A Grave Matter


After a good run up the M1, I was early for a meeting up North a few weeks back and so pulled into a tiny village off the A19 called Birdforth, where I parked in front of a beautiful old church.

St Mary’s Church – also known as Birdforth Old Chapel – is a former Anglican church in the village of Birdforth, North Yorkshire. It is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade II listed building and is under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.

I am always interested in how trusts present remote old buildings and share a common purpose with the keepers of this Yorkshire church, but focused in another county down south. Anyway, I opted to have a potter around.

Before long I found myself struggling through grass and nettles, some of which were knee-high. Soon I was wiping what smelt like fox poo – yes, it was unquestionably fox poo – off a brogue. I then managed to catch the back of my coat on some damn tough old thorns. The part twelfth century church turned out to be locked but I battled my way around the side and peered through the clear panels of a stained-glass window. I took several photos with my phone outside.

I then noticed that there was a fellow standing in a field at the back who looked like a local farmer and he was watching me – I thought that perhaps I owed him an explanation. So I battled my way through the undergrowth to get to him and we started chatting. He admitted to being somewhat bemused by why a suited and booted man was wandering through his overgrown local churchyard.

After explaining myself and assuring him that Crombie coverts were surely never the chosen attire of doggers, I asked the man why the churchyard was in such a sorry state.

“That’ll be the local Rewilding people,” he replied, at which my ears pricked up. “They’re the sort who don’t like a nicely trimmed bush.”

It turned out that, despite relatively new graves at the back of the churchyard which people still clearly visited and tended, attempts to keep the graveyard in good order had been thwarted by a couple of ideologically possessed locals who seemed to want everything rewilded. The kind of people who baulk at a mowed lawn and would prefer the moors to vanish under a canopy of dull pine forests.

“Wait til they wake up and find a lynx or a wolf staring at them from the jungle they call their garden,” he chuckled.

I despair at when ideology trumps common sense and decency.

Still, not all Rewilders are disrespectful loons or card-carrying commies.

I had a couple of beers with one of the Rewilding brigade – Dr Steve Carver of Leeds University – early autumn and found him to be a thoroughly reasonable and level-headed bloke, emanating good taste in both ale and motorcycles. He surprised me by saying that Rewilding is hardly suitable for everywhere and that only certain areas can really benefit from it. Instead I was expecting an ayatollah of Rewilding – a crazed watermelon who would have a real go at me for my 4X4 and force me to drink my pint from an Eco Bamboo Thermal Mug.

I am told the Birdforth cemetery has since been given a decent seeing to with a strimmer. I am pleased. Still, I am sure the Rewilding argument – all too often an intermittent skirmish between two distant silos – has a sweet spot somewhere in the middle that keeps all sides, save the batty crew, happyish.

As for the graveyards, they are replete with the remains of once sentient beings and cannot possibly be left to rack and ruin. Show respect for our ancestors, some of whom paid with their lives to allow us to fight today for our freedoms.

Dominic Wightman is Editor of Country Squire Magazine.