VILLAGERS concerned at the untidy state of an historic Dartmoor village churchyard have formed a community group to improve it and reduce the distress of relatives of those buried there.

The rapidly increasing costs of cutting the grass round the graves and along the paths of Princetown Churchyard have led to the creation of a charitable group of trustees to look after it.

A public meeting to tell residents about the new group last week recruited about 20 members who signed up to a contact list.

The Princetown Churchyard Maintenance Fund has a charter, bank account and core panel of trustees to help organise work schedules and funds.

Mark Williams, group chairman, told the villager’s gathered at the public meeting in the Prince of Wales pub: ‘Thank you very much for coming. It’s very encouraging to see so many of you and shows what we already knew, that a lot of people care about the churchyard.

‘The churchyard is valued by so many, that’s obvious. But it’s in a sad state at the moment and the aim of this group is to help support and maintain the grounds in a safe and presentable manner, so we can visit our friends, family and loved ones who are buried there.’

Gregg Manning, founding group member, explained that under an arrangement by the former rector at Walkhampton, a new benefice was formed, incorporating six operating churches and one non-operating church - St Michael’s in Princetown with its churchyard that still accepts burials. However, the responsibility for maintaining the grass cutting and paths was informally taken on by Dartmoor Forest Parish Council - until it realised costs were not affordable and discovered it did not have formal mantenance duties. The parochial church council maintains the trees, gates and walls.

Mr Manning, also parish council chairman, said: ‘With escalating costs of insurance and fuel for mowers, we could not afford to continue. The rules also say we cannot receive payment to do the work. So we formed this group to allow us to carry out the what we think everyone wants and deserves, to have a beautiful churchyard which we are proud of and is fitting for people who go to pay their respects and for visitors to see the prisoners of war graves from the French wars and American War of Independence.’

Garry Easton, group member, said a wildflower area dedicated as a memorial to the late Queen was among the plans, but it would mean allowing grass to grow long.

The Rev Andrew Thomas, Rector of the West Dartmoor Mission Community said: ‘The parochial church council (PCC) is very happy to work with this new working party within the legal realms and constraints that are in force. As to the future, the PCC will happily consider donating a contribution to the working party’s finances. However this was from a limited legacy fund used for maintenance and is shrinking. Once this fund ends, the subject of the long term maintenance and upkeep of the churchyard will arise again.’

The new group has a Face -book page called Princetown-Churchyard-Maintenance-Fund for anyone wanting to support their work.