Many aspiring bird watchers will visit local nature reserves to catch a glimpse of the UK’s common and rarer species. These reserves are limited in number, and you may have to travel a significant distance or pay an entrance fee to wander the site in search of the next species on your list. Now what if you could observe a variety of local wildlife, and not just birds a mere 10 or 15 minutes away? For free?
The Beautiful Burial Grounds project (funded by the National Lottery) aims to do just that, by evaluating the thousands of burial grounds all across Britain. The project will use citizen scientists to record not only the wildlife present on these sites, but also monuments and historical buildings that have so far gone unnoticed.
The sheer volume of wildlife in these churchyards may surprise you, they can contain hundreds of lichen species, amphibians, voles, bees, bats, badgers, snakes and lizards, invertebrates like stag beetles and a great variety of flora.
Back in 2010 Emma Cepek produced a short video called "Beyond the Grave" and proposed that cemeteries today can be “vital habitats in urban areas”. Looking specifically at Manchester’s southern cemetery, it is a haven for wildlife, an area that is less intensively managed that much of today’s remaining countryside. It is estimated that there is approximately 7,000 hectares of cemeteries in England alone. This is due in part to the larger municipal cemeteries, locations that can feature trees and habitat hundreds of years old. Most importantly, these areas represent habitat that has not been separated into tiny pieces through fragmentation.
The Beautiful Burial Grounds project seeking to evaluate these cemeteries is being run by the Caring for Gods Acre, although many other organisations are getting involved across the country. The end goal of this project is to create an interactive map that you will be able to use to find local sites and check sightings in your area. There will also be days specifically for people and families coping with mental-health issues or disabilities, even the blind can learn to identify a bird by its song.
If you decide you want to get involved in this or similar projects, contact your local botany or wildlife groups! They are always on the look-out for more volunteers.
For more information visit: https://www.hlf.org.uk/about-us/news-features/hidden-heritage-burial-grounds-be-revealed
Video Link if wanted: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11546089
Green Roofs and Living Walls are growing increasingly popular and are being implemented in developments of all kinds. Extensive research has identified numerous benefits of ‘external greening’ including increased water retention (lowering run-off from developments which can cause high flow and flooding issues), building and urban temperature regulation (heat retention in winter and a cooling effect in winter) leading to reduced energy use and costs, improved air quality (some types of vegetation also trap “PM10” pollutant particles) and improved aesthetics and health benefits including a greater sense of well- being for inhabitants, users and visitors. There is also potentially a significant ecological benefit to be achieved from these, particularly if care and attention is applied to choosing the correct mix and type of vegetation. Large areas of useful habitat for insects, birds and bats can be created by incorporating these features, which not only benefits the local ecosystem, but also increases the likelihood of planning approval.
Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire has implemented a green roof of 2.4ha with a tussock-type species rich grassland, specifically designed to provide suitable habitat for skylark (Alauda arvensis) These are ground-nesting birds that are of the uppermost conservation priority (UK red list). Post development monitoring will be a long-term process, but early signs look promising with multiple pairs of skylark successfully breeding in this newly created habitat.
Some UK developments are now including community food growing areas and wildlife garden spaces “for people to get together, encouraging community cohesion” and to “support local priorities for reducing health inequalities” (Building with Nature). These of course will also provide foraging opportunities for many species. Linear features running through developments are also desirable and are now often implemented, enabling connectivity with existing adjacent habitats, minimising fragmentation of valuable habitat. There seems to be a positive move towards a ‘green infrastructure-led’ approach to landscape and urban design where existing ecological and sustainability features are of central importance and are incorporated intelligently to create beautiful homes and spaces with minimal impact on existing wildlife, water systems and our natural resources.
Building with Nature:
https://www.buildingwithnature.org.uk/ (Case studies)
Living Roofs and Walls Technical Report: Supporting London Plan Policy: https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/living-roofs.pdf
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