The first thing most people think when they hear the word cemetery is well, dead things. But apart from the obvious role of a cemetery, they are often thriving and full of life. Many historic cemeteries that were established in the Victorian period were created as Garden Cemeteries. They had a range of carefully chosen plants to enhance the look of the cemetery to invoke a botanic garden feel. Here is just a small section of Arnos Vale Cemetery showing a range of trees planted in the Victorian period including Irish Yew, cherry, Laurel, Beech and Western Red Cedar.
However when these sites became unloved, overcrowded and neglected, the previously carefully managed planting began to run riot. In Arnos Vale Cemetery the trees that were grafted with ash began to merrily spread their seeds. All these spindly trees are ash or sycamore.
This means that many of the young trees are ash that grow out of cracks in graves and in the spaces between. Their roots pull up stones, widen cracks and generally cause damage. Bramble and ivy can also be invasive though a covering of foliage can protect stones from pollution. Although plants can damage old graves and memorials, these overgrown and neglected places are homes for all sorts of life.
Its hard to find the balance between caring for a historic environment and ensuring green spaces are available for people and wildlife. It is clear that in busy urban spaces, our native wildlife need historic cemeteries to survive. Butterflies and moths need bramble and nettle for their caterpillars to feed and thrive. Our wonderful native bats need moths to sustain them. Foxes, hedgehogs and badgers need cover to hunt invertebrates and small mammals. Once answer is a landscape management plan which includes flora and fauna surveys, cutting and clearing plans and takes an overarching view of the site as a whole.
So next time you are in a cemetery or graveyard, stop and listen and look around. You might hear the call of a sparrow hawk, spot the footprints of a deer or a badger or see the beauty of a butterfly sunning itself on a gravestone.
All pictures in this blog were taken by Super Funky Penguin Photography