The project, developed by Shropshire based conservation charity, Caring for God’s Acre, will put burial grounds on the heritage map, by highlighting the valuable buildings, landmarks and wildlife to which these sites are home.
Burial grounds are widespread, free to visit, and often fully accessible. Due to their unique environment, they are also important places for history and wildlife.
The undisturbed grassland found in these sites, which is now rare in the wider countryside, provides a sanctuary for all kinds of colourful flowers and meadow grasses, which in turn support an extraordinary variety of animal life, from birds, bees and butterflies to frogs, toads, mice and voles.
Gravestones are of supreme importance for lichen conservation. Of the 2000 British species over 700 have been found in churchyards. Almost half of these are rare and seldom, if ever, occur in other places. Many sites have well over 100 species.
Despite their importance, most burial grounds are under-recorded and relatively unknown. This project will work with volunteers to unlock the secrets of these fabulous places and share that information with everybody.
Budding naturalists and historians across England and Wales will be enabled to fully record the range of wildlife and historic buildings and monuments to be found in their local burial grounds.
By creating a lasting and accessible record of the built heritage, social history and biodiversity of thousands of these precious community sites, the project aims to encourage more people to visit them, and ensure they are cared for into the future.
The project will reach out to families, and people with disabilities or mental health problems, utilising them as a community space, much as they would have been in the past.
Harriet Carty, Director of Caring for God’s Acre explains;
‘There are few places to rival the range of interest present within churchyards, cemeteries and chapel yards. They illustrate the history of the community they serve; the migrations and immigrations, the changes in style and fashion of architecture and monumental masonry. They are also hotspots for biodiversity giving us a glimpse of the ecological richness of the past, whilst providing refuges for wildlife now and in the future’.
Ros Kerslake, Chief Executive of the Heritage Lottery Fund, said: ‘We are delighted to award this grant to the Beautiful Burial Grounds project. Our burial grounds are truly precious community spaces; now this project will allow visitors to these sites to appreciate their unique wildlife and history, as well as the calm, reflective atmosphere they provide.”
During development the project received much support from existing volunteer recorders along with many heritage organisations including the National Biodiversity Network Trust, the Church in Wales, the Church of England, Historic England and Natural England. Caring for God’s Acre will now start working with these and over 40 other partner organisations across England and Wales to deliver this ambitious initiative.
For more information, p[lease visit the Caring fod God's Acre website, linked below.