Council rewilding leaves families unable to find graves

Officials in Bournemouth adopted a rewilding policy after declaring a climate emergency in 2019
Officials in Bournemouth adopted a rewilding policy after declaring a climate emergency in 2019 - BNPS

A council rewilding project has left grieving families unable to find the graves of their loved ones as grass and flowers have become overgrown in graveyards.

Officials in Bournemouth adopted a rewilding policy after declaring a climate emergency in 2019.

They say letting the grass grow in public spaces helps tackle climate change and improve conditions for wildlife by encouraging biodiversity and habitats for pollinators.

The grass in graveyards looked after by Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) council is 4ft tall in places and covers headstones, residents said.

Complaints have been made about the unkempt state of Branksome Cemetery
Complaints have been made about the unkempt state of Branksome Cemetery - BNPS

Nichola Roberts, 62, said she was left in tears as she was unable to find where her grandparents and great-grandparents are buried at a cemetery in Christchurch.

She also witnessed an elderly widow almost fall over after becoming disorientated searching for her late husband’s grave through the vegetation.

There have been complaints from relatives that the rewilding policy is disrespectful to those buried in the council-run cemeteries and they want the grass mowed.

But BCP council said that the long grass “adds to the tranquillity” of the cemeteries.

Widow ‘nearly fell’

Mrs Roberts maintains the family grave alone at Christchurch Cemetery.

She said: “I was in tears. There’s a lovely little lady who’s desperately looking for her husband’s grave and she couldn’t find it and then she nearly fell.

“There’s graves that have sunk and the holes opened so if you get in one of those, you would go flying and maybe hit a headstone.

“A cemetery should be a place where your family graves are accessible and it’s not. It’s disrespectful to them.”

Kay Leach travelled 70 miles from Bristol to visit her parents’ and grandparents’ graves in Hamworthy, but was unable to cut through the grass to reach them.

Mrs Leach’s father, Peter Irven, died in September 2023 and is buried alongside his parents and his wife, Helen, at St Michael’s Church where the grass is meant to be cut by the church.

Mrs Leach said: “I used to live in Hamworthy and I would walk past that grave every day to go to school, back and forth and I have never seen it in such a bad state.

“I think it’s wholly disrespectful. I couldn’t stand by the grave and I had to get my husband to walk all over it and lay the flowers that we bought because I physically couldn’t get there.”

Complaints have also been made about the unkempt state of Branksome Cemetery and Poole Cemetery.

BCP Council, which has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2030, has signed up to the green initiative “let it grow”, leading to grass in public areas being cut less often.

The authority said it had adopted a balance between “rewilding” for older gravestones and “short tidy grass” for newer parts of the cemeteries.

‘Focus on the bereaved’

A spokesman for BCP council said: “To promote biodiversity and improve conditions for wildlife, some areas of grass throughout the BCP area are not cut during the summer, including some areas within cemeteries and churchyards.

“The wildlife this attracts adds to the tranquillity of the place.

“Some residents favour short tidy grass, especially around their loved one’s resting place, and we have adopted a balance between rewilding the older parts of our cemeteries, where the gravestones have been in place for more than 100 years and visitors are less likely to attend.

“Our focus across all of our cemeteries and churchyards is on the needs of the bereaved.”

They added: “Although the grounds maintenance budget at BCP council has been reduced, the declared 2019 climate and ecological emergency remains a very important consideration.”

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