Last modified 10 October 2017

Cradley Churchyard Trees

Caring for God's Acre

God's Acre

I like that ancient Saxon phrase, which calls
The burial-ground God's-Acre! It is just;
It consecrates each grave within its walls,
And breathes a benison o'er the sleeping dust.
God's-Acre! Yes, that blessed name imparts
Comfort to those, who in the grave have sown
The seed that they had garnered in their hearts,
Their bread of life, alas! no more their own.
Into its furrows shall we all be cast,
In the sure faith, that we shall rise again...      HW Longfellow

This document is maintained as a web page at and was produced to encourage discussion about the trees at St. James the Great, in particular, which trees should be identified as suitable for surgery and felling to restore the Churchyard to its former open aspect. It is hoped that the outcome will be permission for felling and surgery of the specific trees identified below, via the Archdeacon's Office by way of a faculty (from the Diocesan Chancellor). Trees 9 and 12a, having safety concerns, and tree 6 (minor surgery) may only require Archdeacon's certificates. Planning permission is required from Herefordshire Council as the Churchyard is part of the Cradley conservation zone (TPO_029/A1 designation protected area of 1969 effectively makes all trees present in 1969 subject to TPOs). Work may commence during the winter of 2017/2018, it is hoped that the Churchyard will eventually be restored and the Church be seen again.

The proposed works are, as yet, unfunded but we have volunteers for some of the work and some offers to support the cost of specific tree work. Thus the completion date for the work is unknown.

Church from Brookside 1903Church from Penny Cottage in 1930s
Church from Brookside 1903 Churchyard from Penny Cottage in 1930s
View from Brookside 28 June 2017Church Tower from Penny Cottage 16 June 2017,
showing Cypress 11 obscuring East wall of Church tower.
View from BrooksideTower from Penny Cottage

Application of churchyard regulations, in particular against the planting of inappropriate shrubs, bushes and trees would help to alleviate a recurrance of our tree problems.

Consultation with the Malvern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) has resulted in agreement that the cypresses have come to dominate the landscape and obscure views - they have a negative amenity value. The AONB approve our plans to restore biodiversity (see letter). Professional ecological advice confirms that Cypress trees, being non-native, are not renouned for harbouring wildlife. However, we are providing nest boxes for tits, and coal tits in particular. Goldcrest have been heard and although they do nest in the tips of Cypress the many and large Yew trees will provide sufficient alternatives (if they are not already in the Yews!). Pigeons may also nest in Cypress but they are not seen in the Churchyard in any numbers and can pitch their roosts in many other places. It has also been confirmed that there are no bats to worry about, but we intend to provide bat boxes anyway.

We will also be monitoring the Caring for God's Acre principles and aspects of our restoration plan as the CFGA runs scything courses, including sessions on the setting and sharpening of scythes. There is a new national, funded project, led by CFGA that we will take note of - details available in December 2017.

The felling of trees in churchyards is exempt from Forestry Commission England licence requirements.

The churchwardens have responsibility for overseeing all aspects of the churchyard, including the trees. At Cradley, this responsibility is undertaken by a small sub-committee of the PCC (Mike Hames & Tony Copp), including one of the churchwardens - currently Anne Freeman. Any concerns, or questions about the maintenance of the churchyard or trees should be raised with them and no work should be undertaken without express permission.

All trees that were present in 1969 are subject to Tree Preservation Orders. It is probable that none of the trees recommended for felling in this report were at all significant at that time; heights have been measured (growth rate 1 to 3 feet per year) and the 1999 aerial photograph provides evidence of the fast growth rate.

Statement of needs

The Churchyard has become overcrowded with non-native trees that have been allowed to grow very large and obscure the Church, clock tower, graves, potential burial ground and views across the valley. Some of these trees are putting valuable and desired trees at risk, and at least one is diseased. We need to bring back light to the Churchyard, restore biodiversity, open up the views, preserve desired trees and restore the Churchyard to its former open aspect. None of the trees recommended for felling are required for landscaping, screening, remembrance or commemoration of any event and if they were originally intended as grave memorials then they have completely destroyed those graves.

Planned work and justifications:

Trees not present in 1969 requiring urgent work or minor surgery

  1. remove overhanging branch Ash 9 from the 'hedge' on the boundary with the Old Rectory that is overhanging Irish Yew (F) and interfering with the wire that secures the electricity pole. Crackling and arcing with the electricity supply was witnessed when it was wet and windy and blackend branches show the evidence - the 3-phase wires are not insulated but Western Electric have declined to take out the main branch. Action now would forestall inevitable more serious work later. Our neighbours at The Old Rectory are in favour of this work and replacement planting will be provided in the boundary hedge.
  2. fell silver birch 12a as the base is rotten, as confirmed by two tree professionals. It is reported that "this tree has extensive butt rot with an open cavity on south side. Test probes revealed less than half sound material. There is evidence of Armellaria (Honey fungus) and a significant risk of wind throw. I would recommend that the tree is removed". This tree will be replaced by a resistant species, a Coal Tit box put in the hedge and the rotten bole taken away for burning. Note that the tree surgeon would do tree 6 at the same time.
  3. perform minor surgery on the over-extended branches of the sweet chestnut tree 6 that is interfering with a hornbeam. This would be crown lifting to a max height of 1.7m as advised by professional tree surgeon. These branches continue to produce dead wood and the leaves create significant nuisance to the graves beneath it. Those who tend graves under this tree would rather see it felled, but that is not recommended here.

Trees that would have been insignificant or not present in 1969

Work affecting current burial plots and plans

  1. fell the wire damaged twin stemmed beech 7 in the Eastern boundary hedge. This will help to re-generate the native boundary hedge, which includes 'replacement' of tree 7 with hazel (a potential for dormouse), and removal of the overhanging stem will enable continued use of the ground for new graves.

Work in the upper Churchyard

  1. fell cypresses 3a & 3b. Tree 3a has had surgery on a dead area but continues to be unhealthy. Both trees are ugly and cover a large area of the Churchyard, obscuring a fine memorial cross and the Church as seen from the North. The AONB has budget reserved for us, depending on our application, in 2018/19 to help restore the whole bank currently covered by trees 3a, 3b and 11. We will use the AONB guidelines and a Caring For God's Acre management plan (see hatched magenta bank on map around the Silver Birch).
  2. fell cypress 10. This tree is becoming excessively tall and has a dark wide base covering many graves. A reserved plot under this tree is no longer accessible and the ground will be used for other future plots.
  3. fell cypress 11. This tree is interfering with Irish Yew (F) and obscuring the clock on the Church tower.

Work in the lower Churchyard

  1. fell cypress 4a as recommended by the 2014 report. This tree has become excessively tall, is in a crowded area and obscures English Yew D.
  2. fell cypress 4b. This tree has a large dense base covering many graves and obscures view of the Churchyard from the North.
  3. fell cypress 5. This tree is intruding on the pathway and the Scots Pine that needs more air and water.
  4. fell Sycamore 8 on the boundary with the Coach House that interfering with the Scots Pine that needs more air and water. It is also interfering with the TPO listed Chestnut within Coach House garden - if it taken out later, rather than sooner, then the chestnut may overcompensate and put on too much new weight on the old trunks too quickly. Replacement to be hazel. Our neighbours agree with this plan.

Identification of trees

Map of Churchyard Trees referred to on the map in the 2014 and 2017 tree surveys are numbered with heights in feet, and those referenced from the Yew report have alphabetic references. Names in (brackets) indicate trees that have not been found. Photographs of the trees are at the end of this document; higher resolutions are available via or by request.

History of this report

This document was prepared for discussion with the Churchyard Committee (Working Group) of Cradley PCC and was announced at the PCC meeting of 15 May 2017. Comments from the PCC and Parish Council were invited by 15 June 2017 and this plan was announced in the July edition of the Cradley, Mathon and Storridge Village Newsletter. Users of the Churchyard will have seen tree labels that have QR codes and short web links. The PCC minuted a unaminous vote at the meeting of 5 September 2017 to approve this plan and proceed with Faculty and Conservation Area permissions. Silver Birch 12a was identified in October and and eMail vote taken to approve felling; as at 10 October ten out of 14 members had replied approving the work, none against. This 'consultation' has settled down and we are now (October 2017) applying for the formal Archdeacon, Faculty and Conservation Area Planning permissions.

Tree survey 2014

Work done in the Churchyard since 2014 has been directed by the "Bi-annual tree survey: 7th October 2014" by Mrs Susan Cooper. This has improved the condition of the Churchyard significantly, but the remaining recommendations require formal permissions as the trees are more than 75mm diameter at 1.5m height. The report is copied below, with relevant trees keyed to the map and comments in italics

"Following expressions of concern by parishioners over the summer months, the PCC of St. James the Great invited me to survey the churchyard trees and report on their general health and comment professionally on whether parts of the churchyard are overcrowded with trees.

South side of churchyard:

The Irish yew by the old Rectory wall (E) gives cause for concern. There is evidence of some bleeding at the junction of branches and on the main stem which has become colonised by various micro-fungi; a sample has been taken and will be referred to the RHS for analysis. The tree is not in good health as there is yellowing of the leaves on the south-east side, and part of the tree has died. This does not appear to have been caused by needle infestation as there is no sign of spores. There is noticeable regrowth along branches. There is no other evidence of major fungal infestation. The dead portion of the tree could be removed but in the long term, removal of the whole tree could be necessary. Under the direction of Di Hames as Churchwarden in 2010 Tony Copp took a year to remove ivy and clear the ground from under this tree. The tree has continued to recover since the 2014 report. The report below on Yew Trees provides further detail and this report recommends no further action.

The central yew (A) is certificated as 1200 years old; it has some thinning on the north-east side but is otherwise reasonably healthy. Its condition should be monitored. There is an owl nest here.

The yew by the Village Hall (C) is not in good health; there is considerable yellowing and overall growth is sluggish. There is evidence of needle-cast fungi which may be incidental to the general malaise of the tree. Some reduction of the crown might help it, but its condition should be monitored. This Yew has had significant surgery as recommended and no further action is needed.

The large yew tree to the North of the Village Hall (B) is of similar size to the central one, but has no age certificate. There is considerable die-back in the crown but other branches are showing healthy growth. The tree has been badly pruned in the past. An interfering ground elder has been removed from the North-east edge and the ground underneath is being kept clear and will be spread with compost.

My general recommendation is to continue to monitor the state of these trees; some watering in drought and feeding would be advantageous. Some crown reduction may help in due course.

North side of churchyard:

There is an issue of overcrowding in this area of the churchyard, particularly of cypresses. As a result, many of the gravestones are obscured or inaccessible. My recommendations are:

Remove all elder and other self-sown and unwanted trees and shrubs. The fight against these unwanteds continues...

Remove the large holly bush (1) which appears to be self-sown and is interfering with the central yew tree (D). The damage to the Yew was deemed to be so significant that the holly and elder were removed in 2017. It is expected to take several years for the Yew to show signs of recovery so it is essential that NO FURTHER WORK is done to this Yew.

Prune significantly and shape the large box tree (2). This bush was too large to be pruned and has been cut back. It is now re-growing and further surgery and re-shaping will be needed for the spring of 2018.

Remove the pair of cypresses (3a) to the east of the big birch tree. One of these has a large dead area which may signify a threat to other cypress trees. 3a, 65' triple stemmed, has had surgery but continues to be unhealthy. 3b 47' is double stemmed at the ground level.

Remove the big horizontal branch of the silver birch tree adjacent to the two cypresses. The branch has been removed.

On the lower level of the churchyard remove the 77' cypress tree (4a) next to the pair of birches which is interfering with them, and the 44' cypress (5) next to the large Norway spruce. Tree 4a is very tall; the 45' tree 4b is also unwanted. Cypress 5 is interfering with the Scots Pine which is unhealthy.

Prune the dead branches and do surgery on the over-extended branch of the sweet chestnut tree (6) in the north-east corner which is interfering with a hornbeam. Dead wood was removed in 2016 and there is now further die back under the canopy where we intend to perform surgery. Raising the canopy will help to ameliorate the leaf nuisance.

Remove the twin-stemmed 66' beech tree (7) on the eastern boundary which is leaning inward and has a wire-damaged trunk. Our neighbours have offered to get rid of this unwanted 'hedge' tree.

Given the sensitivity of the churchyard in the minds of parishioners, I would recommend that the PCC publish an explanatory note of the proposed work i.e. this report. The conservation officer and the Archdeacon’s office will need to be informed.

Mrs. Susan Cooper BSc (Hons For.), formerly Forestry Officer, West Suffolk County Council. 6th. October 2014"

2017 tree check

The small Ginko Biloba (Maiden hair) tree by the south wall by the village hall is, apparently, valuable and may become a problem in the future - if it is allowed to mature it will obscure the Village Hall and be 100 foot tall. There is honey fungus along the south wall; ginkgo is on the RHS list of resistant species.

The Snake Bark Maple (planted by Sue Cooper) will need to be pruned back to branch-forks and some branches removed when they interfere with the Church and Yew A in a few years time.

The Sycamore (8) near to the Scots Pine on the boundary of Coach House has branches overhanging the Churchyard and is also interfering with a TPO tree within Coach House garden - our neighbours at Coach House are in favour of this work. The Scots Pine is not thriving and would benefit from felling of the sycamore to give it extra air, as would the listed tree. Dead branches should be removed from the Scots Pine, no permissions required.

There are several ash trees that could have formerly been part of a hedge to the Old Rectory on the slope just below the Church tower. One branch (9) in particular is leaning over the Churchyard.

The 65' Cypress 10 has been identified as a candidate for felling - the canopy covers several graves and has much dead wood in the dark interior. It obscures the view of yew (B).

The 65' Cypress 11 is begining to degrade Irish Yew (F). It totally obscures the clock face as (not) seen from the North.

Pair of 56' Silver Birch trees towards the NE corner by Yew D, 12a has a rotten base and may become unsafe; 12b should remain - it is unlikely to interfere with Yew D but should be monitored for Honey Fungus.

Yew Trees

The "Report on Yew Trees at St James the Great Church, Cradley: Based on a ground level inspection carried out on 28th Sept. 2015" (available HERE with map references) is only precied below to help identify the various trees. Comments have been added in italics.

"I was requested by Miss Freeman to attend at Cradley Church in order to assess the condition of a number of mature yew trees growing in the churchyard of St James the Great and to advise on their condition and future management. I visited the site on 28th September and inspected the trees in the company of Miss Freeman and Mr Mike Hames of the P.C.C. and was shown the four Common yews (Taxus baccata) and one Irish Yew (T. baccata ‘Fastigiata’ ) that are the subject of this report. These have been referred to by the letter A to F (the latter being the Irish Yew).

Tree A central South – (Female) Girth (measured at approx.. 300mm above ground level): 492 cm (157 cm diam.) Height: 11 metres Crown radius approx.. 8 metres. As can be seen, the tree is broad-spreading, wider than it is tall. As is typical of ancient yews, the trunk is hollow, in this case with an opening on the west side so that it is horseshoe-shaped in section. Making allowance for the missing section, the entire (i.e. more or less circular) trunk would have had a girth of about 550 cm. Based on the system developed by John White, ‘Estimating the age of large & Veteran trees in Britain’ (Forestry Research Information note no. FCIN 12, 1998), an approximate age of between 650 and 700 years has been calculated, suggesting that it may date back to the first half of the 1300s.

No special measures are regarded as necessary in the short term. It is however recommended that pedestrian and other traffic under the tree is discouraged in order to ensure that compaction of the soil is not exacerbated.

Soil condition could be improved by applying a mulch of wood chip or similar material under the tree’s canopy. As well as discouraging access this will tend to suppress weed growth, maintain soil moisture levels and will also improve soil texture and fertility.

This tree had unauthorised surgery to the low hanging branches in 2016. For more history see also

Tree B North of Village Hall – (male) Girth (measured at approx.. 400mm above ground level): 601 cm (191 cm diam.) Height: 13.5 metres Crown radius approx. 7.5-8 metres. John White’s methodology for estimating the age of this tree places it at between 962 and 1002 years old, suggesting that it pre-dates the Norman invasion in 1066. This approximate age accords with earlier estimates although, under the protocols of the Ancient Yew Group its girth, being less than 7 metres, is below that which would categorize it as ‘Ancient’ while its presumed age places it firmly within ‘ancient’ camp. This is no place to go into the vexed question of how the age of yews is best assessed, but my own feeling is that this tree must legitimately be regarded as truly ancient notwithstanding its (relatively) small girth.

It would be helpful if the condition of the rooting environment could be improved as this is likely to increase vigour and so improve crown condition and canopy density. It is therefore recommended that a layer of woodchip mulch be applied, ideally to the full extent of the canopy and to a depth of 8-10 cm (4-6 inches). Prior to its application, weed growth in the area should be removed, preferably by hand. (The use of herbicides is not advised. However, in extremis, the stumps of persistent woody weeds may be treated by the careful application of a suitable herbicide to their freshly cut surfaces, taking great care to ensure that none of the chemical comes into contact with the soil.)

Note: Numerous shoots showed swellings at their tips comprised of tight clusterings of needles, as shown left. These are ‘Artichoke Galls’, caused by a small midge Taxomyia taxi. They are very common on yews but cause the trees no significant harm.

Tree C by village Hall – (male) Girth (measured at approx.. 1.5 m above ground level): 306 cm (97.5 cms diam.) Height: 12 metres Crown radius approx. between 6 and 10 metres. A significantly younger tree, estimated to be about 275 years, structurally it appears to be sound and generally good. This tree has been recently reduced as it is so close to the village hall.

Tree D North central – (Female) Girth (measured at approx.. 1.5 m above ground level): 305 cm (97 cms diam.) Height: 12.5 metres Crown radius approx. 8 metres. Based on trunk size this tree is roughly contemporary with tree C. However it has assumed a very different form with a wide-spreading canopy with branches arching down, some touching the ground.

Its condition is good and it requires no significant attention at this time. Although in this relatively out of the way location its low, spreading form appears not to be problematic and its natural form should be encouraged as far as possible, some careful tipping-back would be acceptable, for instance on the eastern side where graves have recently been established and access is likely to be wanted for their maintenance.

Tree E – Irish Yew Multi-stemmed; Height approx.. 10 metres. Crown radius approx.. 2.5m An acceptable specimen with no major defects. A bare patch is present on the south-east side of the tree where I understand some vigorous ivy growth was removed. However the exposed stems are producing new shoots and it is anticipated that this area will green over in due course. Some slight yellowing of the foliage was also noted: this was not regarded as significant at this time although it should be monitored to ensure it doesn’t worsen.

A few shoots that have broken out and protrude from the generally upright crown should be cut away, but no further action is deemed necessary at this time. The protuding branches are to be left to remind everyone what happens when we neglect our heritage!

Appendices - not included here."


The Churchyard growing over the years
1999 2005
Churchyard 1999 Churchyard 2005
2007 2009
Churchyard 2007 Churchyard 2009
Tree map
Map of Churchyard
1 Holly
12 May 2017, in Yew D 7 October 2014
1-Holly 1-Holly
2 Box with Cypress 4b, 12 May 2017
3a,b Cypress
12 May 2017looking South 12 May 2017
3-Cypress 3-Cypress
7 October 2014 
4 Cypresses
12 May 2017 Cypress 4b with taller lighter 4a behindlooking South 12 May 2017, cypress 4b on left
4-Cypress 4-Cypress
5 Cypress
12 May 2017, with Scots Pine on left7 October 2014
5-Cypress 5-Cypress
6 Sweet Chestnut 12 May 20177 Beech 12 May 2017
6-SweetChestnut 7-Beech
8 Sycamore 12 June 20179 Ash 12 June 2017
8-Sycamore 9-Ash
10 Cypress 19 June 201711 Cypress, taken from Ash 9 with Irish Yew on left, 19 June 2017
10-Cypress 11-Cypress
12a Silver Birch
showing entrance to rotten base cavity
2 October 2017
12a Silver Birch 
12a Silver Birch Hole 
A English Yew
7 October 20147 October 2014
B English Yew 7 October 2014B
C English Yew is by village hall 
D English Yew, See 1-Holly 
E Irish Yew
7 October 20147 October 2014
7 October 2014