Advice & Guidance


FungiMany historic places of worship are a sanctuary for wildlife and this is certainly to be encouraged.  Your churchyard or garden may play a significant role in terms of local biodiversity and may even be a vital haven for an endangered species. 

A well managed churchyard can support a wide variety of plant species whilst some creatures, such as bats, may choose to live in the building itself.  It is therefore important to understand the nature of the site and its wildlife in order to ensure that the way we manage and maintain our buildings fosters a positive relationship with the natural environment.


The main piece of legislation relating to nature conservation is the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.  This Act is supplemented by the Conservation Regulations 1994 (as amended) and the Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act 2000 (in England and Wales). 

Essentially the legislation exists to protect wild plants, animals and birds and imposes penalties if such creatures are intentionally killed or injured.  Useful information concerning wildlife legislation can be found on the website of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).  Further help and guidance can be found on the website of Natural England


It is worth noting that Natural England is responsible for running the Wildlife Management and Licensing Service, which has three main roles:

  • Providing advice on wildlife management.
  • Issuing licences and permits.
  • Assisting with wildlife enforcement and inspections.

The following sections provide general advice to help you deal with the species most commonly encountered within places of worship and their environs. There is a separate page with information on dealing with bats.



Nesting birds are also protected under current legislation.  This means that it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly kill, injure or take any wild birds or damage or destroy any nests while they are in use.  It is also an offence to take or destroy birds' eggs and the penalties for doing so may be severe.  It is therefore good practice to avoid work that might affect shrubs, trees or other nesting places during the period from the beginning of March to the end of August each year. 

As some birds can and do nest either side of this period you should undertake a survey to establish that nesting birds are not present before you start work.

Whilst birds of all species are normally to be welcomed there are occasions when they can cause problems.  The ‘pest' species that most frequently cause concern are feral pigeons, house sparrows and starlings. 

droppingsIn certain coastal areas, herring gulls and lesser blackbacked gulls can also be responsible for damage and disruption. 

Flocks of pigeons typically congregate on buildings resulting in a build up of droppings.  Bird droppings can make walking surfaces hazardous, particularly in wet weather.  Nest materials and other debris collected by the birds may also block rainwater disposal systems and can encourage infestations of insects and mites.  There is also a human disease risk from direct contact with the birds.

It is possible to obtain a licence, which allows an authorised person to kill or remove these ‘pest' species using certain specified methods (e.g. shooting or cage trapping).  The licence may also allow the removal or destruction of the birds' eggs or nests.  However, it should be remembered that nests that are not in use are not protected under the Act and may be removed or destroyed at any time.



In unpolluted churchyards, lichens often form mosaics of colour on the stonework, adding to the character and interest of the site. They vary in form from simple, powdery scatterings and crusts to more elaborate leafy or even bushy structures.Lichens are actually two ‘plants' in one: a fungal partner usually forms the visible body of the lichen and within, protected by threads of fungus, cells of algae provide nutrition, utilising sunlight in the same way as green plants. 

Contrary to popular opinion, most lichens do not ‘feed' on the stone, bark or soil upon which they grow.

When thinking about how to manage your place of worship it is important to consider the impact your maintenance regime will have on species such as lichens. 

LichenSpraying chemicals in the churchyard to discourage ‘weeds' may damage existing lichen colonies and leave unpleasant stains. If, on the other hand, memorials are left to disappear under a sea of bramble, ivy or cow parsley, the lichens on them will wither and die through lack of light.Where cleaning is felt to be necessary for an inscription to be made legible, this can be achieved by using a soft brush and clean water. 

Spraying with pesticides or vigorous scrubbing will cause more damage to the stone than any lichen colonisation. Further information and advice can be obtained from the British Lichen Society.

© SPAB 2010