A Wildlife Safari at South View Cemetery

A cemetery may not be the first place you’d think of to investigate local wildlife habitats and how plants grow.  But South View Cemetery has become a green haven in an urban area and makes an excellent and safe site to explore.  Think of it as a mini nature reserve! Here’s why it’s such a special place.

Shelter

The cemetery provides shelter for lots of wildlife. High walls and fences protect the perimeter and most people keep to the paths. The tall trees support insects, birds, mosses, lichens and fungi, while the dense shrubs are safe areas for birds, mammals and insects to hide from predators and to nest in. In the winter the evergreen shrubs help keep sheltering animals warm. Fallen branches and gravestones provide more shelter for smaller mammals and mini beasts.

Food

Most of the plants grow naturally on this site, others have been planted over the years. There are tall trees, hedges, shrubs, smaller plants, mosses and lichens. There are areas with lots of plants, areas with decaying leaves and cleared areas. This mixture of plants provides food such as seeds, nuts, berries and  nectar for the animals living here. The smaller plant-eating (herbivorous) animals are also food for larger meat-eating (carnivorous) animals.

Maintenance

Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council look after the site in a way that enables plants to flourish but not take completely. The South View Conservation Group has regular work parties to clear away overgrowth from the monuments in the Cemetery.  This ensures that variety is maintained, as well as making it a more pleasant place to visit.

A breathing space

This small space, trapped between houses, roads and railway lines, creates an oasis in a very urban environment.  It forms a stopping place along the ‘green corridor’ formed by the railway embankments, which form a natural roadway for animals.

So what can you expect to see if you visit South View Cemetery?  The following pages will tell you something about the plant and animal life to be found there.  

There are sections on Seed Dispersal, Looking for Evidence of Large Animals, Looking for Minibeasts and Making Records.  

Please respect the cemetery and the environment

You are welcome to look round South View Cemetery, but please remember it is a special place of remembrance and also that the wildlife should be preserved for all.  Please follow these simple rules:

This resource has been prepared by Hampshire County Arts and Museums Service as part of a project run with South View Infant School and the South View Conservation Group.  The artwork in this sheet was created by Year 2 children at South View Infant School in the Autumn of 2011.


Seed Dispersal at South View Cemetery

There is a huge variety of plant life in a very small area, including an excellent mix of trees.  Some will have been there from the start, some have been added by people wanting to make the site more attractive and some have introduced themselves.  All of them now take the opportunity to propagate (reproduce themselves), but they do it in different ways.

All flowering plants produce seeds, from which a new plant can grow.  If all the seeds just dropped below the parent plant, there would not be enough light, food and space to let the new plant grow. Seeds need to be spread out (or dispersed) to new places.  At South View Cemetery you will find plants that spread their seeds by animal, by wind or by their own design (or self dispersal).

Dispersal by animals: munching and droppings

Seeds form a major food source for many different creatures, such as small mammals, birds and insects.  Some seeds are hidden inside a juicy fruit and, once eaten, they will pass through the animal and will end up in their droppings.  Not only do these droppings get left a long way from the original plant, but they also come with their own handy supply of fertiliser!

Examples of berries with images: blackberry, rowan, deadly nightshade, yew, holly and ivy.

Dispersal by animals: munching and storing

Other plants form hard fruits that we usually call nuts.  These may be totally eaten by an animal, in which case they have no chance of growing.  But often they are only partly nibbled and can still grow into a new plant.  More importantly, they may be buried in the ground or hidden as part of an animal’s food store.  If the animal then forgets where their store is, they have helpfully planted the seed!  Squirrels and mice hide their food in this way.

Examples of nuts with images: conkers, acorns, pine cones and beech nuts

Dispersal by animals: hitching a lift

Some fruits are covered in tiny little ‘hooks’, which catch on to the fur of any passing animal (or the clothes of a passing human!) and are then pulled off somewhere else.  Cyclamen seeds are coated in a sweet substance that attracts ants. The seeds are too heavy to be scattered far, but ants will go to great effort to carry them many metres.

Example of sticky seeds: cleavers, agrimony, cyclamen

Dispersal by the wind

Other seeds use the wind as a way of getting away from their parent plant.  They have developed some kind of ‘sail’ or ‘parachute’ which allows them to move easily on any breeze as they fall to the ground.  These take different forms, from the fluffy ‘hair’ on tiny seeds to the large ‘wings’ on bigger seeds.  If you find these seeds you can see how they work for yourself by throwing or blowing them as high as you can and watching how they move sideways as they spin to the ground.

Examples with images: sycamore, lime, dandelion , thistle, hawkweed, wild clematis

Self dispersal: shaking

Some plants hold their seeds in a dry ‘pod’ ready to shake them out when the time is right.  These pods hold a great many seeds, which will be set free when the plant is knocked by a passing animal or human or blown about by a strong wind.

Examples with images: hollyhock, poppy and foxglove

Self dispersal: exploding

There are some plants that produce fruits that explode open and scatter their seeds by throwing them out quite long distances.

Self dispersal: drop and roll

Some plants do just let their seeds drop but, because they drop from a great height, the fruits are able to roll away from their parent plant. Horse chestnuts (or conkers) fall from the tree and when they hit he ground, the spiky capsule breaks open and the conker rolls out.

Example: horse chestnut


Evidence of Large Animals at South View Cemetery

The most obvious animals to spot in South View Cemetery are the birds.  They come here to feed and to nest and you will certainly hear them singing whenever you visit.

Some examples of common birds with images: blackbird, robin, wood pigeon, magpie, sparrow and barn owl.  This could include some of the drawings by South View Infants

Most of the other animals that live at South View Cemetery or visit it for feeding are very shy or nocturnal, so you may not ever see them.  But you will find evidence that they have been there, so it is worth looking for this.  

Animal evidence: droppings

You will find evidence of what animals have been eating scattered all over the site.  The most obvious thing to look out for is droppings, which could include:

Examples with images - rabbit, wood pigeon and fox

Animal evidence: remains of meals

Other things to look out for are the remains of a meal.  These can include:

Examples with images: squirrel, field mouse, thrush, cat

Evidence of homes

Another good source of evidence is the homes that animals live in.  The most obvious is probably the large number of rabbit burrows that you can see all over the site.  But there are also larger holes and scrapes that show where foxes and even badgers may have been.

There are bird boxes attached to many of the trees in the cemetery.  If you visit in spring time, you may see birds popping in and out of these man-made homes.  Other birds build their own nests in the hedges and trees - see if you can spot any.  

Looking for Minibeasts at South View Cemetery

There are lots of Minibeasts living all year round in South View Cemetery and you can look out for them in different places as well as finding evidence of where they have been.

Try sitting quietly in the open spaces

You may see any number of Minibeasts passing by if you are patient.  These could include butterflies, all kinds of beetles, wasps, ants, moths, bees and hoverflies.  You may also hear creatures that you can’t see, such as crickets and bees.

Illustrated with suitable examples which could include South View Infant drawings

Searching out minibeasts

A really good place to find other minibeasts is by looking carefully under the bushes.  They tend to stay well hidden to avoid being eaten by predators, so you may have to lift up stones and look under piles of leaves and bark.  Here you may uncover ants, slugs, snails, woodlice, centipedes, millipedes and spiders.  Don’t forget to cover them back up again when you’ve finished looking!

Evidence of minibeasts

When looking round for evidence of animals, you may well find evidence of minibeasts as well.  Look out for:


Making Records

Why not create records of what you find on site to take back to the classroom?  You can then use the information you gather in a wide variety of numeracy and literacy based activities. There are many ways you make records, but here are a few suggestions:

Quadrant Survey

If you don’t already have a metre quadrant as part of your science kit, you can make one easily from 4 strips of metre long card stapled together at the corners to make a one metre square frame.  When you get to site, select some suitable flat areas with different types of ground cover, for example short grass, long grass, leaf litter, pathway, under trees.  Place your quadrants on the ground and get the children to count every living mini beast they can see inside the frame and, if possible, identify them.  You can use our chart to make the records, or devise your own.

Site survey

You could ask the children to make records of where particular animals were found, using our simple grid format.  This will help to make the links between animals and their habitats.

Please see last page for one example of a record sheet.

Images

Why not take drawing materials or cameras with you to capture images of the site that can be used for classroom displays?  One good way to focus this activity would be to look at small details, such as leaves, bark, berries, lichen, minibeasts etc. rather than trying to capture big pictures.  

Art work

If you decide to collect specimens from the site (remembering to take only those things that have already fallen to the ground), you could use them to make collages or an outdoor, degradable art installation in the school grounds.