When Nature Attacks

Feb 17, 2016
When Nature Attacks “Thing is, what you’ve got to remember is the overtime costs.” 

“I realise that,” I said. “But the scale of fees does say that if the family pay a   surcharge they can have a burial on a Saturday morning.” 

“It’s not just overtime though. There’s risk management issues.” 

“You’d have risks any day of the week, Alan. Saturdays are no more dangerous than   Wednesdays.” 

“Ah, but it’s weather conditions, see. You know how steep the cemetery is; how  difficult the access is sometimes.” 

“Only too well, Alan.., only too well.” 

“There you are then. What happens if the guys are out there digging a grave in snow   and ice and they get trapped in a snowdrift?” 

“Alan, it’s the middle of July…”  

I’m well-versed in dealing with onerous cemetery regulations and often the problem is not the rules themselves, but the people responsible for applying them. I’ve encountered many burial authorities run by jobsworths who’d be well suited to graduate entry career schemes with the Gestapo, whilst others are run like rudderless ships, where only lip service is paid to applying the regulations.   

Ultimately it’s individual authorities’ approach that makes the difference between rules appearing reasonable or just downright dictatorial. Sometimes however, even local authorities encounter unforeseen factors beyond their control and to pre-empt complaints from an increasingly litigious public they have to adopt a position of surrender to circumstance; the equivalent of the policy adopted in public car parks: “all bodies buried here are done so at the owner’s risk” kind of thing.    

I discovered this for myself a while ago when we were arranging a cremation in a neighbouring county. The footnotes to the regulations were priceless. They started with the usual thing: ‘Please ensure your client is aware their floral tributes will be removed after 48 hours’. But the next bit – which only applied to families having the ashes buried in the adjacent cemetery – was pure gold. “Please also please inform your client about the wildlife:   

Deer visit the cemetery in the early hours and are very fond of edible flowers. They may eat your flowers and not those of your neighbours. The flower heads are removed so neatly it can look as if they have been cut with scissors. 

Squirrels love to dig for small bulbs. This can look as if planting has been vandalised. 

Crows pick up flower containers and throw them around indiscriminately in order to get to the invertebrates hiding beneath.”   

Talk about telling people how it is! I once heard of a cemetery superintendent receiving a distress call to say vandals had struck. Headstones had been toppled, grass torn up and more disturbingly, graves had been excavated and human bones unearthed. But on closer inspection it was discovered the culprits weren’t ghoulish hooligans at all, but a family of badgers who’d set up home by burrowing underneath the graves.   

The problem is that when local wildlife becomes displaced by human activity, nature does what it does best and learns to adapt. The urban fox is a perfect example, along with its delinquent counterpart the aggressive seagull. Seeing how wild animals are becoming increasingly brazen in their attitude towards humans, I’d love to see how those crematorium regulations will read in a few years’ time.   

“The current threat level for wildlife terrorism at this crematorium & cemetery is assessed as SEVERE. Increased urbanisation amongst our wild animal population is leading to the radicalisation of certain species.   

Deer visit the cemetery in the early hours and may eat your flowers, but not those of your neighbours. They like eating nice-looking floral arrangements but ignore letter frames saying ‘MUM’ or ‘LEGEND’. They’ve developed a good sense of taste. 

Squirrels love to dig for small bulbs. This can look as if they’re acquiring the materials for a dirty bomb. 

Crows pick up flower containers and throw them around indiscriminately in order to steal the metal. We think they’re looking for weapons grade uranium.   

Visitors should remain alert to the danger of attack and report any suspicious activity to the police on 999 or the council’s anti-wildlife terrorist hotline: 0800 654 321. The signs to look out for are squirrels wearing backpacks and badgers with mobile phones.”  

James Baker owns and runs Fred Stevens Funeral Directors of Nailsworth, Glos. www.fredstevens.co.uk   

He is the author of “A Life In Death – Memoirs Of A Cotswold Funeral Director” www.amazon.co.uk

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