‘Sensitive’ Sidmouth Cemetery management aims to please ‘as many people as possible’

PUBLISHED: 08:00 11 September 2020 | UPDATED: 09:05 11 September 2020

Sidmouth cemetery. Picture: Denise Bickley

Sidmouth cemetery. Picture: Denise Bickley

Denise Bickley

More details have been announced about the new management plan for Sidmouth Cemetery, drawn up in response to complaints about its overgrown state.

A reader's photo showing weeds almost covering some graves at Sidmouth Cemetery. Picture: Trevor HeynesA reader's photo showing weeds almost covering some graves at Sidmouth Cemetery. Picture: Trevor Heynes

There was particular concern about the older, lower part of the cemetery, which had been left to ‘rewild’ this year, a process accelerated by lockdown.

Sidmouth town councillor Jenny Ware told the Herald she felt ‘heartbroken’ when she visited her mother’s grave at the end of July and found it overgrown with weeds, grasses and ragwort.

East Devon District Council said it understood the need to ‘get the balance right between managed rewilding and the needs of friends and family visiting graves’.

The council’s Street Scene team has been working with district and town councillor, Denise Bickley, with input from Cllr Ware, to come up with a suitable plan.

Overgrown grass and weeds at Sidmouth Cemetery. Picture:Jenny WareOvergrown grass and weeds at Sidmouth Cemetery. Picture:Jenny Ware

Cllr Bickley said: “There is a strong feeling locally that the area needs to be managed far more sensitively.

“We have been working on a plan to please as many people as possible – relatives, environmentalists and visitors alike.”

She accepted that some people find the coarser long grasses ‘unsightly’, but added: “To others they are beautiful, and the wildlife thriving lends a different type of spirituality.

“We know that keeping areas such as this cropped short is highly damaging to wildlife, (we have seen an 80 per cent decline in insect species and numbers for example) and is no longer the approach that councils must take.

“We are proud of the plan that we have developed and hope that in years to come the area will become renowned for excellent management, beautiful flowers and flourishing wildlife, as well as a very peaceful resting place for families to visit.”

Under the new plan there will be measures to control the coarse grasses in the cemetery and encourage wildflowers to grow in their place.

The newer top area of the cemetery will be cut every five or six weeks during the growing season. In the lower area the grass will be cut at the end of this month and sections will be exposed to bare soil, where native wildflowers will be sown. At the start of the growing season next spring, the area will be cut again.

Throughout the growing season, pathways and edgings will be cut at the same time as the top area, and headstones that are visited regularly will also have paths tidied and the front of the plot cut.

There will be an information board explaining the management scheme, and giving a website and phone number for reporting a grave that needs tidying.

Cllr Bickley said there are also plans to create a ‘Friends of Sidmouth Cemetery Group’ to help with maintenance and ‘really give the cemetery a looked after feeling’. Anyone interested in joining should email sidvalleybiodiversity@yahoo.com

The Sid Valley Biodiversity Group has been surveying the plants and animals seen at the cemetery this year, and will continue monitoring the differences caused by the management plan.

The group sees the cemetery as an important link with the Knapp community nature reserve and the wider countryside, in keeping with the national plan for ‘nature recovery networks’ that allow the natural movement of animals, insects, seeds, nutrients and water.

Cllr Jenny Ware welcomed the new approach to cemetery management.

She said: “We hope that if a good compromise can be reached which can give families a peaceful sanctuary to care for loved ones’ graves, whilst encompassing nature at the same time, it will be a very positive outcome.”


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