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Why does Heene Cemetery look the way it does?

Heene Cemetery is designated a Sussex Site of Nature Conservation Importance, and is managed as a nature reserve, with consideration for the need to maintain access to the graves and to treat them with due respect. Read why neatness and tidiness do not encourage wildlife, or provide for its needs…

Carefully planned conservation strategies

Heene Cemetery is designated a Sussex Site of Nature Conservation Importance, and is managed as a nature reserve, with consideration for the need to maintain access to the graves and to treat them with due respect.

It has been described by visitors as ‘neglected’ and ‘overgrown’, but whilst these were deserving descriptions during the time when there was no regular maintenance, these terms are not appropriate now.

Since the formation of the Friends of Heene Cemetery (FoHC) in November 2015 the cemetery has been visited twice a week by a team of volunteer conservationists, and its current appearance is a direct consequence of carefully planned conservation strategies to establish an urban wildlife ecosystem.

It doesn’t look neat and tidy because neatness and tidiness do not encourage wildlife, or provide for its needs.

By sensitive maintenance and the absence of unnecessary disturbance the FoHC have created a wildlife reservoir in themidst of the Worthing urban area.

Natural terrestrial ecosystems

In the past many foreign and cultivated plants have been introduced into the cemetery, as well as into local gardens, and these are not favoured by our native wildlife. In future only native plants will be grown because they form the basis of the natural terrestrial ecosystems in this country.

Our grasses, for example, are characteristic of unimproved old meadows, so instead of cutting them short as though they constituted a lawn, they are encouraged to grow to their full height because they are valuable food plants for the caterpillars of many native butterflies and moths.

Stinging Nettles and Brambles are also important caterpillar and other invertebrate food plants, and also provide cover for invertebrates, small mammals, and birds. Birds will not nest, nor will other animals raise young, if there is insufficient cover. Stick and log piles serve a similar purpose, especially for reptiles, and for amphibians that need cool, moist places.

Disturb the soil as little as possible

We try to disturb the soil as little as possible, especially in areas between graves. The organisms that maintain soil fertility live at different depths, and digging disrupts their natural cycles of activity.

By sensitive maintenance and the absence of unnecessary disturbance the FoHC have created a wildlife reservoir in the midst of the Worthing urban area.

From the cemetery wildlife populations are able to radiate outwards into local gardens, where one hopes they will find a similar environment if enlightened garden owners choose to emulate the FoHC team in the way they use natural minimal gardening techniques and the planting of only native species.

It is traditional that cemeteries show respect for the past. The work being undertaken at Heene acknowledges this with sensitivity whilst encouraging visitors to pause and think about the future as well.

Written by Brian Day