A CEMETERY in the heart of the city has seen a marked increase in the number and variety of butterflies thanks to improvements in its biodiversity.

Since October 2022, Astwood Cemetery in Worcester, which is owned and managed by Worcester City Council, has produced 23 species of butterfly including the only recorded Wood White in Worcester, a species which is in rapid decline in the UK.

Other sightings include the Silver Washed Fritillary, a species that is stable but still of conservation concern, with cemetery sightings around 10 a year and nationwide sightings around just 25.

Doug Henderson, bereavement and green spaces manager at the council, said: “According to the World Wildlife Trust, the UK is unfortunately one of the most nature-depleted countries on the planet.

“We are therefore justifiably proud of what we have achieved at Astwood Cemetery by implementing a biodiversity strategy which is now producing such positive results.”

The site is of special interest to Worcester Environmental Group with resident expert Glen Dipple offering his specialist knowledge on the flora and fauna and other natural inhabitants at the cemetery.

Initiatives that have created a butterfly-friendly space at Astwood Cemetery include allowing wild and naturalised flowers like dandelions to remain in place.

They are a source of food, nectar and pollen for butterflies and also a place for them to lay their eggs.

Similarly, by encouraging the growth of ragwort and bramble, grounds maintenance staff at the cemetery are providing homes to a huge variety of insects.

Thirty species rely on these plants as their sole source of food with 10 of those types of butterfly now so rare that they are included on international red lists.

Ragwort remains one of the most important hosts to pollinators like butterflies.

Other biodiversity improvements include sewing wildflower seeds and encouraging rewilding areas throughout the site.

Doug continued: “Astwood Cemetery has become such an important urban site in the country that the Butterfly Conservation Trust now views it as a butterfly-friendly haven.

“We couldn’t be prouder.”

Doug and his team are also keen to educate local residents on how these same approaches can be adapted for their own gardens.

Glenn explained: “Local residents can get involved and play a vital part in encouraging the presence of butterflies in their gardens.

“Creating wild areas and selecting plants that are beneficial for pollinating insects are just two examples.

“Other suggestions include leaving areas where larval foodplants of different species can be encouraged as well as somewhere where they can breed.

“Sadly, a 2022 study from the Butterfly Conservation Trust found that 80 per cent of butterfly species in the UK have decreased since 1976.

“We are calling on people to make a space for nature and join us in encouraging butterfly abundance in Worcester.”

The work at Astwood Cemetery is part of the city council’s wider biodiversity action plan which works to enhance biodiversity across all parks and open spaces.

Astwood Cemetery opened in 1850, covers 68 hectares and contains around 55,000 burial plots as well as space for cremated remains.

The site’s age means there are a number of memorials of historical and architectural significance, mostly found in the older parts of the cemetery where the first burials would have taken place.

One of Worcester’s most famous sons Sir Charles Hastings (1796-1866), a founder member of the British Medical Association who was knighted by Queen Victoria for his services to medicine, is buried at Astwood Cemetery.

Other notable burials include Alice Ottley (1840-1921), the first headmistress of the Alice Ottley School, and more recently Private Jason Williams (1986-2009), a soldier from 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment who was killed in Afghanistan retrieving the body of a fallen Afghan comrade.