The Devon branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE Devon) is seeking Devon’s Best Churchyard of 2020 and is inviting churches of all denominations to enter the competition by the end of March.
“Devon has hundreds of churchyards and they are beautiful places,” says Penny Mills, Director of CPRE Devon. “That’s why we believe in celebrating them and celebrating the people that look after them - because they are all volunteers and they do a fantastic job.”
“Over hundreds of years, Devon’s churchyards have come to form part of the county’s rich and varied landscape. Some churchyards have changed little over the centuries. They are much more than burial grounds or simply open spaces around church buildings; they are unique and special havens, green sanctuaries for people and wildlife.”
CPRE Devon held the competition for the first time in 2018, attracting eighteen entries. The winner was the parish church of St Andrew’s in South Tawton, just inside the northern edge of Dartmoor National Park. South Tawton’s churchyard has far-reaching views of the open moor, however, it wasn’t the setting which most impressed CPRE Devon’s judges when they visited. It was all the work that had been done to create an amazing place with a lot of evidence of management for wildlife.
In 2019 the competition attracted even more interest with the number of entries up by a third on the inaugural year. This time around it was East Devon’s turn to triumph. All Saints Church in East Budleigh was declared the 2019 winner at a prize-giving reception at Exeter Cathedral. The awards were presented by the Bishop of Exeter himself, the Rt Rev Robert Atwell, who chairs the Church of England’s Rural Affairs Group. Oak plaques were also awarded to Ilfracombe and Molland, joint runners-up, and to Kingsbridge, Dalwood and Littleham, near Exmouth, who were all highly commended.
The conservation charity hopes this gathering momentum will continue in 2020. The judges are not seeking the most pristine or manicured churchyards. They are looking for well-managed churchyards which provide a peaceful haven for people and wildlife. Each entry is visited by the judges and assessed on a range of criteria.
CPRE Devon trustee and churchyard judge Ivan Buxton has been impressed by the standard of entries: “Throughout the judging, we found hardly any litter and we were particularly impressed by the careful management of these ancient burial grounds to create sanctuaries for the living. Measures to encourage wildlife and biodiversity included bug hotels, mini-beast trails, an amazing pond, bird boxes, composting areas, some beautiful wildflower meadows and even gardens producing fruit, vegetables and herbs for parishioners to enjoy.”
He says, “Churchyards are true oases of tranquillity in our increasingly busy lives. Hallowed grounds which deserve to be celebrated as part of the rich tapestry of Devon's landscape. The people who work so hard to maintain churchyards deserve special praise.”
Which Devon churchyards will make the shortlist in 2020? As well as the kudos of winning, there’s a further incentive - a top prize of £200 and a beautiful oak plaque, made in Devon from sustainable wood, to display to locals and visitors.
The deadline for entries is March 31st. Full details and an entry form can be found at www.cpredevon.org.uk