A recent volunteer task at Larpool Cemetery, Whitby coincided with #GreatBigGreenWeek, a celebration of environmental action. A band of committed helpers from the Whitby Naturalists’ Club put in some hard graft to rake and gather up the hay to help the parks department with its trial management regime.
The cemetery has some good areas of unimproved grassland with a promising diversity of native wildflower species. If one can successfully change the management regime from regular short mowing / strimming to a once-a-year cut like a traditional hay meadow, then these flora can better thrive, bloom and provide a valuable habitat and a great resource for pollinators. The tricky bit is collecting up the grass after it is cut.
This is the second year of us leaving a portion of the Larpool Cemetery to grow out for the summer – an area of older burials which do not need to be kept accessible to regular visitors to the graves. The relative sparsity of headstones in that section also lends itself to managing in a hay-cut fashion as it gives more options for the machinery one can try using. The parks department at Scarborough Borough Council, which maintains the cemetery has included this meadow management trial in a series of experimental changes to mowing regimes at sites across the borough.
The challenge for the council is that doing this effectively is that the collection and removal of cuttings is central for success. If otherwise left the bulky green material mulches back into the soil, favouring grasses over wildflowers. Unfortunately removing the long cut grass requires specialist machinery or a lot of manual labour.
Without the capability for fully mechanised cut and collect of such long swards it leaves us with a challenge. I’ve written about the complexities of local authority grassland management elsewhere on the blog in some detail and with useful links to further reading.
Huge thanks go to the dedicated volunteers who helped us with managing this wildflower meadow area in Whitby Cemetery by raking and bagging up for the parks vehicles to pick up and take away as green waste. Operatives were able to finish off cutting and clearing the remaining area afterward but 10 dedicated volunteers achieved a tremendous amount in the course of a few hours of toil.
Our parks team leader for the Whitby area was mightily impressed by the thorough job. They filled thirteen rammed-full builders’ dumpy bags with cuttings. We hope the meadow will respond well next season with a good show of flowers among the meadow grasses. The Whitby Nats are planning a wildflower walk for their members and volunteers to inspect it next spring. Fingers crossed.
This is a great example of community input to the council’s conservation management trials across the borough. Once the benefits of the extra effort are apparent – and the longer, less-tidy but more nature-friendly appearance of such sites is demonstrated to borough residents and visitors alike we hope to roll out the approach to more areas.
There are, of course, still challenges (again, as I’ve set out elsewhere). It is my hope that we can make a strong enough business case to invest in specialist cut and collect machines to do this at scale. Maybe with the local government re-organisation on the horizon (LGR announcement on BBC news website), there is a better chance to invest in such tech for the new unitary authority.