteen species. We encourage the orange-tips by “flagging” specimens of cuckoo flower. This prevents the plants on which the female butterfly lays eggs, from being mown out.
The Mid-Yorkshire Fungus Group makes an annual visit in the autumn. We are particularly proud of our Pink Waxcap or ballerina fungus, which is a UK biodiversity indicator species of unimproved grassland.
The churchyard is an “Urban Pollinators” survey site, part of a nationwide project. Leeds University uses the churchyard as an outdoor classroom and for research projects. We hold regular events for children and adults. In June 2015, as part of “Cherishing Churchyards” week, we offered guided walks including one specifically on the geology of the stones used in the construction of the church and some of the churchyard memorials.
We also hold monthly Community Work Parties to help with maintenance. Local residents, who value tranquillity in the midst of suburbia, but may not be regular worshippers in the church, join members of the congregation on a variety of tasks.
We were fortunate in obtaining grants for two Interpretive Boards and also a professionally printed leaflet “A Walk Round St Chad’s Churchyard” and a more detailed booklet “St. Chad’s Church Far Headingley, A Geological Trail“. These have been distributed to local schools, libraries and community venues and are available at the back of church and in the Parish Office. We aim to encourage everyone to enjoy this remarkable place.