Vandalism in the Churchyard


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.

15 thoughts on “Vandalism in the Churchyard

  1. Babs 4th January 2015 / 8:03 pm

    I am very thankful that we have some beautiful ‘grounds’ to a manor house here, where a complete section is left to it’s own devices. Trees only get chopped down if they become dangerous. Mostly they are left to fall by themselves and and are left to do whatever dead trees do. The have vowed to leave their grounds as a completely natural habitat for wildlife. We always take our walk there, rather than the trimmed and planted parts.

    I think it’s very sad when trees are cut down for no good reason.

    • Jay 4th January 2015 / 8:15 pm

      Babs, I find it quite depressing. The Manor here used to be a place just like the one you describe, and the family who owned it farmed the land sensitively with a strong feel for the wildlife and for their own animals. We’d see cows grazing with calves in the meadow, and they’d generously made a long permissive footpath through their land in a belt of land about 15m wide, planted as a copse, in addition to other footpaths which they allowed to be used through their property – one of which is one of the few places it’s safe to let Sid off-lead. A few years ago they donated a piece of meadow to make a woodland for the community. The trees are very young yet, but they’ll grow! Sadly, the last of that generation died this year and the son didn’t want it so it was sold. Heaven knows what will become of it now.

  2. Rob Lenihan 4th January 2015 / 9:37 pm

    This is absurd. Destroy the trees so you can get a better view of the church? Aren’t the trees part of that view? And if keep consulting old photographs we’ll be living in log cabins pretty soon.

    I can see why you’re pissed, Jay

    • Jay 4th January 2015 / 10:06 pm

      The most absurd part is that there is a perfectly good and unobscured view of the FRONT of the church. The whole long length of it, the main door being at the tower end of the side. There are a couple of small trees – a hawthorn and a prunus or two, I think – but apart from that, a glorious, uninterrupted view of the graves, monuments and the church. The only thing in the way of that view is the flagpole that someone sited almost dead across the churchyard from the door.

      What is even more annoying is that we had a public meeting about a year ago in which people were invited to say what they liked and disliked about the village and what they wanted to keep and lose. One thing that came out that was important to a very high percentage of people was the damn trees!! Do not chop any more trees down they said. So what do they do? AARRGGHH!!!

      *Sound of tearing hair*

  3. Ron 5th January 2015 / 1:07 am

    Oh, Jay, this is so sad and senseless 🙁 I don’t know whether you knew this but I have such a love for trees because not only do they do so much for the environment, but I also think trees have amazing healing ability. Anytime I feel ‘out of sorts,’ I will always spend a few hours sitting under a tree and I can’t tell you how much better I feel – mind, body and spirit.

    And I have to disagree with the 1st Man, trees DO have a history; many of which have been standing longer than most people.

    I have to say that the city of Philadelphia does a lot for preserving and protecting our trees. In fact, we even have an organization called, TreePhilly, in which they GIVE trees to people so that then can plant them in their yards. And they do this every spring. It’s a wonderful organization.

    • Jay 5th January 2015 / 8:28 am

      I feel the same, Ron. Trees carry an enormous sense of peace and deep silence. I always feel better after a walk among trees if I’m feeling out of sorts.

      Yes, all mature trees have a history, but not all trees are ‘Historic’. I swear that man spoke in capitals! I think what he meant was that only trees over a certain age or of certain importance are actually protected by law. And even then – as I suspect may have happened in this case – someone can chop them down and what can you do? Impose a fine. You can’t bring the tree back, can you? 🙁

  4. Ron 5th January 2015 / 1:09 am

    P.S. Sorry, I didn’t mean to use a SMILEY face icon when I published my comment, I meant to use a SAD face.

    • Jay 5th January 2015 / 8:28 am

      I fixed it for you!

  5. houndstooth4 5th January 2015 / 1:44 pm

    You have my sympathies. The local power company here has spent the past year mangling trees all over creation so their power lines can run through them. Why they won’t bury the damned lines, which go down several times a year due to bad weather, is beyond me. Actually, it’s not. There would be a lot of people out of jobs if they just buried the lines and let things be. *sigh* Not that what anybody else thinks matters.

    • Jay 5th January 2015 / 2:28 pm

      I’ve often wondered why more lines aren’t buried to save problems with weather and I’ve come to two conclusions: one is the same as yours; that it saves jobs. The other is that it’s cheaper in the short term to simply maintain what’s there, rather than spend and do things properly. Of course, there is the point that if they are buried you have to dig to get to them when there’s a problem. Most of our lines are buried here, and I have to say it’s a nuisance when they have to dig them up for maintenance, and it would be better if they actually kept maps of where the services were and consulted each other when gas, electricity, telephone or sewer work needed to be done rather than us suffer holes in the road (in the same place) several times in a few months, but to my mind it’s still better than unsightly and vulnerable overhead lines.

  6. Liz Bond 5th January 2015 / 2:13 pm


    I don’t think you will find that the Parish Council had anything at all to do with this decision.

    However, to make sure, the Parish Council minutes are printed on the Village Website and can be viewed by all readers.

    What an absolutely amazing thing to happen. More questions need to be asked.

    • Jay 5th January 2015 / 2:21 pm

      I’m so glad you’ve posted, Liz! I am thinking and wondering what to do next, if anything, but I’m truly angry about this. I tried to make light of it a little here, but really – why was this done?? I have to say the van was not signwritten, and they were doing an appalling job of removing the trees, as you can see by the torn-looking stumps – not that they needed to take care of the aim was to destroy them.

      I shall take a look at the minutes. Thanks!

  7. Shaeleen 5th January 2015 / 4:15 pm

    It is always so sad to me when people decide to destroy nature to make room for man made structures. I am glad you voiced your opinion on this even if they chose to ignore you. At least maybe you caused them to pause for even a moment about the decision.

    • Jay 5th January 2015 / 5:15 pm

      I hope so! I try not to be too reactionary on these matters, but this seemed so senseless to me. Thanks for dropping in!

  8. nick 6th January 2015 / 8:15 pm

    Goodness knows why people want to create some totally artificial view rather than being content with the natural view. Why can’t they just leave things alone instead of wanting to tinker with everything? A shame the two men were too keen on making a fast buck to object to what they were being asked to do.

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