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International Day of Biodiversity

International Day of Biodiversity 2021 is celebrated by the Convention of Biological Diversity.

International Day of Biodiversity 2021 is celebrated by the Convention of Biological Diversity.

Their slogan for this year is “We’re part of the solution For Nature”.

Friends of Heene Cemetery volunteers are striving to maintain this acre of green space, in an urban area, as a place for Nature.

Where did it all go wrong?

In the late 19th century, when the Victorians moved into Worthing, they brought in fashionable, ‘exotic’ foreign and cultivated trees, shrubs and flowering-plants.

This was to display attractive flowers and foliage, and provide shade for visitors.

There were few concerns about declining populations of wildlife in urban areas, or indeed in the countryside. 

Worthing’s private gardens were often planted with horticultural plants which are not native to the area.

These were unfamiliar to wildlife and unsuitable in that they did not provide the habitat and food resources that our native species have evolved to depend upon.

In Victorian times wildlife began to retreat from urban green spaces.

Traditional garden maintenance, as it developed during the 20th century, became more and more hostile to wildlife, and wild populations declined in the countryside because of pressure from an expanding human population; habitat loss through overdevelopment; pollution of soil, water courses, and atmosphere; chemical poisoning from herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides; and invasion by vigorous, non-native plant species;

The potential of a large number of urban gardens as wildlife refuges desperately need to be recognised and utilised lest our urban areas become devoid of once familiar birds, butterflies, and other wildlife.

International Day of Biodiversity “We’re part of the solution For Nature”.

International Day of Biodiversity “We’re part of the solution For Nature”

The natural maintenance techniques used in the management of Heene Cemetery have now become an important model for Worthing’s garden owners to emulate if wildlife is to return to the town’s green spaces. 

The organisms in soil communities are vital to establish food chains and maintain soil fertility.  Different organisms live and function at different depths, so unnecessary soil disturbance disrupts these communities and therefore reduces soil quality and fertility.

Many other aspects of traditional urban garden maintenance are of little or no benefit to wildlife, such as manicured lawns; paths, paving, and decking that restrict aeration and drainage, and cover soil; and incessant tidiness that means an absence of cover for large numbers of small vulnerable species vital to food chains, and the denial of natural recycling by fungi and other decomposing agents. 

Grasses are left to grow to maturity as this will encourage female butterflies to lay their eggs.

Similarly, the much-despised nettles and brambles are important caterpillar food plants, and unless we tolerate them those butterflies will continue to decline.

In many areas, plant debris is left to be dealt with by nature.

Thus ensuring the healthy population of microorganisms, fungi, and invertebrates

This distinguishes Heene Cemetery from a typical urban garden.

International Day of Biodiversity “We’re part of the solution For Nature” take a look at what Heene Cemetery is doing. Blog | Friends of Heene Cemetery

A maintenance programme to favour and encourage native plants is now the mainstay of the restoration work.

Garden owners have a choice

Garden owners have a choice.  Either they have a neat and tidy garden, or they have wildlife.  They can’t have both.

It is the aim of the Friends of Heene Cemetery that the reservoir of native species that is now thriving in the cemetery should be the source of migration of wildlife to neighbouring gardens and beyond.

This is not just ecologically desirable, but essential if we are to reverse the dramatic decline in our urban wildlife communities. 

Sadly, many UK butterfly and bird species are declining due to climate change.

The more our gardens resemble countryside rather than personal aesthetic ideals the more wildlife they will attract. 

Gardens full of foreign and cultivated plants are high in their maintenance requirements.

Whereas native plants look after themselves, as they are in their natural environment, subject to natural checks and balances. 

An all native garden is one of mutual dependency; all you have to do is sit back and enjoy it.

No chemicals of any kind are used in the cemetery, and soil disturbance is avoided as far as possible.

We have but a short time to change our ways and manage our gardens to priortise wildlife.

If nature does not become our priority, our gardens will become barren, silent sentinels that can never be reclaimed.

This article has used many relevant quotes, by Brian Day, from The Role of Heene Cemetery published in November 2020.

Sue Standing