Monday, 20 February 2017

Falmouth Cemetery: a haven for wildlife

Possibly the last population in Cornwall of the Red-girdled
Mining bee lives and nests in Falmouth cemetery.

When I discovered the old parts of Falmouth cemetery on a casual walk in 2014 I had no idea of its importance as a sanctuary for wildlife. It was clear that there had been minimal maintenance for quite some time. The County Council was responsible for the general upkeep but maintenance of the graves and monuments was the responsibility of the family. Clearly many had been left by the families to go back to Nature. As a result Falmouth had been left a legacy that contained a wide variety of wildlife.

The small copper butterfly has declined by 75% in urban

locations between 1995 - 2014. Another important

species found in the cemetery.

For the past two years I have been recording the species of wild bees to be found in the cemetery. While some species can be found elsewhere in Falmouth the scarcer ones seem limited to both living and nesting in the cemetery. Many solitary bees species only forage short distances from their nests, usually a distance of about 50-200 meters depending on the size of each species. So far I have discovered 37 species of solitary bees within the cemetery, some are rare or scare both nationally and in Cornwall.

Newly emerged Queen Red-tailed bumblebee. Raised in a nest
in Falmouth cemetery she visited nearby flowers to build her
reserves before hibernating

The key element why the old parts of the cemetery is able to support such a rich variety of wildlife are the range of wildflowers that grow in the cemetery. From early spring to late autumn they provide both nectar and pollen. The fact that the ground is largely undisturbed also benefits ground nesting species such as most bumblebees. 

The value of these parts of the cemetery to both wildlife and the local community is clearly something to be safeguarded. For this reason I have written the document you can download below. It is a guide to some of the species that can be found there together with an overview of the ecology. 

While compiling my records for the old parts of the cemetery responsibility for its maintenance passed from Cornwall County Council to Falmouth Town Council. This brought about substantial changes in the way in the way the cemetery is managed. As a response I included a section on maintenance and its importance in ensuring the conservation of the wildlife in the cemetery. Having received a reply from the town council to an earlier draft I have now revised the maintenance section to reflect this.

It is my hope that this will open a debate on how best to manage the cemetery. The maintenance changes are significantly changing both the character of the old parts of the cemetery and its value to wildlife. The degree to which these are desirable are open to discussion. It is important that as many voices as possible are heard in deciding its future.

The current document should be seen as an introduction to the cemetery's biodiversity. During this year I hope to be adding more records to the list of species. I also hope to build a better picture of its butterfly species and also include hoverflies. As its flora plays such a vital part in its ecology I hope to build a seasonal list of its wildflowers. This blog will keep you up to date with my progress.

If you have any photos of wildlife in Falmouth that you would like to share you can be post them on the Falmouth Nature Facebook page or to Twitter including @FalmouthNature.

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