New Cemetery Committee has an environmental focus

Tue 28 Feb 2023

Tribute has been paid to two parish stalwarts who between them have contributed more than 60 years' service to the community through the Vale Parochial Cemetery Committee. New committee president Denise Cohu said that the service provided by former Treasurer/Secretary Brian de Jersey and committee member Ken Carre had been truly outstanding and parishioners owed them a debt of gratitude.

Mrs Cohu at the cemetery area which will be managed as a pollinator patch

"It's only when you get involved with the committee that you realise how much work goes into maintaining the cemetery area, administering it and ensuring that the burial ground is run in a fit and proper manner," she said. "The efforts made by Brian and Ken over the years have been outstanding and we all owe them our thanks."

Mr de Jersey was a committee member for 35 years and Mr Carre for 28. 

Mrs Cohu was elected President in January and Maria van der Tang has been nominated as the new Secretary/Treasurer and their other committee members are Rosemary Henry, who is also Dean of the Vale Douzaine, Nigel Leale, Shirley Banyard, Peter Lowe and Michelle Harris. 

Between them, they are responsible for a total area of 15 vergees (pictured) accommodating more than 3,500 graves or plots spread over seven separate cemeteries with three gardens of rest and with a budget in 2021 of just under £80,000.

"It's quite a responsibility," said Mrs Cohu, "and it's a tribute to Brian and Ken and the others that much of what goes on does so unnoticed – a reflection of how they made it run so smoothly."

New committee
With a new committee in place, Mrs Cohu said the members wanted to take stock of their obligations and give thought to how best to administer the cemeteries over the next few years.

"The most obvious question with the area of land we have here is how best to manage it for the benefit of biodiversity and the parish," she said. "My own view, which I will discus with the committee, is how we can make what is effectively a green lung in the Vale more welcoming so that more people can enjoy its tranquillity and beauty."

While cemeteries fulfilled a particular purpose, they shouldn't be places of sadness and much work has been done in the UK by the conservation charity Caring for God's Acre to promote burial grounds as havens of biodiversity.

The currently unused area to the north west is being used as a pollinator patch, with reduced mowing and input from the Guernsey Pollinator Project, which assists in the island through science, education and direct action.

"We have some lovely walks here in the Vale," said Mrs Cohu, "and one of the things we need do to is see whether we can incorporate the cemetery area in some of them."

A key part of the committee's role is liaising with the cemetery staff of two who, she said, did an excellent job maintaining the area and who are responsible for records and burials (pictured), and which inevitably involves oversight of the committee's budget. 

It cost just over £77,000 in 2021 to operate the cemeteries but fees and charges for using the plots or gardens of rest bring in less than £20,000. The shortfall, of £60,000, was provided by Vale ratepayers.

"I'm aware the Vale Douzaine has done some work on cemetery costs and charges throughout the island and we're very reasonable in comparison with some of them. I imagine the committee will want to look at that and discuss why that is and whether there is anything that we can or should do in relation to the subsidy the committee receives.'

Mrs Cohu added that the Treasurer/Secretary had already spoken to the Douzaine office about whether there were ways in which they could cooperate administratively to contain costs.

"Ultimately, the cemeteries are a parish asset and we want to manage them appropriately and cost-effectively for the benefit of the parish and the environment," said Mrs Cohu. "It will be a challenge but we're looking forward to it."


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