I am fortunate to live near a country churchyard on a bank of the tidal Owenacurra river, in Ballinacurra, Co Cork. This small graveyard contains the ruins of a church dated c. 1550, a watchman’s house and some historically interesting gravestones from the 19th and 20th century. In common with all older graveyards, ancestors rest here, flora and fauna thrive here in these special, largely undisturbed habitats. I thought it would be interesting to observe the four seasons in this very special place. My first post is here, – Spring, at the end of April last. It was now time to see what summer had to offer.
Spring was cold and it was late. When it finally arrived, it produced lots of wildflowers there were lots of blossoms in the hedgerows. There is a particular concern this year that pollinating insects – and insects in general – seem to be scarce, but in recent weeks there have been wasps, bees, hoverflies, moths, and butterflies dropping in through open windows. So it was with a sense of anticipation I went down to record the magic of summertime in an Irish Country Graveyard.
I was surprised to see that the stile at the entrance was covered by a pile of scrub – presumably to be removed at a later date?- and that it had been stripped of vegetation.
Inside the gate, the groundcover plants have been obliterated. This has been a challenging summer with high temperatures and very little rain, resulting in a parched landscape. But the lack of vegetation here goes way beyond this. It is obvious that the area has been sprayed with a herbicide. There are no birds and no insects in this now barren place, no mosses or lichens and probably no invertebrates. Birds need insects and insects need vegetation, but there is precious little of it left. There seems to be a total lack of wildflowers, and therefore no pollen or nectar and instead of the bee-loud glade I expected, there is almost total silence. No humming of bees, no birds twittering on branches, only the sound of breaking grass under my feet.
But what can have happened here? The sign inside the gate is clear.
This site is protected under the National Monuments Act and no spraying of chemicals is allowed. The regulations forbid the removal of vegetation from ancient stonework, as very often this very vegetation strengthens ancient walls.
The term ‘scorched earth’ just about describes what has taken place here. But why? By whom? Was it authorized by the Local Authority?
This place is much loved and in constant use by local walkers and dog walkers who very often cross through the graveyard to reach the shore. Most of these people would be nature lovers who enjoy the uniqueness of the site. One walker yesterday described the work here as ‘total butchery’, another said it is a ‘terrible shame’ while another said that it was his understanding that there is to be a burial here in the coming days. Even if there is to be an internment, it is hardly good cause to destroy an entire ecology system?
If the intention was to clean up the graveyard, this too has been a dismal failure as the place is strewn with bottles and cans . On the plus side, it appears that the walls of the 16th Century church have remained relatively intact – but the work is not yet finished so who knows what plan is in train with regard to these?
Small bushes have been cut and even a branch of a cherry tree seems to be in the way.
Great piles of bushes and scrub are now stacked up in various locations around the walls – what is to happen with them? I doubt that they will be removed, but rather left to decay where they are thrown.
I do not have any expertise with regard to ancient buildings or gravestones or graveyard metal work, but I would have concerns that they are secondary to the need to remove groundcover. My limited expertise as a result of my career as a landscape designer leads me to the conclusion that a very powerful herbicide was used here and that it will take years for the soil and the site to recover from the loss of plants, wildflowers, invertebrates, lichens, mosses, insects, rodents, micro-organisms and birdlife. It appears to be too extensive to have been accidental or an unintended consequence.
It is such a shame.
Surely it is not impossible to clear up these special places and at the same time preserve the integrity of the flora and fauna that thrive here and give pleasure to so many?