Foraging in Arnos ValeMarch 26, 2023
Christmas MarketAugust 2, 2023
The return of warmth and longer daylight hours has breathed an abundance of life back into the cemetery. It’s a great time to try and spot some of the interesting species that call the cemetery home, so here I will share a few highlights.
Primroses & wild garlic
The spring flowers hastily complete their reproductive cycle before the trees have come out in leaf and cast shade across the woodland floor. Some of the earliest heralds of spring are the pale-yellow blooms of the Primroses (Primula vulgaris) which carpet vast areas. The majority you’ll see are the native form, however you may also be able to see some of the cultivated varieties in pinks, reds and purples which have spread from tributes planted on graves.
The primroses are seemingly only outnumbered by Wild Garlic, (Allium ursinum) which dominate many parts of the woodland in both coverage and aroma.
Lady's Smock, Ivy Broomrape & Atlantic Ivy
When walking along the sloping paths at the East of the cemetery, keep a lookout for Lady’s Smock (Cardamine pratensis). One of its many common names is Cuckoo Flower as it’s thought to bloom at the time the first Cuckoo’s would be heard.
Another flower I must mention here is the nationally scarce Ivy Broomrape (Orobanche hederae). While it’s not currently flowering, the dark stems still stand prevalent across the cemetery. Like all the plants in the Broomrape family, it doesn’t produce its own chlorophyll and therefore is not green. This also means that it doesn’t produce its own food, instead parasitising the roots of the abundant Atlantic Ivy (Hedera hibernica). Arnos Vale is an important stronghold for this fascinating plant.
The birds are a huge part of the ecological diversity here, which reflects the great importance of the site as a green refuge in an urban environment. Tens of species choose the cemetery to nest, breed, and feed. We have Green Woodpeckers (Picus viridis) resident in the upper cemetery and their distinctive calls can be clearly heard. You may be lucky enough to see them feeding in the grassland around ceremonial way.
Eurasian Jays, Buzzards & Sparrowhawks
Eurasian Jays (Garrulus glandarius) are a personal favourite, the flashiest and most elusive of the corvid family. They have a distinctive rasping call which alerts you to their presence as they dart through the trees. They are also excellent mimics and have been observed here replicating the call of Buzzards (Buteo buteo) who are also infrequent visitors to the site.
A fantastic indicator of the health of the bird population is the presence of a nesting pair of Sparrowhawks (Accipter nisus). They specialise in flying through densely wooded areas, catching other birds on the wing. The females can be almost double size of the male and are capable of catching prey as large as a pigeon.
Amphibians and reptiles
Smooth Newts & Slow Worms
Many of you will be familiar with our beautiful community garden. If you spend some time by the pond, you may be able to catch sight of a Smooth Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris). Once the adults have mated, they will return to dry land for the winter where they’ll hide amongst roots, rocks, and crevices to avoid predators.
Our only reptile species at the cemetery is the Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis). Although they appear snake-like, they are in fact legless lizards. Like the newts, slow worms are most active at night where there’s less risk of predation and during the day they’ll hide in piles of logs or rocks or in compost piles for shelter. It’s thought that slow worms can live up to 30 years old in the wild!
I hope this brief rundown of some of my favourite species that can be seen here at this time of year illustrates the importance of the site for nature conservation, and the importance of continued management of the habitats for the benefit of wildlife.
Chris Seymour BSc (Hons)
Arnos Vale Estate Supervisor