Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by the Living Churchyard & Cemetery Project (CEM 60)


  1.  The Living Churchyard & Cemetery Project (LCCP) promotes the principles and practices of nature conservation in all types of burial grounds throughout the country. Based at the Arthur Rank Centre (an ecumenical rural church centre), it originally focussed on rural churchyards and burial grounds. In recent years, however, while continuing its work in this field it has also developed into urban and secular burial grounds.

  2.  The LCCP wishes to submit representations to the Committee on the following topics:

    —  The environmental, historical and cultural significance of cemeteries for local communities. The condition of existing cemeteries in respect of nature conservation.

    —  The management and provision of cemetery services in respect of nature conservation.


  3.  The Arthur Rank Centre (ARC) believes it is important to challenge the church and religious authorities with their responsibility for conservation issues. In 1987, and as part of this work, it established the Church & Conservation Project (CCP). In 1989 the CCP, with the support of a number of leading conservation organisations, [23] launched an extensive DIY information pack entitled "The Living Churchyard". The aim was to arouse interest in the value of churchyards, chapel yards and cemeteries for nature conservation. The highly successful launch resulted in widespread interest in the project within the UK and beyond and ultimately led to the establishment of the LCCP. This was led by a national advisory group with a broad spectrum of members formed to act in conjunction with and as advisors to the Development Officer—originally on secondment from the Nature Conservancy Council (now English Nature).

  Regrettably funding, always a major problem for the LCCP, has been insufficient during the last year to meet the cost of employing a development officer.

  4.  The aims of the LCCP are:

    —  To enhance wildlife and its habitat in all kinds of burial grounds through conservation management.

    —  To preserve burial grounds as essential elements of the historic landscape and to promote their recognition as such.

    —  To create an atmosphere of benefit to grieving visitors and to promote community based action for the environment.

    —  To encourage educational use of burial grounds.

    —  To aid the understanding of our natural and cultural heritage and its importance in God's creation.

    —  To enhance the amenity of burial grounds.

  To this end:

    The LCCP has worked to support and advise, as required, those places in Britain, where the

    —  ideas of the project have already become established and to direct help and guidance into expanding areas such as urban and secular. For example it has:

      —  produced a wealth of resources and information for those interested in enhancing churchyards, cemeteries and burial grounds for nature conservation and re-creation[24];

      —  arranged training days in respect of the conservation management of churchyards—dealing with matters such as survey, management planning and practical work; and

      —  developed, in association with Solihull College, a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) in Churchyard Management

    The LCCP promotes churchyards and cemeteries as an educational resource. For example:

    —  The LCCP has already produced a very successful educational pack for children at Keystage 2 (7-11 years old) entitled "Hunt the Daisy"[25]. This is an education pack designed to help teachers and leaders of children's groups use the resources of their local churchyard, burial ground or cemetery and to enable children to gain an appreciation of nature and the importance of conservation, whilst gaining a respect for the dignity of such places. Linked to the national curriculum, the pack also enables teachers to use churchyards and cemeteries to assist in the teaching of mathematics, science, history, art, geography and a sense of social responsibility. (Note: Requests had been received for a pack aimed at Keystage 1. Regrettably, the lack of funding and the resulting need to dispense, for the time being at any rate, with the services of the development officer, have meant this has had to be put on hold.)

    The LCCP is currently involved in a pilot project organised by Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council, the objective of which is "To consider options to develop processes that will inform and activate choice in the way cemetery sites are maintained and managed for the betterment of both the community and wildlife" (For full details see Appendix).


  Cemeteries are open spaces. As such they have the potential to be of real significance as far as the natural environment is concerned. In some urban areas they may be of particular significance. For example the nearest group of mature trees to Birmingham city centre is in an old cemetery.

  When Britain signed the Convention on Biological Diversity at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, it committed itself to playing a part in conserving and sustaining the variety of life on Earth. As a consequence of this, a national Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) was prepared describing the animals, plants and habitats most a risk of extinction in Britain together with practical actions for their conservation. Subsequently a series of local BAPs were drawn up.

  Cemeteries afford a tremendous opportunity for assisting the success of such action plans. The fact that they are open spaces obviously means that, with a little care and a little attention to their habitat creation and management, they have the potential to support much biodiversity. Indeed, the memorial stones themselves play an important role providing as they do, and as far as pollution levels and stone types will permit, an opportunity for many varieties of lichens to flourish.

  Changing the management of our cemeteries in this way would, in addition, have a direct effect on the well being of the local population. For many urban dwellers the opportunity of seeing wild flowers and animals is greatly restricted. Well-managed cemeteries would help redress the balance and provide the opportunity to encourage a greater interest in the natural world—and a greater understanding of its importance.

  Cemeteries are, first and foremost, for the burying of our dead. It therefore follows that every one of them contains a wealth of social history—and on an ongoing basis. This is immediately obvious in most of the older cemeteries, many of which were designed by famous landscape architects of the day, such as Joseph Paxton. Unfortunately it may be less obvious in the newer ones—and even in the newer sections of the old ones—partly thanks to restrictive regulations and partly, perhaps, to a change in our culture.

  Culturally most cemeteries have something to offer. Many of them have the potential to be a rich educational resource. Again the older ones are perhaps of particular significance. However, the changes in our culture have resulted in the new ones being what they are and this in itself makes them significant.

  Well managed cemeteries are places where people, nature and history meet. People are generally remembered by the bereaved as they were, so headstones reflected the style, fashion and culture not just of the day but also, frequently, of the society to which the deceased belonged. In addition, the amenity value of these large urban green spaces should not be under-estimated or overlooked. Indeed, recreation was as intrinsic to the design of the older cemeteries as was burial


  A few cemeteries are already managed with nature conservation greatly in mind. Carlisle is a major and successful example.

  Unfortunately, many more are not. Over the years a mindset seems to have developed that a good cemetery must, for example:

    be closely manicured—this has all too often resulted in no long grass or other cover for small animals, no wild flowers and the overuse of weed killer;

      (i)  use every available space for burial—this has discouraged the leaving of areas for habitat creation.

  The result is that many cemeteries have become somewhat barren. In these cases it is the reintroduction rather than the conservation of the natural environment that is now required. However, this is not as difficult a task as it may appear and would certainly pay great dividends.


  For many years, except in some isolated cases (Carlisle again being a notable example), cemetery services have rarely been provided with nature conservation in mind. Too few cemetery managers have had the necessary knowledge and, with the priority always being to make cemeteries pay (purely in financial terms), the pressure has been to make grounds maintenance as quick and as simple as possible. Examples of this include keeping planting to a minimum, keeping unwanted growth down by weedkiller and arranging the layout of the grounds and the memorials around the ease of mowing. (Note: Even the prohibition of kerb memorials will have had a detrimental effect on the environment since the crevices supplied by the kerbs are a useful habitat for a number of invertebrates.)


  The LCCP suggests the following in relation to its own aims as listed in 4 above.

  Recognise the importance of cemeteries:

    —  to the environment—and not merely in respect of wildlife but also the local community;

    —  as historical records;

    —  as an educational resource for all age groups;

    —  as part of our ongoing heritage;

    —  for the comfort and memories of many bereaved;

    —  as an expression of our respect for the departed.

  Support and encourage pilot studies such as that being organised by Sandwell MBC (see Appendix).

  Facilitate an information programme/PR campaign to:

    —  change the general mindset that, in order for cemeteries to fulfil their primary purpose—ie the burying and commemorating of our dead, they have always to be closely manicured;

    —  change the general belief that when nature conservation is introduced into cemeteries they will start to look like overgrown wildernesses which are likely to attract vandals and other less desirable members of society and which will not be helpful to the bereaved or respectful to the departed;

    —  reassure the bereaved that introducing nature conservation into cemetery management will not result in the above, that the memorials will not be hidden by tall grass etc and that access to the individual memorials will not become difficult;

    —  facilitate/establish training programmes for cemetery managers (current and future) in all matters to do with the conservation and re-introduction of wildlife in cemeteries.

  Take action to involve the local communities and to establish within them an interest and a sense of ownership—by, for example, encouraging all sections of the local community to assist in, say:

    —  the creation of areas such as wild flower meadows;

    —  the re-creation of habitats;

    —  the setting up of nesting boxes;

    —  the monitoring of wildlife within the cemetery;

    —  the recording of inscriptions;

    —  the promotion and marketing of local relevant projects;

  using the cemeteries as an educational resource for local schools (see "Hunt the Daisy" above).

    Encouraging local interest groups to use cemeteries more extensively:

    —  encouraging "Open Days" which attract all sectors of the community rather than just those with a direct interest in the cemetery (ie include suitable "attractions" of general interest and entertainment).

  Use action such as the above to encourage a change in the attitude prevalent in this country that, because all things to do with death are gruesome and to be avoided whenever possible, it follows that cemeteries must be gruesome and should likewise be avoided. Success in this would be likely to result in a greater use of cemeteries, a greater willingness to see money spent on cemeteries and, as a result, a lessening in cemeteries being seen as suitable places for the less desirable members of society to congregate. This last is important if cemeteries are to provide:

    —  an atmosphere of benefit to grieving visitors;

    —  a better and safer environment for wildlife.




  To consider options to develop processes that will inform and activate choice in the way cemetery sites are maintained and managed for the betterment of both the community and wildlife.


  The Living Churchyards and Cemeteries Project (LCCP) has successfully developed a process that has allowed for a range of environmental initiatives in rural churchyards to improve and enhance the wildlife content.

  There is as yet no programme developed to consider the way forward for cemeteries. A benchmark example exists at Carlisle but there is a need for a more fundamental approach to inform and encourage Cemetery Managers, Greenspace Managers and environmentalists.


  A 12-month pilot study analysing a locally focussed site(s) linked to:

    —  site availability;

    —  local need;

    —  local funding opportunities;

    —  biodiversity action plans;

    —  local/regional/national partners.

  There will be a direct relationship with existing Government priorities and initiatives, such as:

    —  Best Value, where there is a need to challenge the way things are done and consult with relevant groups/individuals.

    —  Community Safety, where there is a need to ensure all places visited/used by the public are considered safe and consequently "owned" by the whole community.

    —  Disability Discrimination Act, requiring ease of access to all venues.

    —  Social Inclusion, where groups are not discriminated against.

    —  Sustainability, where the grounds are managed in an appropriate manner that enhances the environment for both humans and wildlife.


  To produce brief for a 12 months' programme.

  To identify partners.

  To identify sites—current environmental condition look at options.

  To consult relevant groups/individuals.

  To determine inputs/outputs.

  To consider video project, capturing the project process.


  Urban Wildlife Trust (lead).

  Institute of Burial and Cremation Managers representative.

  Nature Conservation Officers (Mets/Shires).

  Greenspace Management representative.

  Education representative.

  Community representative.


  Local external funding (SRB).

  Environment Action Fund.

  Lottery funding (for revenue?).


  Agree project.

  Undertake project.

  Periodic reports to LCCP Group and other relevant groups.

  Final report.

  Produce (draft) relevant information packs.

  Present findings to relevant bodies.

  Develop pilot regionally/nationally through agreed policy and action plan.

  Monitor progress via Steering Group reporting to LCCP Group.

December 2000

23   World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), English Nature (then the Nature Conservancy Council), the Wildlife Trusts (as RSNC) and CSV/UK2000. Back

24   It is understood that the Select Committee has a copy of the latest "DIY Information Pack". Back

25   It is understood that the Select Committee has a copy of this education pack. Back

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