I recently attended an excellent workshop run by Caring for Gods Acre ‘The Beautiful burial ground: how to create a haven for wildlife, for heritage, for people’.
There are some really good reasons why burial grounds are important heritage sites:
There are 20,000 burial sites in the UK many with historic features such as sundials and mausoleums which have no formal designation or protection
97% of ‘unimproved’ grassland has been lost since 1945. Churchyards and burial grounds are likely to be the last remaining undisturbed land in the parish.
Over 1/3 of the 2000 UK lichen species are found in churchyards
Burial grounds often contain significant mature trees such as Yews which are threatened across Europe. There are 800 Yews over 500 years old in UK burial grounds
Caring for Gods Acre produce useful factsheets on a range of conservation topics. You can also contact your local biological centre for information relating to species and habitats in your area, NBN Gateway is a good place to start. Natural England also have a wealth of data which can help you understand why what you have in your burial ground is significant.
It is also important to think about the build heritage of your site such as mausoleums, sundials and lych gates. Thinking about the site holistically and understand how wildlife and build heritage interact will help you better conserve all the significant heritage you have.
Once you know what you have on your site and why it is significant, you can better plan for management and maintenance of the site. You will also be in a great position to get the local community involved. Caring for Gods Acre have lots of tips and case studies showing the creative ways you can share the heritage of your site more widely. From recruiting volunteers to running guided walks and writing interpretation material. These activities can be built in to HLF grant applications and help achieve the outcomes for people and communities which our funding is there to support.
Check out the website to find out what is going on near you, use the resources, and consider getting involved in the annual cherishing your churchyard week.
If you have your own advice and tips for good burial ground conservation projects, please do share in the comments below.