Cemeteries become havens for British wildlife

Cemeteries can provide a peaceful place for nature to thrive and us to enjoy in the city.

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Many cemeteries across the country are unspoilt havens, providing peaceful resting places. But these hidden habitats are also perfect places for wildlife to thrive.

Cemeteries can act as a sanctuary in urbanised areas, as they are not as intensely managed as other urban green spaces, attracting birds, wildflowers and elusive mammals,.

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Southern Cemetery in Manchester is managed to encourage wildlife and, according to Natural England, will receive the official title of a nature reserve. It is one of ten planned nationwide. The cemetery keepers have stopped mowing the grass around the very old headstones to encourage wild flowers. There are pathways cut to allow access to graves that are visited more regularly. The council has been working with local wildlife groups to survey the area’s natural activity.

Ecologist professor Philip James from Salford University said, “Cemeteries were created by enclosing countryside often containing species-rich grassland, heathland, and woodland,”

“[These are] habitats that have disappeared elsewhere in the city as other land around the cemetery have been built on for housing or business.”

Highgate Cemetery in London is full of trees, shrubbery and wild flowers, all grown without human influence. This has attracted an array of wildlife to the haven such as birds and foxes. This English Heritage site is the resting place of many famous occupants such as philosopher Karl Marx.

Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bristol embraces local wildlife as a Site of Nature Conservation Interest (SNCI). Events such as bat and owl walks and guided tours during both day and night are held in its 45 acres. Funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLD) has been awarded to the cemetery along with Nunhead Cemetary in London, which is a local nature reserve.

Southampton Old Cemetery preserves wildlife through an enclosure and a strimming regime, which allows flowers to mature and seed before being cut.

Exeter, Devon, is home to St Bartholomew’s Cemetery, which has had recent help from a local primary school to increase wildlife potential. The Devon Wildlife Trust joined with St David’s Primary school to plant thousands of flowers. At the site you can spot horseshoe bats roosting in the catacombs, and peregrine falcons overhead.

There are many examples of wildlife exclusively being found in cemetery grounds such as Peterborough that has the largest population of meadow saxifrage in Cambridgeshire. Morden Cemetery has the only green winged orchids in the whole of London, and The Rosary in Norwich has heather and wood speedwell which survive from the days when the site was heathland lying outside the city.

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