Bats in the belfry
The churchyard at Cowley St John Parochial Church used to be neglected and suffered from misuse. The team at the church felt strongly that wild spaces in cities are crucial to the health of the community and so have turned the churchyard into a much needed haven for residents to escape to.
In 2000 the process of turning the churchyard into a wildlife haven began and since then a large volunteer group, under the capable eye of Ruth Conway of the Parochial Church Council, has been meeting weekly.
A comment posted on the Oxford Mail website captures the sense of enjoyment by those who join in the many tasks involved in managing the churchyard for wildlife: "I did a lot of work in the graveyard as part of community service and loved every bit of it, we change it from a place that you wouldn't want to visit to a place that ppl would travel to come to see, we even got on the tv."
Many people choose to walk through, enjoying the greenery and the bird-song, and children love exploring the woodchip paths. There are educational visits covering wildlife, art or local history. Relatives have returned to family graves that they were previously too apprehensive to visit.
The churchyard itself is a warm and welcoming place which envelops visitors with a sense of wellbeing. Interpretation boards show the local history of the site and displays of butterflies and birds for identification.
An Oxford City Councillor's has commented: 'it is a very important feature of the area and creates a lovely balance to the mammon of Cowley Road'. In addition to being a welcome 'breathing place' for those en route to shops and schools, it is now possible to host specific occasions for activities such as birdwatching and plant identification. One such event was a 'moth and bat' evening. It has become appreciated as one of the quieter venues of the Cowley Road Carnival.
Find more information about St Mary & St Johns church yard and other Breathing Places in your region here.