The number of headstones in Dunbar cemetery which have toppled in recent years has caused serious concern. The problem has been made worse by East Lothian’s budget restrictions reducing the hours available to maintain the cemetery to former standards. One of the casualties has been the frequency of trimming the grass. Rather than allowing the grass to grow around the bases of the stones, the decision was taken to control this by using weedkiller. As well as surface vegetation disappearing, roots binding the soil have also gone. Unfortunately this has led to soil erosion which has exposed the foundations of many stones to the elements. A combination of wind, water and frost has resulted in stones leaning and some eventually toppling and sometimes separating into sections.
Representatives of Dunbar Community Council, Dunbar Parish Church and Dunbar History Society met with ELC’s Principal Amenity Officer Stuart Pryde at the end of May, the meeting convened by ELC councillor Michael Veitch. It was agreed that a trial change of procedure would be applied to the two areas to the left and right of the roadway through the main gate and up to the church building. Spraying of those areas would stop with immediate effect.
At the end of this year’s growing season, the missing top soil around the bases of the headstones in those areas would be replaced with a layer of poorer quality earth so that returning vegetation would not be too vigorous. This would be topped with better quality soil. In the section to the left (east), vegetation would be allowed to return naturally; to the right (west), wild flowers will be sown around the stones. This work will get underway in the next few weeks.
Hopefully this will go some way to reducing the issues of the stability of the headstones until such time as ELC can find a permanent solution to that problem. If the trial is successful it will likely be extended to other areas of the cemetery. It should be remembered that any resulting ‘untidiness’ around the stones during the trial period is not due to the Council failing to deliver its grass cutting to the established standard.