Jessica QUINTON and Peter DUINKER
Institution: Dalhousie University – Canada
Keywords: Management, Cemetery, Urban Forest, Canada, Greenspace
The disposal of human remains is both a sanitary and spiritual concern. The Canadian approach to the interment of remains has historically relied on burial in government, private, family, and religiously-affiliated cemeteries. Demand for burial plots has increased despite the growing trend of cremation, and cemeteries across the world are running out of room (McManus 2015). The shortage of burial space has led to questions about the financial viability and environmental sustainability of Canadian cemeteries.
However, cemeteries can play a role in their community beyond interment. Of particular interest is the role of urban cemeteries as “green space” to support biodiversity, recreation, and restoration. However, cemeteries are not necessarily managed to provide these additional functions.
This study examined ten cemeteries in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada to determine the contribution they make to the urban forest through a complete inventory of their trees. Determination of the potential future of the cemeteries was done through an inventory of the spots where trees could theoretically be planted, as well as by examining size-class data from the tree inventory. The role of cemetery management in the maintenance/planning of their trees was assessed, along with determining whether tree planting had recently occurred, using interviews.
The ten cemeteries had relatively high species richness and percent canopy cover, suggesting they make an important contribution to the Halifax urban forest. However, few had recently planted trees. Regenerating growth was mainly found in small, unmaintained, dense areas, suggesting little potential for the natural maintenance of cemetery tree cover. Over 2000 spots were found in which new trees could be planted, indicating potential for cemeteries to maintain and even expand their tree cover. The interviews identified key issues such as limited financing, short-term planning, and a lack of consideration given to cemetery trees.
The data indicate that cemeteries in Halifax currently make an important contribution to the city’s urban forest. However, this contribution is threatened by the older age of many cemetery trees, the lack of new tree planting or regenerative growth, and the lack of attention given to this issue by cemetery management. Given the wide range of benefits provided by trees in urban settings, steps should be taken now to ensure that urban cemetery tree populations are maintained into the future.