A DALES churchyard has been declared the best in North Yorkshire.

The wildlife friendly space around St Mary’s Church, Kettlewell is the “overall and unanimous winner” of the first-ever Best Churchyard competition held in the county by CPRE The Countryside Charity - formerly known as the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

The churchyards at Giggleswick and Lothersdale were also praised by the judges.

The charity said: “Kettlewell is a very busy, post-pandemic tourist hot spot, but walk down the little lane through the lych gate and you are in an area of peace, tranquillity and contemplation – the journey is immersive.

“The churchyard is big enough to swallow many visitors whilst at the same time allowing room for sitting undisturbed on the numerous seats and enjoying the yard itself and the views of the Dales.

“There is a rich and developed flora with a good insect population and busy bees. Whilst many piles of wood are havens for insects there is much high-value standing dead wood in the churchyard.

“There is a meandering route through the churchyard that takes in the flora that ends up at a well-designed labyrinth. In 45 minutes within the churchyard there were 21 bird species and four species of butterflies.”

The Vicar of Upper Wharfedale and Littondale, the Rev Tom Lusty, said: "This morning when I took our dog Betty for our regular walk through the churchyard we saw at very close range a regular visitor, a baby tawny owl, perched on the bench outside Church. I was able to wonder afresh at the spectacular diversity of wildlife this churchyard offers.
"As incoming Vicar I am proud to share in this celebration of what has been achieved by a hard-working team of volunteers, particularly during a national pandemic. I look forward to assisting with implementing the changes needed to be true to the parish’s vision for the churchyard in the future."

Countryside Charity trustee Rosy Eaton said: ‘What really stood out for me about Kettlewell is how reverence and compassion for the natural world is woven into every aspect of the churchyard: the considered planting of the borders with bee and butterfly friendly plants, the quotes carved into wooden plaques, the way long grass, mature trees and wildlife-rich habitats were interspersed throughout the churchyard.

“Even on an overcast damp day the amount and variety of wildlife we saw was fantastic. The sense of peace and opportunities for contemplation were outstanding. The church and local community should be commended on creating an exceptional space where people and wildlife are so nurtured and welcomed.”

The Rev Di Blakey Williams, co-ordinator of the Kettlewell Churchyard Project Group, said: “The group want to say a huge thank you to all in the church and local community who give of their time and energy to tend the churchyard throughout the year.

“The contributions of those who cut and trim the grass, the farmer who cuts and bales the wildflower meadow, the folk who tend the graves of loved ones, those who have planted beds with flowers that attract bees, butterflies and other insects, and the children who have made bird nesting boxes, a hedgehog house and insect homes have together made the churchyard a beautiful and welcoming place in which humans and wildlife can find nurture and peace.

“The judge from The Countryside Charity who visited our churchyard really understood what the churchyard means to us when she said: ‘What really stood out for me…is how reverence and compassion for the natural world is woven into every aspect of the churchyard…the sense of peace and opportunities for contemplation were outstanding.’ It has been a community effort and we are rightly pleased and proud that our churchyard is deemed worthy of this award.”

The churchyards at Giggleswick and Lothersdale were also praised by the judges, who said Giggleswick was “everything you would expect of a churchyard in a beautiful area. Well-developed flora for a limestone area of the Dales well managed and developed by the local community”.

Meanwhile at Lothersdale “moving onto gritstone contrast with the Dales area to the north and has its own developed flora and mature trees. Evidence of much hard work and commitment in this churchyard. A tranquil spot and one I will revisit. Very strong links with flora walks based from the church”.

Charity trustee Dr Morris Charlton said: “It’s been a real privilege to be on the judges’ panel for this competition and visit some really outstanding churchyards throughout August.

“Congratulations and much appreciation to all the volunteers, who have worked so hard, during exceptionally difficult times to ensure that these little havens are so beautiful and tranquil to visit. All of these churchyards have conservation at their core and all should be on a visit list.”

The Rt Rev Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, Bishop of Ripon, said: “Huge congratulations to St Mary’s Kettlewell for this award, and my congratulations also to all those who were shortlisted, including a number from the Ripon Episcopal Area.

“As the winning citation describes, a visit to Kettlewell Churchyard is a truly immersive experience.

“It was a joy to bless the labyrinth and wooden inspiration boards during my visit in September 2020. From those wooden boards, a quote from Mother Julian stands out; “You will not be overcome…all shall be well”.

“In the continued challenges of our current age, I am thankful for a reminder of this wisdom, etched in wood and lived out in the rich habitat that the churchyard is enabling to come to life and flourish. Well done to everyone who has worked so hard to make this valued and now award-winning project to happen.”