Cemeteries might be better urban nature preserves than parks
Published in Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, the paper examines the Weissensee Jewish Cemetery, a German cemetery that is one of the largest of its kind in Europe. The Weissensee neighborhood is already diverse by modern, urban standards, with a lake that the Berlin tourist board compares to "being in the Caribbean."
But still, the wide-ranging study shows a surprising amount of life thriving in the cemetery, finding 604 species of plants and animals, including five species of bat, 39 species of ground beetle, 44 species of birds, and 64 species of spider. In terms of plants, researchers found both endangered ferns and seventy-four types of lichen. In other words, they found a flourishing ecosystem.
While the Urban Forestry study, led by Ingo Kowarik, a professor of plant ecology at the Technical University of Berlin, is the first study of its kind it's far from the first recognition of the biodiversity of cemeteries. In 2012, Natural England, the British government's official advisor on the environment, designated ten cemeteries as nature preserves. Unlike parks, graveyards aren't frequently visited by people and when they are, it's often in a quiet, subdued, fashion. Some cultures also provide food at graves, Kowarik notes, offering free meals for animals.
"Respecting the dead means also respecting the conditions of the environment that is developing around them," Kowarik tells National Geographic. "It's remarkable that in the center of the city, a range of woodland species can survive."