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Community / More grass cutting proposed in graveyards after complaints from community

THE FREQUENCY of grass cutting in Shetland’s graveyards is likely to increase following complaints in communities over the untidiness of some burial grounds.

The total number of cuts across Shetland’s 70 burial grounds is set to rise from 611 in 2019 to 910 if councillors give their backing to proposals on Wednesday.

Grass in burial grounds would be mown to maintain a mean height, like amenity areas are.

Environmental services and estate operations manager Carl Symons told a  meeting of Shetland Islands Council’s environment and transport committee on Tuesday that 15 of the 70 burial grounds were only cut once last year.

Over the last year the safety of the burial grounds has been the council’s “primary concern” following a fatal accident in Glasgow in 2015.

In addition to this the SIC has had to adopt a more “robust” hand and arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) procedure, meaning that staff have fewer hours available to operate vibrating equipment like strimmers and mowers.

These two issues have meant that there has been less time to dedicate to burial ground maintenance.

A report presented by Symons to the environment and transport committee suggested increasing the frequency of cuts at each yard per growing season to between 12 and 14.

This would cost an additional £41,453 a year.

The mean height of the grass would be between a maximum growth height of 15 cm and a minimum mower setting of 7.5 cm.

It is proposed to supplement the in-house workforce with a flexible contract arrangement to cover any shortfalls in coverage.

South mainland member George Smith said he supported keeping the council’s greenery in good shape – especially as there is an expectation for the local authority’s tenants to do so too.

“I think visual appearance is really important. It sets standards and expectations, and the council should be a leader in that,” he said.

A review of whether mown grass should be collected could also be carried out after this year’s growing season for both burial grounds and amenity areas.

It is anticipated that more frequent cuts in burial grounds, with grass maintained at the specific height, would negate the need to recommence mown grass collections.

Councillors at the environment and transport committee also backed plans to merge the current five area-based contracts for cutting amenity areas into one Shetland-wide contract, with the hope that it will reduce preliminary overheads and simplify administration.

However at Tuesday afternoon’s policy and resources committee Shetland west councillor Theo Smith said that making one big contract was “unfair” to smaller grass cutting concerns.

“Is it not slightly unfair on smaller contractors who have done this work over the years and have been pushed out of it?” he asked. 

Smith also called for more grass to be bagged and carted away, rather than mulched, which left grass clippings to be dragged out on people’s feet.

In response to questioning from south mainland councillor Smith, Symons said that he was confident that the single contract would be cheaper and deliver economies of scale.

“I am content this will not just lead to one contractor tendering,” he added.

South end councillor Allison Duncan, meanwhile, asked if the “rabbit infestation” at Levenwick graveyard could be tackled.

Symons said that “pest control is the next logical step” .