Churchyards

The parish Churchyard is a place of history and remembrance and as such is special to people far beyond the immediate church congregation. It is also frequently a rare conservation area, home to diverse species of plants and wildlife. In both cases it deserves our protection. As a result, there are regulations that help to maintain that protection, and more information on these may be found in the downloads below.

Churchyard Regulations 2020

Organisations like TCV (The Conservation Volunteers) can help with advice on conservation projects, tools, health and safety for volunteers, and insurance, and publish handbooks on various topics.

Don’t forget to check with your church insurers regarding Risk Assessments and advice regarding health and safety when undertaking works to your churchyard, in particular use of ladders. Useful guidance can be found on the Ecclesiastical website.

Churchyard memorials

Burials, monuments and exhumations are regulated by law. The design of memorials is controlled to make sure that churches and churchyards remain special places that everyone can appreciate.

We can help you understand the rules and practices so that you can guide the bereaved, or those wishing to install a new memorial.

For any queries relating to the reservation of a grave space, exhumations, or the closure of a churchyard, please contact the Diocesan Registry on 01749 674747.

Churchyard trees

Please be aware that some work on trees in churchyards may require a faculty so it is a good idea to consult the Diocesan Registrar for advice. Go to the Faculty page for information on applying for a Faculty or List B for work on trees in your churchyard.

The Church of England website has full guidance on how to care for your trees including ancient Yews, permissions, obtaining professional help, emergency works and the planting of new trees.

Churchyard biodiversity and wildlife

Churchyards represent a precious resource which can make a huge contribution to the biodiversity of the country and engage and educate the wider community. As wildlife havens they are home to a wide variety of species, and as a result good management is essential. Excellent guidance on biodiversity and caring for the wildlife in your churchyards can be found on the Church of England website's biodiversity page or take a look at our Environment pages.

Further helpful guidance on living churchyards and supporting wildlife in your parish are available on the following websites:

Information regarding permissions

The management of the churchyard to provide a habitat for wildlife normally falls within the scope of routine maintenance for which no faculty is required.

Birds’ nesting boxes, Bat boxes and the like attached to trees or churchyard walls and fences will be treated as minor works not needing a faculty or other permission.

Boxes or any other item attached to the fabric of the church building will require List B permission from the Archdeacon. This is to ensure that any fixing does not enable water to penetrate the building, causing any further repair problems.

The following websites have some useful advice:

Some parishes have set up a ‘Friends’ group for their churchyard – such a group can help with raising funds specifically for churchyard maintenance, and also provide more pairs of hands to help. People from the local community not otherwise involved in the church may wish to become involved in this way, and to help with working parties etc. Advice on setting up a group can be found on the Parish Resources website.

Wilder Churches initiative

Wilder Churches is a new partnership initiative with the Somerset Wildlife Trust supporting communities to get to know the wildlife in their local churchyard and work together to find ways to increase the value of these special places for wildlife.

Churchyards are often the oldest enclosed piece of land in a parish and many still support a rich variety of wildflowers and wildlife, having remained unscathed from the widespread loss of habitats seen in the wider countryside due to changing land management practices.

Key to the initiative is the ongoing support provided to anyone and everyone interested in being involved. Launched on 24 March 2021, regular, free online training sessions are supporting communities to take positive action at a pivotal time for nature.

Join us and start the journey to making your local church wilder...

Telling the Story – Understanding and Sharing your Churchyard

Many centuries ago, before gravestones were erected to mark burial plots, the churchyard was a very different place to the one we recognise now. It was most definitely a place where the sacred and secular met. The North side of the churchyard was sometimes un-consecrated, and this allowed for sports and markets and informal activity–a place where the community socialised and congregated. Many visitors to our churches don’t venture as far as the church door so an encounter with the churchyard may be the only contact they have with the church itself. 

Many visitors will be tending graves or leaving flowers, for them the churchyard is a particularly personal place to be and they feel connected to the churchyard as burial ground. The space has a particular personal resonance for them as a safe haven and a resting place.

Other visitors will be looking for different things. They may be researching their family history so burials of ancestors may have brought them to your church. They may be interested in wildlife or they may simply be looking for a place to sit and enjoy the surroundings, the stillness and peace that most churchyards can offer. For the church community the act of sharing the space is a simple way of connecting with strangers or visitors. It is an opportunity to be hospitable, to share information, to be inviting, to engage with the community through projects and to be creative in inviting others to learn more about the church, its history and role in the community over the centuries.

Recording the stones

Graveyards and burial grounds are useful places for those researching their family history and it isn’t always easy to interpret the wording or inscriptions on gravestones and memorials. Neither is it always possible to inspect historic registers at churches as visitors may have to be signposted to the local Records Office. Many congregations are surveying their churchyard in order to provide visitors with really useful information. Once the results have been mapped and collated the document can be left on the visitor table or put on your church’s website as a downloadable resource. This exercise will also help you to highlight stories of those who have lived and worked in your community and will put flesh on the bones of any story-telling you undertake when you share the story of how your church and parish have evolved and grown over the centuries. Carrying out a research project like this can involve the whole community and encourage those who have never visited your church before to come along and take part.

  • Talk to your Local History Society and ask them if they would be willing to help

Who to contact

Emma Brown, Church Buildings Adviser