Cemeteries and churchyards aren’t just for the dead. As their permanent residents eternally slumber, life still goes on above them and it can be a rich and varied diversity.
Over the last two or there years, when I’ve been out exploring and in churchyards in particular, I have noticed areas within them that are allowed to grow freely without being troubled by a passing mower or scythe.
However, after the start of the first lockdown in 2020, every green space looked like a wild place as in the East cemetery at Frindsbury in Kent when grass cutting appeared to have halted in mid cut!
These ‘wild places’ attract butterflies, bees, moths and wildflowers amongst others. In central London. and in the Magnificent Seven’s Brompton and Kensal Green cemeteries in particular, there are large swathes of the untrimmed and unkempt (according to some visitors). These are teeming with caterpillars, grasshoppers and dragonflies to name a few. To be in Kensal Green’s meadow area on a warm, sunny July day is a memorable experience.
In June 2020, All Saints in Snodland, Kent had a fabulous area of ox eye daisies and a pair of mating damselflies in an untrimmed area. In Brompton, the bright splashes of colour of wild peas, ragwort, Ladies Bedstraw amongst others are a contrast to the much more sombre memorials and monuments. In July 2021, one area was a mass of Ox eye daisies. But do take care. An area of long grass and wildflowers can often hide the edges of graves and memorials so make sure tread carefully.
My local church, St Margaret’s in Rochester, planted a wildflower meadow this year. It was cordoned off from the rest of the churchyard which is mainly grass with the tombstones ranged along the wall that faces the River Medway. In the Spring it was full of yellow buttercups and the blue of speedwell. In the summer it was the turn of yarrow and poppies and the Beautiful Burial Grounds Project made a visit to record what was there. This is a project that runs until December 2022 and I have submitted wildlife records to them. When you think of it, cemeteries and churchyards are ideal places for wildlife as they are quiet places where they are unlikely to be disturbed and so can flourish.
However, there are those who see the wild places as untidy and perhaps not really in keeping with a place of the dead. But I always explain to them that cemeteries are also about life; not just everlasting life but also about real life and helping biodiversity. They may go away thinking ‘ that’s all very well but it does look very untidy and perhaps the dust needs to come off their lawnmower’ but they may equally go away thinking ‘What a good idea, perhaps I could try it at home.’
I have tried it at home and the variety of insects that I attract into my back garden is proof of how a wild place can help wildlife thrive despite what the neighbours may think about the ‘untidiness’….
© Text and photos Carole Tyrrell