The peaceful Exmouth graveyard that offers ‘a riot colour and life’
PUBLISHED: 16:33 17 July 2018 | UPDATED: 16:40 17 July 2018
Devon’s largest churchyard lies in Exmouth and its reverend has revealed the ‘tremendous’ one-man task of looking after its vast and environmentally-important grounds.
Covering 12 acres, Exmouth’s biggest burial site, at Littleham, also plays an important role for local biodiversity and how it is managed affects hundreds of species.
Reverend Benedict Cambridge said: “When we cut the grass to the level of the visitor graves, there is no life in that grass, whereas, if you manage the grass land as we do in the natural section, the biodiversity is enormous.
“We have hundreds of species of grass, mammals and birds – it’s a riot of colour and life.”
Areas in which no new grave has been dug for 75 years are allowed to grow wild, resulting in a range of species like green woodpeckers and spotted fly catchers. In the churchyard’s ‘natural’ burial area, graves are unmarked and only grass and wild flowers are allowed to grow.
The size of the churchyard means it is oftem mistaken for a council-owned cemetery, but in fact Littleham-cum-Exmouth Parochial Church Council (PCC) owns it and employs just one man to manage it.
Churchyard sexton, Sean Davey, looks after the entire site, digging and filling in graves, maintaining hedges and cutting grass.
“Sean does a tremendous job, by himself,” said Rev Cambridge. “And we are always delighted, therefore, when relatives or friends come regularly to maintain a loved-one’s plot, in consultation with him.”
There are at least 12,500 people buried at Littleham churchyard, but Rev Cambridge explained ‘people also come here to find peace, quiet and solitude and to breath in our beautiful environment’.
He added: “The church has been part of the community in Littleham for centuries and we have still got many original families, who go back generation upon generation.
“As a churchyard we take seriously God’s creation; we worship God in our building, but also in our churchyard. Management of biodiversity in our church yard is part of that.”
Exeter Diocese environmental advisor, David Curry, said: “Unfortunately, we have this insatiable demand for manicured grass in churchyards, mowing it to within an inch of its life. After a few days without rain the short sward becomes parched and dies, giving an unsightly brown ground cover.
“While the people must be able to get to their family graves – the current burial area could be well cut and tidy if not ecologically diverse – at least some of the churchyard should remain uncut until late summer so that seed can set.”
Director and environment officer, Martyn Goss, said the diocese aimed to use churchyards as ‘sanctuaries for wildlife’, but at the same time remember they are tributes to remembering the community’s loved ones’.