I live in a large-ish village just outside a small city somewhere towards the east of England. To protect the guilty, let’s call it the village of Glimmer1. It has the usual features of village life; a pub, a village hall, a Post Office (now complete with a small supermarket), three small housing estates, two schools, a manor house, a playing field, and – of course – a church. The church has a little churchyard surrounded by a stone wall, and filled with graves and trees and stone angels and so on.
When we walked our two dogs this morning, we noticed some Unusual Activity in the churchyard. It turned out to be tree felling. Some safety-helmeted men were blithely chopping down a small row of yews.
I handed Sid’s leash to OH and stomped across the road to find out what the heck they were doing and why.
Me: ‘What are you DOING??’
1st Man: ‘Cutting down these trees!’
Me: ‘But why?”
1st Man: ‘Give you a better view of the church’
2nd Man: ‘It’ll be looovely!’
Me: ‘It’s vandalism! Who decided to do that?’
1st Man: ‘The Parish Council … ‘
2nd Man: ‘… and the Church …’
1st Man: ‘.. and me.’
Me: ‘But they’re yews. This is a churchyard. You can’t cut … it’s … they’re meant to be here!’
1st Man (with an air of playing the trump): ‘But they’re not Historic‘.
Me: ‘They will be, if you leave them long enough!’
1st Man: ‘They’re damaging the wall!’
I looked at the wall. It looked fine. Totally undamaged, from where I stood.
1st Man: ‘And the gravestones!’
I looked over the wall. I could see some fairly undamaged-looking gravestones about a metre away from the base of one of the trees. Undamaged, considering their age, that is.
1st Man (tugging feebly at some ivy): ‘Look! We’ve found some gravestones, hidden away in here!’
Me: ‘Well, finding gravestones has some value, to a genealogist, I have to admit. But it’s still vandalism.’
1st Man (firmly): They found a photograph. There were soldiers walking past – WW1 soldiers – and the trees were not there then!’
Me (believing that if you give a man enough silence he’ll feel obliged to fill it): ‘…?’
1st Man (falling neatly into my trap): There was just a hedge. A yew hedge. It went all along here.’
Me: ‘And are they going to replace the hedge? The Historic hedge?’
1st Man: ‘ Uh … ‘
2nd Man: ‘ … No’.
1st Man: ‘But these trees .. these trees are not Historic. They weren’t in the photo!’
Me: ‘By that logic, neither are the forest of signs up the school road’.
1st Man (and I kid you not): ‘Yeah, but you need a different kind of saw for that’.
So, we are going to be left with a bald churchyard so that people can see the church from the west. This ignores the fact that there are trees on the village green, which is just to the west of the church. You’d have to be practically leaning on the wall to get a view of the church from that side for half the year. There are still yews on the other side, too, obscuring the view from the east. These guys had no instructions about those yews, so those yews are going to be allowed to live… for now.
We – the villagers – were naturally not consulted.
English Churchyards traditionally have yews, and they have become havens for wildlife, partly because they have yews. Well-maintained yews are amazingly good at both sheltering and feeding wildlife – the pulp of the yew fruit being the only non-poisonous part of the tree. Birds eat those and poop out the toxic seeds. Mice nibble at them and leave the seeds. Foxes, snakes and raptors come after the mice and small birds. Hedgehogs probably find the thick, dark leafy bases very cosy places in winter – especially if the tree is close to a wall. And in spring, birds nest in them.
But our churchyard has to be ‘tidied’ and ‘cleaned’ to conform to a photograph someone found and thought it would be nice to recreate in the name of ‘remembrance’. Well, colour me pissed.
OH said later that he thought we ought to start a rumour. He said we should tell the two most noted gossips in the village (who shall be nameless) that we’d found evidence that those trees had been planted as a memorial to the soldiers who died in the First World War. And we spent a few minutes happily wondering what kind of furore that would cause … until I pointed out that if they’d been planted as a memorial, there would surely be an entry in the Parish Records to that effect.
We wouldn’t have done it anyway of course, but, as they say, ‘it’s better to light a candle than to sit in the darkness and weep’.
Or was that ‘it’s better to light a fire under someone’s backside than suffer in silence’?
1 Which is not its real name.