Memorandum by English Nature (CEM 73)
1. English Nature recognises that many cemeteries
support an important diversity of wildlife, and in some cases
act as valuable refuges for rare and uncommon species and habitats,
especially in the urban and suburban context (see paras. 2.2-2.11
below). They can play a key role in the implementation of local
Biodiversity Action Plan targets.
2. We recommend that, as part of local biodiversity
audits, all cemeteries are surveyed and evaluated for their biodiversity
and if found to be of importance considered for designation and
protection as local Wildlife Sites by local authorities, in association
with local Wildlife Trusts and other interested groups.
3. We recommend that management of cemeteries
should benefit both biodiversity and people. We support measures
taken by local authorities to conserve biodiversity and facilitate
the public enjoyment and understanding of it. Declaring appropriate
cemeteries as Local Nature Reserves under Section 21 of the National
Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, is a recommended
4. We believe that the maintenance and restoration
of monuments and headstones, as well as active burial space, need
not be to the detriment of biodiversity. We recommend that managers
work to management plans, in partnership with interested bodies,
with the aim to balance the various interests and activities that
5. Cemeteries can play a useful role in
the provision of multi-functional green networks within the urban
fabric, for people's contact with nature, and other broader environmental
benefits. We recommend that this role is recognised by local authorities
within Local Plans in line with English Nature's recommended access
to natural greenspace standards.
6. We recognise the value of the Living
Churchyards and Cemeteries project in raising awareness of the
natural heritage of cemeteries and facilitating local people's
participation in conservation, and recommend that resources are
sought to continue its work in partnership with key organisations.
7. We strongly recommend that land of high
biodiversity interest is protected from proposed burial space
by local authorities in Local Plans, and suitable provision for
protecting wildlife features and creating new habitats, where
appropriate, are included in new cemetery proposals.
1.1 English Nature is the statutory body
that champions the conservation and enhancement of the wildlife
and natural features of England. We do this by:
agencies, local authorities, interest groups, business, communities,
the special nature conservation site in England;
enablinghelping others to
manage land for nature conservation, through grants, projects,
conservation for all and biodiversity as a key test of sustainable
1.2 In fulfilling our statutory duties,
establish and manage National Nature
notify and safeguard Sites of Special
Scientific Interest (SSSIs);
advocate to government departments
and others effective policies for nature conservation;
disseminate guidance and advice about
promote research relevant to nature
1.3 Through the Joint Nature Conservation
Committee, English Nature works with sister organisations in Scotland,
Wales and Northern Ireland to advise Government on UK and international
nature conservation issues.
1.4 The following submission on cemeteries
and crematoria deals with matters of interest which fall within
the remit of English Nature. Our definition of cemeteries is those
burial spaces outside the confines of a church. These are primarily
those owned and managed by local authorities or private companies,
although it doesn't exclude those that fall within the ownership
of churches and other religious denominations.
2.1 As well as providing us with a rich
historical and cultural resource, the establishment of cemeteries
has left us with an important environmental legacy. Changes, particularly
over the past 60 years, have resulted in very many cemeteries
becoming important wildlife havens and places where people can
have safe and informative contact with nature.
2.2 Cemeteries vary considerably in size,
structure, management and distribution. They are predominantly
urban or suburban, although some are found on the rural fringes
of towns and cities, and are rarely more than 150 years old. Small
cemeteries are a feature of villages and rural communities, and
can date back considerably further. Very many are good for wildlife,
and this has been extensively recorded. They can also provide
a broader function acting as nodes and linkages within a wider
network of green spaces and corridors for the benefit of both
wildlife and people. There will be additional environmental benefits
in terms of air and noise pollution amelioration, reduction of
surface run-off, and oxygen production.
2.3 Due to the origin of the land cemeteries
once enclosed and the management practices adopted, cemeteries
can support habitats and species populations that are relics of
the former countryside. The range of habitats can be diverse.
Relict grasslands, heath, ancient and secondary woodland, scrub,
hedges, ponds, flushes, and more artificial features (such as
high maintenance lawns, stands of trees, ornamental flower beds,
shrubberies) are all present. In addition buildings, monuments,
tombs and headstones, made from a variety of rocks, can provide
support for lichens, mosses and ferns, as well as providing geological
2.4 Most cemeteries were formed from enclosing
grassland (usually meadows and pastures) or arable land. Where
traditional management methods have occurred, along with an absence
or restrictive application of fertilisers and herbicides, these
can support a range of plant species that may otherwise be rare
or uncommon in the locality. For example, Morden Cemetery (London)
features relict neutral grassland, and supports the only green-winged
orchid colony in the capital. Broadway Cemetery (Peterborough)
holds the largest population of meadow saxifrage in Cambridgeshire.
The Rosary (Norwich) supports heather and wood speedwell, relicts
of ancient heathland no longer present in the city. Surveys in
Wales have revealed the importance of burial ground grasslands
for waxcap fungi, including one of national importance, Hygrocybe
caliptriformis, a UK BAP Priority Species. Urbanisation and the
intensification of agricultural practices has led to the decline
or disappearance of many these species elsewhere in a localitycemeteries
can act as refuges.
2.5 Surveys of invertebrates have also tended
to confirm the importance of many grasslands within cemeteries.
Many insects of nationally rare or scarce status have been found,
even within urban cemeteries, and others are indicative of the
relict habitats found within. Commoner insects associated with
grasslands, such as many butterflies, grasshoppers and crickets,
provide additional interest for visitors, adding a sense of life
to cemeteries during summer.
2.6 Woodland that has developed in under-managed
cemeteries is usually a mix of opportunistic species, such as
ash, sycamore, elder, goat willow, and horse chestnut interspersed
with the stands of planted ornamental trees. Ivy is usually prolific,
as is bramble found on the edges. Although this is generally species-poor,
this can provide important habitat for birds, mammals and invertebrates.
In inner urban areas cemeteries often support the most significant
tract of woodlands (eg Abney Park Cemetery, Hackney), and are
valued as such by local people for the sense of the wild that
2.7 We recognise, however, that the development
of woodland can undermine graves and lead to the break-up of structures,
through the penetration of root systems. Large under-managed tracts
of woodland can also become impenetrable; issues of access and
security are important to address for the visiting public. We
therefore support a balanced management approach to cemetery woodlands,
that takes account of the need to maintain the built structures
and the value that they provide for people, and those of biodiversity,
especially in localities that are otherwise deficient in woodlands.
We recommend management plans are prepared by managers, in partnership
with interested bodies.
2.8 Some of the ornamental trees and shrubs
planted that have matured, whilst of moderate value to biodiversity,
can be uncommon and of interest, such as willow-leaved pear in
Witton, Birmingham, and the "trees of sorrow", hybrids
selected for their drooping shape (such as weeping beech). Evergreen
trees planted for their sombre effect, such as pines, firs, yew
and holly, provide refuge for a range of birds such as blackbird
2.9 A wide range of birds are supported
in cemeteries. Many of these will be those found in neighbouring
gardens or countryside, although a number appear to be particularly
well suited to some of the habitats present. Grasslands will support
foraging areas for green woodpecker, scrubby thickets provide
shelter for blackcap and feeding areas for goldfinch, whereas
woodland stands can support tawny owl, sparrowhawk, great spotted
woodpecker, and bullfinch. It was estimated in the late 1980s
that Nunhead Cemetery (7 kilometres from St. Paul's Cathedral)
supported 60 pairs of wrens.
2.10 A range of amphibians, reptiles and
mammals can also be found, although these will be much more dependent
on the size and structure of the site, and its connectivity to
other habitats to aid immigration and gene pool exchange. Common
toad, smooth newt, common lizard, slow-worm and grass snake can
be encountered; reptiles benefit from headstones as places on
which to bask. Mammals such as common shrew, hedgehog, bank vole,
woodmouse and fox will be present, and deer and badger may utilise
cemeteries if they are connected to the wider countryside. Bats
may roost in damaged and derelict structures; if undisturbed for
some time these may be important for scarcer species such as Natterer's
and brown long-eared6. Cemetery grasslands will serve as foraging
2.11 The importance of cemeteries to lichens
and mosses can be high, but is as not well recorded as in churchyards.
The location of cemeteries within urban areas, the relative youth
of many headstones and monuments, and the use of polished marbles
and granites in their construction, restricts the opportunities
for a great diversity of these taxa. As with churchyards, the
wishes of relatives of the deceased to maintain headstones in
a clean state also inhibits them, although this tends to only
occur on the more recently interred graves. As with woodlands,
we support a balanced approach to ensuring that important lichen
and moss communities are conserved where appropriate. The British
Lichen Society is able to give guidance.
3. MEASURES TO
3.1 Many cemeteries have featured within
habitat surveys within the UK, and have correspondingly been evaluated
for their value to biodiversity. In London, for example, over
147 cemeteries have been identified as being of nature conservation
importance, with a total area of almost 1,300ha, almost 1 per
cent of the total land cover7. Some of these have subsequently
received additional planning protection on this base; a number
are accorded of Metropolitan Importance, such as Highgate, Morden,
and Nunhead Cemeteries. We recommend that, as part of local biodiversity
audits, all cemeteries are surveyed and evaluated and if found
to be of importance considered for designation and protection
as local Wildlife Sites by local authorities, in association with
local Wildlife Trusts and other interested groups.
3.2 Cemeteries can contain UK BAP priority
habitats, with many sites containing locally significant tracts,
and these should be identified and evaluated within the audit
process of local BAPs. In addition within a few urban BAPs, cemeteries
(along with churchyards) have been identified as a specific Habitat
3.3 A number of species present in cemeteries
are legally protected and/or listed on various non-statutory schedules.
These will include a number of birds and animals protected under
the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (eg great crested newt,
slow-worm, grass snake), UK BAP Priority Species (eg skylark,
song thrush, linnet, stag beetle), and Red Data book species (especially
3.4 A few cemeteries are managed as nature
reserves. For example Bisley Road Cemetery (Stroud, Gloucestershire)
is a statutory Local Nature Reserve which English Nature has recently
grant-aided. We support measures taken by local authorities to
benefit the conservation of biodiversity and people's contact
with and enjoyment of it, and that declaring appropriate cemeteries
as Local Nature Reserves under Section 21 of the National Parks
and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, is a recommended means.
3.5 English Nature supports the efforts
to promote the natural interest of cemeteries, whether this is
through notice boards, interpretation panels, booklets, leaflets
and events. In some cases this has been very successful, often
through the enthusiasm and expertise of "Friends of"
groups. In particular, the Living Churchyards & Cemeteries
project that has been very influential, although it is currently
inactive through lack of funding. We recognise the value of the
Living Churchyards & Cemeteries project in raising awareness
of the natural heritage of cemeteries and facilitating local people's
participation in conservation, and recommend that resources are
sought to continue its work in partnership with key organisations.
4.1 English Nature recognises that benefits
to biodiversity have often come at the expense of the ornamental,
cultural, and recreational value of cemeteries. Many, through
years of neglect, have witnessed the decay and dereliction of
monuments, to the dismay of many visitors. Root penetration by
vegetation (see above) and the burrowing activities of animals
such as fox and badger may cause considerable disturbance to graves
and structures. The visual impacts of under-management has led
to vandalism, can contribute to the perceptions of unsafe areas,
and lead to the further dereliction of cemeteries as community
assets. Some cemeteries are in "a shocking state"8,
and are seen to be places to avoid. Whilst this has often brought
about enhancements to biodiversity, we acknowledge the need for
a balance between management for wildlife, and the other important
functions that cemeteries provide.
4.2 We believe that management for biodiversity
need not be at the expense of the other functions, and that managers
seek the expertise of groups such as the Wildlife Trusts and others
in order to be successful in obtaining the appropriate balance.
There are many existing examples of cemeteries being managed with
tangible benefits to biodiversity, as well as meeting the needs
of other interests. These include Nunhead Cemetery and St Pancras
& Islington Cemetery in London.
5.1 We strongly believe that people's access
to natural greenspace, whether in urban or rural localities, is
important for health, education and recreational purposes, and
as such is essential to our quality of life. Cemeteries open to
the public can play a useful part in this provision, and if linked
to other greenspaces and corridors, can act as nodes within a
wider multi-functional green network. We recommend that this role
is recognised by local authorities within Local Plans in line
with English Nature's recommended access to natural greenspace
6.1 The state of many cemeteries makes them
very expensive to restore to a good state, let alone to near their
original state, if that were desired. Long-term neglect cannot
be cheaply resolved, which is why low-cost management to benefit
biodiversity has often been adopted. This, however, cannot address
the repair and maintenance of monuments and headstones. Therefore
Lottery funds have been instrumental in levering resources into
cemetery projects. We support the role that cemeteries can make
towards quality local environments, and recognise that they require
the funding in order to meet this successfully. Lottery funding
is one way to secure sufficient resources, and we support measures
that will help target cemeteries as a priority for such funding.
6.2 In terms if biodiversity conservation,
funding for work in cemeteries has been made available through
grants from English Nature's Community Action for Wildlife, MAFF's
Countryside Stewardship Scheme, via schemes managed by the Wildlife
Trust, and local authorities. Other opportunities are available
through the Forestry Commission's Woodland Grant Scheme, the various
New Opportunities Funds from the National Lottery, and amending
existing local authority management contracts through Best Value.
In relation to restoration of structures, biodiversity conservation
is often significantly cheaper. Capital works (tree-planting,
interpretation) may be easy to fund, but revenue is more difficult
to secure. This remains an ongoing problem.
6.3 In light of the various functions that
cemeteries fulfil, we support the development of partnerships,
especially between community groups and cemetery owners, in order
to prepare and implement restoration and management programmes.
7. NEW CEMETERIES
7.1 We recognise that there will be a continued
demand for burial space and this will require the use of land
to meet it. Much of this will focus on the rural fringes of towns
and cities, on land which may support considerable biodiversity
interest. We strongly recommend that land of high biodiversity
interest is protected from proposed burial space by local authorities
in Local Plans. Suitable provision for protecting wildlife features
and enhancing and/or creating new habitats, where appropriate,
should be included in new cemetery proposals.
7.2 We recognise the growing awareness of
the environmental costs of burial and cremation, and the rise
in "green burials", using planted trees as memorials.
As above, we suggest that these should be established on land
of low biodiversity value, and that their development should take
into account existing wildlife features, and where possible, provision
for habitat enhancement where appropriate. Native tree species
of local provenance should be planted in preference to ornamental
ANNEX 1: HISTORICAL
A.1 The establishment of cemeteries to house
the buried of the growing urban populations from the 1830s has
resulted in a rich historical, cultural, and environmental legacy.
Created upon the outer fringes of conurbations, most of the older
cemeteries have now become enveloped within the urban and suburban
fabric, and through changes in both management and attitudes,
a large number fulfil a range of important environmental functions.
A.2 Until the Industrial Revolution, the
dead were usually buried in the churchyard or small burial grounds
near to the chapel or church of the settlement in which they lived.
This changed with the rapid rise in urban populations from the
early 19th century, compounded by the increased mortality and
incidence of disease association with such populations in the
light of poor sanitation and foul environmental conditions. The
first, established in Liverpool in 1825, stimulated a rush of
cemetery growth, so that by 1850 every British town and city had
one, with hundreds more being set up by the end of the century.
They were usually developed upon existing countryside, away from
urban centres, and landscaped and managed in a highly formal and
ornamental fashion, resulting in the widescale planting of trees
and shrubs, and the establishment of flower-beds and lawns to
create a place of beauty in keeping with the aesthetics of the
A.3 After the First World War, the collapse
of many cemetery companies, through the increased cost of labour,
is well-recorded, and this led to a relaxationor declinein
management. Increased costs of burial and cultural changes led
to the growth in cremation. Many cemeteries subsequently came
into the ownership of local authorities, and costs of maintenance
led many into a spiral of further decline, and by the 1960s many
cemeteries were subject to vandalism, and minimal management,
especially if burial space became tight. Those ornamental plantings
not grubbed up and replaced with easily maintained lawns were
left to naturea "poignant instance of natural alchemy
was the transmutation of London's great Victorian cemeteries into
overgrown Gothic-Italianate fantasies where ruined chapels and
ransacked mausolea were simply overwhelmed by a tidal wave of
A.4 The concerns raised by relatives and
those connected with the buried, as well as by communities living
nearby, led to the establishment of many support groups"Friends
of . . . "from the mid-1970s. These have since blossomed,
leading to the establishment of a national network of cemetery
friends, and a sea-change in the approach to cemetery management
A.5 In the past 20 years many cemeteries
have become managed for multi-functional purposes, including the
maintenance of historical features, biodiversity conservation,
and passive recreation. Partnership approaches are being adopted,
especially between local authorities, agencies such as English
Heritage, and community groups, and the availability of funds
through the National Lottery has allowed the restoration of damaged
monuments and infrastructure, and the implementation of new works
to provide benefits to both people and wildlife. The Living Churchyards
& Cemeteries campaign, begun in the 1980s, led to the growing
awareness of the importance of such spaces for biodiversity, and
the establishment of many local initiatives to promote them throughout
A.6 Many urban cemeteries are approaching
burial capacity, and the long-term future of burial space provision
is of growing concern. 11 This will lead to reviewing the way
existing cemeteries are managed (eg increased density), and may
lead to the expansion of cemeteries or creation of new burial
space, and the development of new approaches to burial (eg green
burials). Much of this is dependent on attitudes on burial held
within society, which themselves are diverse. Although many people
acknowledge the need to reduce the impact of burial (and are looking
at alternatives, such as cremation), there are many sectors of
society which have strongly-held beliefs which will require the
continual provision of adequate space for the foreseeable future.
This will have impacts on land-use both within and on the edge
of conurbations, and may impact on biodiversity. A recent example
was a proposed new Eastern Sephardic cemetery in Barnet within
London's Green Belt, on land supporting breeding skylarks and
meadow pipits. Although this was rejected at Public Inquiry on
landscape groundsit would have been intensively constructed
in line with Jewish traditionit is indicative of the pressures
that are likely to increase on land on the rural fringes of towns
1. Gilbert, O, (1989). The Ecology of
Urban Habitats, Chapman and Hall.
2. Barker, G, (1997). A framework for
the future: green networks with multiple uses in and around towns
and cities, English Nature Research Report No.256, UK MAB
Committee's Urban Forum, English Nature.
3. Gilbert, O, (1989). Rooted in stone:
the natural flora of urban walls, English Nature.
4. Bertrand, N, (1996). Morden Cemetery:
ecological survey and management report, unpublished report
for Wandsworth Borough Council.
5. Countryside Council for Wales, (2000).
6. Sargent, G, (1995). The Bats in Churches
Project, The Bat Conservation Trust.
7. London Biodviersity Partnership, (2000).
The London Biodiversity Audit: Volume 1 of the London Biodiversity
Action Plan, London Biodiversity Partnership.
8. Worpole, K, quoted at Greening the
City conference, TCPA and Landscape Foundation, London, 6
9. Barker, G, (1995). Accessible natural
greenspace in towns and cities. A review of appropriate size and
distance criteria. English Nature Research Report No.153,
10. Nicholson-Lord, D, (1987). The Greening
of the Cities, Routledge & Kegan Paul.
11. Halcrow Fox (1997). Burial Space
Needs in London, London Planning Advisory Committee.