Protecting wildlife Preserving heritage Involving people

Logo: Caring for God’s Acre

President: HRH The Prince of Wales

Caring for God’s Acre

Caring for God’s Acre (CfGA) is the only charity solely dedicated to the conservation of burial sites of all kinds – churchyards, chapel yards, Victorian and more modern cemeteries and green burial grounds. CfGA’s strap line shown above sets out the charity’s priorities for action.

Protecting wildlife. It has been recognised for decades that churchyards and other burial sites such as urban cemeteries are valuable places for wildlife. The vast congregation of plants and animals may have taken many years to establish and are every bit as historic as the stonework, preserving wildlife within the urban landscape of our towns and cities.

Meadow saxifrage in Bridgnorth Cemetery  (Dan Wrench)
Meadow saxifrage in Bridgnorth Cemetery (Dan Wrench)

Preserving heritage. Man-made structures including monuments and memorials, mausalea, lychgates and stone walls support hundreds of species of lichens, mosses and ferns. Their cultural history is also important. The folklore, superstitions and traditions surrounding death and burial and the wildlife of burial sites have their roots in pagan times. Ancient and veteran yew trees, for example, are frequently found in old churchyards and were viewed as symbols of immortality and the keeper of the secrets of life itself. The notable yew at St Michael’s the Archangel in Aldershot is an example of a town centre churchyard with an old yew tree. The website is the place to look for a list of all the countries old yews.

Involving people. All this natural, built and cultural history can inspire individuals and communities to become involved in the care of burial sites and to use them as a community resource for learning, especially within towns and cities where there may be little green open space, which is accessible and interesting.

Caring for God’s Acre recognises that these sites are primarily for burial and the interment of ashes and for quiet reflection and remembrance. This does not prevent them, however, from having further uses for learning and recreation.

Volunteers clearing willow herb in Leonard’s churchyard, Ludlow  (Hilary Smith)
Volunteers clearing willow herb in Leonard’s churchyard, Ludlow (Hilary Smith)

To help people with the sensitive care and use of their local burial sites CfGA has produced a Churchyard and Burial Ground Action pack, which can be purchased or downloaded from the CfGA website. It has thirty-three information sheets on subjects ranging from the five steps to running a project, grassland management, tree care, care of stonework to recruiting and managing volunteers, organising events, finding funds and health and safety. 

Case studies on the CfGA website show the benefits to people and to the local environment of burial site projects, which can be applied to any site – urban or rural. For example, at Hope Bagot in Shropshire a local rambling group from the town of Stourbridge give a day to helping with the July haymaking by raking up and baling the hay using the wooden hand hay baler (plan and instructions for use available on the website). This idea of local walking groups giving voluntary time to help with conservation management in urban sites can be applied anywhere. The cemeteries at Bridgnorth and Shrewsbury have both been identified as potential Local Nature Reserves, mainly due to their species rich grassland. Friends of groups are in the process of being set up to help with management and to run interesting events such as bat walks and moth evenings, monument recording and geology walks - these sites often contain more rock types than any other site in a town or city.

A Churchyard and Burial Ground Education pack, also available from the website in English and Welsh, supports learning through five topics - Precious Places, What’s the Story? Marvellous Monuments, Wildlife Safari and Art and Architecture. Each topic has several activities covering a range of subjects relevant to learning in Key Stages 1 and 2 and Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). There are notes for Teachers and a pack of photographs, worksheets, templates and writing frames to support the activities. Kay Miller, Headteacher said “This is an exceptional piece of work.  Beautifully presented, the pack is a perfect balance of useful information, pedagogy, and practical, engaging activities. Teachers and children will learn so much, across many curriculum areas by using this resource.  Local study features heavily in the new curriculum so this pack is essential and a joy to use.”

Small mammal trapping event  (Hilary Smith)
Small mammal trapping event (Hilary Smith)

Guiding and scouting groups including Rainbows, Beavers, Cubs and Brownies, Scouts and Guides are supported through the Education Pack with activities and ideas for work towards various badges and challenges.

Burial sites in urban settings can be places for teaching traditional heritage skills such as dry stone and lime-mortared walling, scything and hedge laying. CfGA has many examples where a trainer has been employed and then the activity advertised around the local area. This results in the job getting done quickly and cheaply and people learning new skills and becoming engaged in caring for the place where they live.   Cherishing Churchyards Week takes place during the second week of June each year. CfGA promotes and supports this special week when communities can run events for local people. To give a flavour of what was organised this year; Tunbridge Wells Cemetery held an exhibition of the history of the cemetery and the historic graves accompanied by a natural history walk. Flixton Church, Manchester put on a children’s bug hunt. Hampstead Parish Church, London held two gardening mornings to tidy the site for visitors and in the town of Welshpool in Wales the local church held an open day and launched their new Gravestone Discovery Trail. There were also Bioblitz’s and art events all attracting people from the local communities to become involved in learning and recreation within their local areas.

Why not consider making use of your local burial sites to help people become more engaged in the places where they live? CfGA is here to offer advice and support.

Caring for God’s Acre, 11 Drover’s House, Craven Arms, Shropshire SY7 9BZ.    

Tel 01588 673041     Email:

First published in CJS Focus on Urban Environment in association with Love Parks on 24 November 2014