Setting Up a ‘Friends Of’ Group
Longden Road Cemetery, Longden Road, Shrewsbury, Shropshire
I visited Longden Road Cemetery and quickly realised that the short mown grassland which covers the whole site, was both interesting botanically and also full of really attractive plants. I wanted to see if we could make the old section of the cemetery into a wildlife haven and increase public use and enjoyment of this hidden gem.
Mark Foxall of Shropshire Council and I met on site and I explained to him how good the cemetery is for wildlife and that I would like to get some surveys done and then see what local interest there was. He was very supportive from the start.
I set out to see what was known about the wildlife of Longden Road Cemetery. First I contacted the Shropshire Wildlife Trust and the Shropshire Council biodiversity officer, neither of whom had biological records specific to the cemetery, but I did see the records from the Ordinance Survey grid square in which the cemetery is found. This gives a good, general overview.
Following leads and helpful suggestions from both Shropshire Wildlife Trust and Shropshire Council staff I asked the local Botanical Society volunteers if they would be able to take a look at Longden Road. I also contacted a mycologist and asked her if she would be able to look for fungi in the autumn. Finally, I tracked down the person who had carried out a bird survey in the area for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO have surveyed all of Britain and Ireland and produced a Bird Atlas 2007 – 2011) and asked him what birds he could remember finding in the cemetery.
Results of these 3 surveys:
- Botanical Society survey; 7 volunteers spent a total of 28 hours between them and found 87 grassland plant species including a grass which had not been recorded in Shropshire before
- Fungi survey; 53 species were found on one visit including rarities
- Bird survey; the ornithologist drew up a quick list based on notes in his notebook of 18 bird species
Mark and I decided to hold an open evening to gauge interest and tell local people about the cemetery. We arranged walks and talks, ending up with a bat walk. This event attracted about 80 people and we took details of those interested in becoming involved in the future.
A further meeting to set up a Friends group attracted over 20 people and we drew up and signed a constitution together, including electing chair, secretary and treasurer. We decided to take the name ‘Friends of Shrewsbury Cemeteries’ as a new cemetery is opening soon in Shrewsbury and we may wish to be involved in that in the future.
Shropshire Wildlife Trust put the site forward as a Local Wildlife Site, based on the plant and fungi surveys, it was accepted.
The Friends group started to be active and to run work parties and events:
• April – work party to pull seedlings and cut saplings from monuments
• April – an agreed area to be left uncut until early July to allow flowering
• May – evening Bird Walk
• June – Moths, Mammals and More! A Saturday morning event opening moth and small mammal traps plus invertebrate surveying
• July – work party to rake long grass area plus management meeting
• September – guided walk for the U3A conservation group
• September – fungal foray
• September and October – 3 more work parties to rake up long grass cuttings
• November – AGM plus talk by local historian
Costs and Income
There have been few costs as surveys and events were run by volunteers, we used the cemetery chapel for meetings and those attending work parties were asked to bring their own tools if they had them.
There have been some costs however; travel expenses for surveyors and speakers and light refreshments at events. These total to approximately £200.
We decided at the first meeting not to charge for membership to the Friends group and not to charge for events as the cemetery is currently little known or used and we prioritised encouraging visitors over generating income. We have, however, asked for donations at events and have received approximately £60. We also received a grant of £200 from Shropshire Wildlife Trust towards managing the site and buying tools for volunteers to use.
In January 2016 Caring for God’s Acre received £3000 from Veolia; monies generated by Shropshire residents recycling Christmas trees rather than sending them to landfill. This will be used at Longden Road Cemetery and may provide match funding for a larger grant.
Results and Benefits
The site is becoming better known and better managed for wildlife. For the first time in many years, the grassland plants were able to flower and set seed rather than being strimmed prior to flowering.
The Shrewsbury branch of the Shropshire Wildlife Trust have become involved in the site, joining the Friends on task days.
There is a new Local Wildlife Site in the heart of Shrewsbury.
Local wildlife enthusiasts have become aware of how interesting the cemetery is and will start to visit it and record what they see. This will gradually build a more complete record as time goes by.
Issues and lessons learnt
The formation of the Friends group and the plan to leave one section to flower prior to strimming coincided with cuts in Shropshire Council budget for the site. In 2015 large areas were left uncut until the autumn. This created a mixed message for the public and there was some confusion as to whether the long grass was planned management or due to spending cuts. We have since commissioned a management plan in order to be proactive rather than reactive and to give us a clear plan that we can communicate to the public.
Although we are formally the Friends of Shrewsbury Cemeteries, everyone calls us the Friends of Longden Road Cemetery. This doesn’t matter but did make it a more complicated to get a bank account able to accept cheques made out to either name.
Conclusions and next steps
The Friends group will continue to run work parties and events and to use local media to generate more volunteers and friends.
We will continue to work with the Shrewsbury branch of the Shropshire Wildlife Trust. We will investigate grant funding to help with management, events, interpretation, site furniture and repair of monuments. At this time of financial austerity a Friends group can really help hard pressed councils to look after these fantastic places.
Click here to view the Longden Road Management Plan
Caring for God’s Acre Action Pack Sheets
Section A sheet 1 The Five Steps to Churchyard and Burial Ground Care
Section A sheet 2 Caring for Grassland
Section D sheet 1 Involving Volunteers
Section D sheet 2 Health and Safety
Section D sheet 5 Applying for Grants
The Friends of Shrewsbury Cemeteries constitution – see attached: Friends constitution
Friends of Longden Road Cemetery Facebook page @FriendsofLongdenRoadCemetery