A Fife-based charity is applying traditional skills and cutting-edge biodiversity strategies to rejuvenate an abandoned Scottish cemetery in the bustling Indian city of Kolkata.

It is estimated around 4000 burials took place there, the majority of them Scots men and women, who had gone to India in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in a range of roles including, jute traders, civil servants, teachers, doctors, engineers, nurses and missionaries.

When the country gained independence in 1947, most expats returned home and the cemetery, which had opened in 1820 fell into disrepair.

The site is a focal point for the community and provides a haven for wildlifeThe site is a focal point for the community and provides a haven for wildlife

Over subsequent years, the cemetery became a snake-infested jungle and a hotspot for illegal activity including drug use, prostitution and theft.

Concern around the deteriorating condition of the site led to the foundation of the Kolkata Scottish Heritage Trust in 2008 with a comprehensive plan to develop a centre for conservation expertise in India and transform the site into a much-needed green space.

Spearheaded by Charles Bruce, a lineal descendent of King Robert the Bruce, an ambitious restoration programme was launched as the Scottish Cemetery Project.

The cemetery has been registered subsequently as a Grade-1 listed Heritage Site by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation.

Against the challenges brought by monsoon season which saw relentless shrub growth, 3500 tonnes – around 350 truckloads - of rubbish and waste was removed from the site.

In addition to identifying tombs and repairing monuments using skilled stonemasons, there is a strong ecological theme to the work.

The first phase, which saw around 300 graves restored and most identified and graded, is now complete.

No agricultural chemicals are used in the cemetery, while recreating and preserving the indigenous forest ecosystem makes the site a carbon sink in a densely populated urban area where summer temperatures are now exceeding 50 degrees centigrade.

The project is also being used to train people in sustainable horticulture and traditional construction craft skills.

At the centre of a residential area with a high proportion of substandard housing and areas of severe deprivation, the project has also hosted a Saturday school for children who learn drawing, dance, literacy and maths.

The site is now a candidate for the Green Accreditation with the Indian Green Council and landscape planning now focusses on the encouragement of indigenous species and a much richer and diverse habitat.

Lord Bruce, whose great grandfather Victor and great-great-grandfather James both served as Viceroys of India in the 19th century said the project has followed the methodology of the Scottish urban planner and polymath, Sir Patrick Geddes to devise a programme of urban regeneration centred on the conservation of the cemetery.

Geddes, who was born in Aberdeenshire in 1854, but spent his childhood in Perthshire is best known as a town planner, but was also a biologist, conservationist and philanthropist.

He said: “Of those interred in the cemetery, well over 90% have recognisably Scottish surnames, making the site a rich resource into the worldwide impact of the Scottish diaspora in the 19th century.

“Having restored the landscape, and principal monuments, the Trust intends that the cemetery will remain as an important heritage site while continuing to provide significant environmental and social benefits for the neighbourhood and the wider urban environment.”

The project, which is currently fundraising to continue its work regularly receives enquiries from families hoping to trace their ancestors and repair their monuments.