Advice & Guidance
"Cemeteries are highly valued. The primary role of any cemetery is to provide a place to bury and commemorate the dead, and to provide a focal point for mourning and religious observance. However, because they provide green oases within built-up areas, cemeteries are also places for rest and contemplation in a more general sense, offering opportunities for fresh air and exercise, or simply a place for quiet communion with nature. The coexistence of nature and art, sometimes in an uneasy alliance, accounts for much of their character and makes them a unique historical, cultural and natural resource." Paradise Preserved, English Heritage 2007
Churchyards and gardens around faith buildings are special places. They are often valued by a wide range of people - parishioners, historians, mourners, ecologists, tourists, schoolchildren - and should be treated with the same degree of care as the faith building itself. It is therefore good practice to plan for the ongoing care and maintenance of your grounds in the same what that you care for your building.
As with the maintenance of buildings, the maintenance of your grounds should be based upon a thorough knowledge of their character, qualities and features. To begin with, you might need to identify any monuments or other structures that may be listed in their own right and to check whether any part of the churchyard or grounds has been designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM).
You should also check if your grounds are within a Conservation Area and whether any of your trees are covered by a Tree Preservation Order (TPO). Occasionally, churchyards are protected and regulated by additional statutory measures such as designation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Your local planning department or your professional adviser should be able to advise on whether any of these issues affect your grounds.
If your churchyard or garden is a haven for wildlife, you might also wish to take advice from a local Wildlife Trust. From time to time, it might be wise to seek advice on the condition and care of your trees from an arboriculturalist too.
In addition, you may also have a legal duty to keep statutory burial records. This should be supplemented by photographs of the churchyard and records of the inscriptions on historic tombstones and grave markers.
Once you have gathered all the necessary information together, you should place a copy in your building logbook or maintenance manual.
Ideally, you should prepare a detailed plan of the grounds with all the important features marked on it, including the location of services, drains and soakaways etc.
This comprehensive record should be a valuable tool and will enable you to formulate your churchyard policy and an ongoing management plan. As with looking after your faith building, take advice from your professional adviser if needed.
Also, remember that it is important to record of any maintenance activities or repairs that you do carry out in your logbook and be aware that certain works to monuments, lychgates, drains, paths, boundary walls, trees and other features may also require permission from the appropriate denominational or secular body.
Lastly, we are aware that many volunteers have concerns about dealing with the health and safety issues involved in the care of churchyards. We have therefore out together some brief guidance on caring for gravestones.
Caring for God's Acre aims to inspire and support local communities to care for churchyards and burial grounds in a way that benefits both people and wildlife.
Advice on looking after monuments can be found on the Faith in Maintenance website.
The Living Churchyard by David Manning contains general information about wildlife in churchyards.
© SPAB 2010