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Churchyards

Caring for your churchyard, its memorials and trees, encouraging biodiversity; Churchyard Memorial Regulations

Keith Halliday

Church Buildings Advisor

01904 699523

Catherine Copp

Secretary to the Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC)

01904 699522

As a place of special interest to a wide range of people – mourners, parishioners, historians, ecologists, visitors and others – the care of your churchyard is regulated in a number of different ways. Just like the church building and its contents, any significant work in the churchyard will require permission – either the Archdeacon’s permission under List B, or a Faculty issued by the Chancellor. With a few exceptions, any work to an existing memorial will also need a Faculty. The introduction of a new memorial is covered by the Churchyard Memorial Regulations.

Reservation of Burial Plots

The reservation of a space for the burial of a body or cremated remains requires a faculty, obtained from the Diocesan Registry. Application forms and details of fees can be found on their webpage. 

Churchyard Plans

Under the Churchyard Plans and Records Regulations 1992, every PCC of a church which has a churchyard used for burials or for the burial of cremated remains is obliged to hold and keep up to date a plan of the churchyard.

Churchyard Plans and Records Regulations

New Memorials

The Chancellor often delegates authority to allow new memorials (headstones or plaques) to the minister, by means of the diocesan Churchyard Memorial Regulations 2018. These Regulations, approved by the Chancellor after consultation with the DAC, aim to ensure that any new memorials respect their surroundings, harmonise with existing memorials, and enhance the character of the church or churchyard in question. Sometimes they arise from the resolution of past difficulties. Observing them promotes consistency of approach in a churchyard. 

Any new memorial which does not comply with these Regulations will require a Faculty by private petition to the Diocesan Registry (and for which a fee is payable). Please see the Registry website, where you will find contact details and copies of the petition form.

Please also see the booklet entitled ‘Our Churchyard – A Guide for the Bereaved’. This booklet can be given to families to explain what is and is not permitted in our churchyards by way of memorials and items placed on graves.

Maintenance of Memorials

Any work to an existing memorial, whether repair, removal or replacement, will require a Faculty. If the work is to be carried out at the request of the deceased’s family member, then an application can be made to the Chancellor for faculty permission to be dispensed with; please see the Chancellor’s Practice Direction for details of how to apply.

If the PCC will be carrying out the works then it should give notice of that fact and display notices asking for any of the deceased’s relatives to come forward. For suggested wording for such a notice see below.

For advice on how to deal with broken or dangerous memorials, see the DAC’s Guidance Note. Please note that memorials should not be laid down flat except as a last resort, and with prior Faculty permission. The Guidance Note will tell you what steps you should take to keep your churchyard, and its visitors, safe.

For information on how to care for historic churchyard memorials and monuments including repairs, cleaning, condition surveys and risk assessments please see the detailed guidance on the Historic England webpage.

War Memorials

See the guidance on the conservation, repair and management of War Memorials, issued by Historic England

Closing a Churchyard to Further Burials

If your churchyard is full then you can apply to the Ministry of Justice via the Gov.uk website to close it to further burials and consider whether you wish to transfer responsibility for its future maintenance to the local authority.

Maintenance, Landscaping, or Building Work in the Churchyard

In addition to requiring List B or Faculty permission, the maintenance of your churchyard may also be affected by secular jurisdiction. You should check whether planning permission is required before commencing any new building work, landscaping,or the laying or altering of paths, drains etc.

Trees

For information on how to look after your churchyard trees, please see the extensive Church of England guidance.

Tree works covered by List A are very limited in their scope. Most of the works you will need to carry out – such as tree planting, the felling of a dead, dying, diseased or dangerous tree, or size reduction – will be covered by List B (or the Additional Matters Order). In all cases there will be a specified condition that regard must be had to the above CBC guidance. The felling of a healthy tree will require a full faculty.  

Any works involving trees will also need local authority permission if the tree is subject to a Tree Preservation Order or is in a Conservation Area

The DAC’s own note on Trees in Churchyards is a helpful guide to the committee’s approach to tree works.

If you looking for an accredited arboriculturalist you can search the Arboricultural Association’s Approved Contractor Directory

Benches

Please see the DAC’s guide to the introduction of benches in churchyards.

Noticeboards

Church noticeboards are an extremely useful method of communication and likely to be the first impression that a passer-by or visitor will have of your church. It is vital that the initial impression is positive. If your church is locked, it is an opportunity to convey a positive Christian message providing details of services and provide key holder information.

The DAC has prepared its own guide to Church Noticeboards, and see the Church of England’s guidance 

If you are only repairing, repainting or replacing your noticeboard like for like, then the work will probably fall under List A and need no permission. The alteration of an existing noticeboard or the introduction of a new one will need your Archdeacon’s approval under List B. 

If your noticeboard is outside church land (e.g. in a vicarage garden or outside the church boundary walls) then planning permission will be needed. If it is within the churchyard then it may have deemed consent if it meets certain criteria (see the DAC guide for details); then you can set up your noticeboard without the written permission of the local planning authority. 

Archaeology

Archaeological observation, investigation and recording should be carried out during any work which may reveal, disturb or destroy archaeological deposits and historic fabric of the building concerned. So, any work with archaeological implications, such as digging drains, repairing monuments or tree removal, will require careful consideration, particularly if your building is on an ancient site, and an Archaeological Watching Brief (AWB) may be required as a condition of any consent given for the works.

The Church of England’s guide to Church Building Works With Archaeological Implications is helpful and it covers the archaeological implications of works both in and around your church building. The webpage also outlines the different types of archaeological work, plus requirements for follow-up archiving. 

If any part of the church or churchyard is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, whether above or below ground, then the appropriate consent should be sought before any work commences. You can search for SAMs on the National Heritage List for England.

Any work with archaeological implications will be outside the scope of Lists A and B and will require a faculty.

Trench Arch Drainage Systems

Trench arch drainage systems may be introduced into rural churchyards as a possible solution for churches wishing to install WC and kitchen facilities where suitable mains drainage does not exist. 

You should seek your church architect’s advice as to whether or not such a system would be an appropriate solution for your church, taking into consideration the amount of land required, the effect of such a system on existing graves and the space available for future burials. A report in 2016 by Oxford Archaeology South for Historic England ‘Assessing the Impact of Trench Arch Drainage Systems on Archaeological Remains in Churchyards‘ contains a useful summary of Historic England’s recommendations on the installation of new trench arch drainage systems.

The introduction of a trench arch drainage system will always require a faculty.

Disturbance of Human Remains

It is a fact of life that over time the actions of wildlife, or the need to dig trenches for cables and drains through the churchyard, may result in the disturbance of human remains. We are often asked what you should do if this happens. Simply put, burials should not be disturbed unnecessarily and human remains should always be treated with dignity and respect. Whilst disarticulated remains can usually be reburied in the area from which they have been disturbed, articulated remains will always require specialist advice. If you do not already have archaeologists working on site, the DAC’s Archaeology Advisers may be able to attend, in which case please contact the DAC Secretary, Catherine Copp.

The Church of England’s guidance

For detailed guidance please see the ‘Guidance for Best Practice for the Treatment of Human Remains Excavated from Christian Burial Grounds in England’ published in 2017 by the Advisory Panel on the Archaeology of Burials in England.

[NB: badgers are legally protected and you will need a licence to move or close a sett. If they are causing a nuisance in your churchyard, seek advice from Natural England]

Sites of Special Scientific Interest

Other statutory protection measures which may affect a churchyard include the designation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), which may prohibit certain site-specific operations.

Churchyards and Biodiversity

As Christians we are called to care for our God-given creation, and we have particular responsibility for our churches and their churchyards and the wealth of diverse natural habitat within them. 

The Church of England has a wealth of advice and information on how to survey your churchyard and encourage wildlife and you can find it under the heading of Biodiversity

Caring for God’s Acre is the conservation charity for burial grounds across the UK, supporting parishes in keeping their burial grounds beautiful, accessible and connected to their communities, to see how you can join the movement

Caring for God’s Acre recommend the use of the iNaturalist app for recording wildlife in churchyards. The app helps you identify species, records your observations, and adds them to the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) Atlas.