When the lockdown was announced on March 23rd 2020, the cemetery closed its visitor centre and cafe, from that moment on, the only formal activity that was permitted was the occasional burial with an associated, suitably distanced, chapel service. The work of the cemetery’s Heritage team and also the Friends association came to a halt as almost all the activities planned for 2020 were initially suspended and ultimately cancelled.
When the cemetery first opened in 1848, (the original company was known as the Plymouth, Devonport and Stonehouse Cemetery Company), the directors of the company wanted the grounds to be available, not just as a place of burial, but also as a place of recreation, a place where Plymothians could walk and even picnic in peaceful and pleasant surroundings.
The current Board of Trustees are keen to maintain this philosophy especially during this difficult time, when we all need activities to lift our spirits and aid our wellbeing. So, apart from a short period of time during 2020, the grounds have remained open to the public.
As the seasons progress, there is so much to enjoy in the peace and quiet of the 34.5 acre grounds. For example, the cemetery regularly records as many as 23 different species of butterfly, which is over a third of the total species of the UK. Species such as Marbled White can be seen in summer floating over the grounds. They benefit from the nectar sources provided by such plants as Black Knapweed which we have in abundance.
The cemetery is also a place to enjoy a wealth of birdsong in the Spring. Migrating birds such as the Firecrest use the cemetery in autumn as a kind of service station feeding up before continuing their journey south because the cemetery is also home to a variety of insects. For example the Great Green Bush-cricket is the UK’s largest insect. Measuring up to 55mm in length, it is restricted in its range to areas of the south and south-west. Its loud song, likened to a sewing machine, can be heard on warm afternoons and evenings from July to early October. Also one of our favourite insects is the Fat-legged Flower Beetle (only the males have the bulging thighs). A beautiful metallic green, they are seen on the flowers of Ox-eye Daisies and Bindweed particularly.
And, of course throughout the spring and summer visitors to the cemetery can enjoy a colourful display of flowering plants. The Trust encourages wild flowers by allowing them to complete their life cycle before cutting. This applies particularly to the valley adjacent to Central Park where in spring the ground is covered by primroses, bluebells and wild garlic, a real feast of colour and scent.
Both our Heritage team and Friends association are hopeful that we can resume our activities by the end of June 2021. Reopening the visitor centre will allow us to resume our regular program of exhibitions, fayres and other events and the teams are very keen to offer again our popular cemetery guided walks. But until that is possible, please come along, stroll through the grounds and look out for the multitude of wildlife that makes the cemetery its home. We are sure that after a peaceful walk, you will return home feeling refreshed.