Section 1 Canon & Civil Law and Catholic Teaching

Section 2 Health and Safety

Section 3 Environmental, Historial and Cultural Role of Burial Grounds

Section 4 Appendices


This document is a compendium of legal requirements, regulatory standards and best practice for the administration, maintenance and enhancement of burial grounds across the Archdiocese.

The guidance should be used in conjunction with the Archdiocese’s Burials Policy (November 2018), which is Appendix A.

It can be used for understanding both the Civil and Canon Law basis of Catholic burials for both body and cremated remains.

The guidance provides guidance on how burial grounds should be properly managed in the context of the essential health and safety procedures that need to be applied across the Archdiocese.

Burial grounds also have a role in the life of the parish and wider community over and above its primary function for burials. The guidance will help burial ground managers to develop strategies to integrate burial grounds into the environmental, historical and cultural life of parishes.

It is intended to give support and guidance to parishes that have burial grounds and with some issues there are more detailed explanations.

Section 1: Canon & Civil Law and Catholic Teaching

Canon Law

Death in the Christian Context

The hope of eternal life in heaven through the mercy of God is a fundamental part of Catholic belief. However good a life somebody has lived and however close to God we think that they have been, none of us are perfect and therefore we rely on God to be generous towards us at our hour of greatest need. But we hope at this darkest of moments, because we know God loves us. And we express that hope through prayer for the deceased which is an important part of the act of worship that is a Catholic funeral. This prayer is of thanks for the gift of life given to them by God, for God to provide a place of pardon, peace and rest for them, but also for consolation for those who remain to mourn.

In that context it is important that all aspects of the funeral arrangements taken place in the context of Canon and Civil Law and the essential pastoral support required for those who mourn.

This guidance specifically refers to aspects of burial and burial grounds. As well as health and safety considerations, again Canon and Civil Law and pastoral care will be important in the preparation for a burial and the on-going maintenance of burial grounds.

The Code of Canon Law 1983 has the following references to burials:

Can. 1180 §1. If a parish has its own cemetery, the deceased members of the faithful must be buried in it unless the deceased or those competent to take care of the burial of the deceased have chosen another cemetery legitimately.

§2. Everyone, however, is permitted to choose the cemetery of burial unless prohibited by law.

Can. 1181 Regarding offerings on the occasion of funeral rites, the prescripts of can. 1264 are to be observed, with the caution, however, that there is to be no favouritism toward persons in funerals and that the poor are not deprived of fitting funerals.

Can.  1182 When the burial has been completed, a record is to be made in the register of deaths according to the norm of particular law.

Civil Law Affecting Catholic Cemeteries

Legislation for burial grounds has evolved rather haphazardly since Victorian days without fully recognising the diversity of burial providers in this country. These include local authorities and the Established Church, but also include other Protestant denominations, private providers and the Catholic Church.

Legal Status

The Catholic Church does not have special status, unlike the Church of England, in respect of its burial grounds. The Catholic Church is also not a Local Authority that has taken responsibility for the maintenance of a cemetery. Councils do not have a duty to provide burial grounds but those that do now have clear regulations within which to operate. However, the provisions of the Local Authorities’ Cemeteries Order 1977 do not apply to the Catholic Church.

Consequently, any Catholic burial ground is covered by those parts of the respective Burial Acts of 1853, 1855 and 1857 that remain extant that relate to inspection and exhumation. 


Under the Burial Act 1855, the Home Office has powers to undertake the inspection of burial grounds with a view to requiring work to be carried out, or to close the site to further burial (for example, on public health grounds). These powers have, in recent years, been exercised only rarely when the need has arisen in individual cases, but nevertheless it is important to note that there is the potential for external scrutiny of cemeteries and the administration of them.

Cemeteries are subject to separate health and safety legislation that permits investigation by local authorities and government agencies should there be just cause as a result of some form of incident.


Any proposed exhumation, be it of an individual or numerous burials, must be subject of a licence from the Ministry of Justice in accordance with the Burial Act 1857. Advice on exhumation is provided separately here.

The removal of multiple remains for the re-use of burial grounds or to provide for open space in the cemetery is an emotive issue. Whilst it was custom and practice of previous generations, nevertheless it has not been practiced during the period in which burial grounds in the Archdiocese have been in existence. The preference is for the closure of the cemetery once all plots have been used, but there may be circumstances specific to a parish that might make re-use of graves a consideration. These may include the availability of formally consecrated Catholic graves within a municipal cemetery or, in the case of rural parishes, no readily accessible alternative.

However, the options available are costly and potentially problematic, requiring exhumation followed by reburial or cremation or, in the case of re-using graves, exhumation followed by digging graves to a lower depth to enabled more burials per plot. This would considerably increase the capacity of the cemetery but is likely to require not only approval from the Ministry of Justice but also the Environment Agency due to the potential implications for contamination of aquifers and the water table.

From a practical perspective, this may be restricted if there are any graves that were provided “in perpetuity” or, if time-restricted, immediate family relatives object to re-use.

Given such circumstances, however, re-use should be a last resort.


The extant provisions of the nineteenth century Burial Acts retains the power to close burial grounds to further burials, but this by no means offers a consistent or effective framework. If a churchyard is closed to further burials responsibility can normally be transferred to the local authority. Procedure for this is provided separately here.

Authority to Bury


Before a burial takes place, authority for the burial should be produced. This will normally consist of a certificate from the Registrar of Births and Deaths, or the coroner’s burial order. In the case of a death overseas, the Registrar may issue a certificate of no liability to register (except in the case of a stillborn child where no provision exists in law to issue this certificate where still birth occurred abroad), which will include authority to bury. In the absence of the Registrar’s certificate or coroner’s order, a declaration in prescribed form that the certificate or order have been issued may be accepted. A duplicate certificate may also be issued by a Registrar.

Within 96 hours of a burial, the Registrar of Births and Deaths must be notified of the details of the date and place of the burial. The detachable portion of the Registrar’s certificate (‘green form’) or Registrar’s certificate of non-liability (‘white form’) or the coroner’s order may be used for this purpose.

The Church urges that stillborn and foetal children of Catholic parents should be interred whenever possible. The decision and procedure for the interment is left to the parents and their pastor. It is important therefore to ensure that where this is to take place that the parish has arrangements in place to ensure the appropriate

There is a significant degree of sensitivity regarding the manner in which amputated body parts and tissue samples (blocks and slides) are disposed of. The Church encourages them to be buried in a blessed place. Where families are involved with ensuring that blocks and slides are buried, it is reasonable to expect that the body parts are buried in the same grave as the original interment, thereby creating a sense of reuniting the body. For such burials it is necessary to obtain:

  • an application for the interment,
  • the permission of the grave owner,
  • confirmation of the registration of death and
  • a statement from the pathologist or Coroner’s office that the parts are those of the deceased

Following the burial, the original burial records should be amended to show the addition of the body parts and a separate (non-statutory) register of the burial of body parts should also be kept.

Where the family wishes to open the coffin to insert body parts an exhumation licence will be required.

Cremated Remains

The interment of cremated remains will require certification from the crematorium to confirm that the ashes to be interred as those of the deceased in question. Burial should not progress unless and until there is certainty in respect of this matter.


From time to time, burial ground managers may receive applications to re-bury remains which have been exhumed from other burial grounds. There is no requirement for a fresh certificate from the Registrar of Births and Deaths, but it will be good practice to require the production of the exhumation licence or the directions in accordance of which the remains are to be buried.

Failure to produce documentary evidence relating to the authority with which the remains have been exhumed will not present a legal obstacle to their re-burial, but burial ground managers should satisfy themselves that there is no reason to suppose that the remains have been exhumed or acquired unlawfully or that there is any need for the circumstances to be investigated by the coroner or the police.

Most such cases are likely to involve remains removed from ancient burial grounds by professional archaeologists.

Notice of burial

The amount of notice to be given to the burial authority before a burial can be undertaken is not usually prescribed in legislation, but practice will need to take account of the legal documentation required (see Authority to bury above).

Administration and records

Where the burial ground has room for new burials, whether in new or existing graves, the primary aim of the manager will be to ensure that an efficient, effective, and economic service is provided to those seeking burial services, both funeral directors and the family and friends of the deceased. Such a service will be facilitated by ensuring that the burial grounds’ records of existing and planned graves are accurate and up-to-date and that they are readily accessible by those who have responsibility for accepting and making bookings.

Double-bookings of the same space, and burial in the wrong grave, are sadly not uncommon. They reflect very badly on the burial ground managers, incur additional trouble and expense to put right (see Exhumation above), and cause unnecessary and avoidable distress to the friends and relatives of the deceased. The orderly burial in the correct grave of the correctly-identified individual is the least the bereaved can expect. Managers should accordingly take steps to ensure that they have robust procedures for identifying the deceased, and for linking the relevant funeral service, if any, and committal process with the allocated grave.

Post-burial record keeping is equally important for confirmation that the burial took place as planned. In the Code of Canon Law Canon 1182 states:

When the burial has been completed, a record is to be made in the register of deaths according to the norm of particular law.

It is good practice to ensure that a record is kept of the depth of burial, and of the depth of soil between the top of the coffin and the surface. Even if no further burials are planned for the same grave, such records may be useful in the future if the need should arise to disturb the grave for any reason. (The need to bury cremated remains, retained organs and body parts some years after the original burial is an example of an unforeseen requirement to disturb a grave.)

Approvals Required for New or Extended Burial Grounds


The Archdiocese of Birmingham has introduced a burials policy that provides the criteria against which any proposal for a new or extended burial ground are assessed. This includes cemeteries and columbariums, which are specifically for interring cremated remains.

Trustees Approval

Any approval given in accordance with the policy will be made by the trustees and this will only be made after Faculty Approval has been given by the Historic Churches Committee or Art & Architecture Committee and Planning Permission granted by the Local Planning Authority.

The policy expects no new below ground burial places to be created for either bodies or cremated remains.

In accordance with the teachings of the Church, no scattering of cremated remains is permitted in any burial ground of the Archdiocese.

No burial shall take place in an area established to be simply a garden of remembrance

Any extended cemetery will need to ensure that there is suitable management practice, record keeping and clear fee setting.

Any columbarium includes the same requirements, but also requires cremated remains to be buried above ground.

Faculty Approval

Any extension to a burial ground, re-modelling an existing burial ground or creating a columbarium will require Faculty Approval.

For churches that are Listed Buildings, the Faculty Approval is through the Historic Churches Committee and will include formal consultation with the parish, Historic England, the local planning authority and the amenity societies.

For non-listed churches, the Faculty Approval is through the Art & Architecture Committee and will include consultation with the parish, but not the heritage interest groups.

Cemetery extension

Any application will need to provide details of the existing and proposed cemetery areas and provide details of matters such as boundary treatment, paths and/or driveways, requirements for memorial stones, accompanied by photographs and a justification for the proposal.


This may be internal or external. If external, details of the existing and proposed site layout will be required and for both internal and external columbaria, detailed drawings of the columbarium’s design, including the size of each plot, the means of securing and memorial design.

Remit of the Committees

The decision that the committees are charged with making are whether the extended burial ground or new columbarium is of sufficiently high quality design and appropriate siting to satisfy the architectural, historic, visual, practical and theological requirements for the proposal.

If satisfied, the committee will grant Faculty Approval.

However, this in itself is not sufficient to permit development as trustees’ approval is required in all cases, but also, where the proposal changes the use of land or includes the building of an external columbarium, planning permission will be required.

Planning Permission

Any application for planning permission will be submitted to the district or borough council in which the church is situated. The local planning authority will be responsible for consultation and this will include neighbouring properties around the site and, where applicable any local parish council.

An application for planning permission will include a fee, which is non-refundable if an application is refused.

Each local planning authority will have its own application checklist that will provide details of what will need to be submitted for an application to be processed. If the application does not include all the documents deemed necessary, the application will not progress.

Remit of the Local Planning Authority

The local planning authority will assess the merits of each application in the same way as the Historic Churches Committee and Art & Architecture Committee, but there are additional matters to consider:

There is a requirement to assess against planning policy. This will include the National Planning Policy Framework, any Local Plan for the district, any Neighbourhood Plan for the parish and any additional national and local guidance.

  • National planning policy acknowledges that, in principle, cemeteries are an acceptable use in the Green Belt.
  • Local Plan policy may identify in what circumstances burial grounds will be accepted in the area and
  • Neighbourhood Plans often identify opportunities for enhancement for the environment.

There is an additional important element of a planning application that is of great importance and must be fully addressed in any extended cemetery that seeks below ground burials. There is a requirement to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the local planning authority and the Environment Agency that the proposal does not cause a risk of contamination of local water supplies.

Detailed advice is found here: Cemeteries and Burials: Preventing Groundwater Pollution

This will require a Groundwater Risk Assessment that will need to be undertaken by experts. This will provide information for the Environment Agency to decide if there is a likely risk of contamination based on the amount and type of burials, the soil conditions, the location of any water sources, the height of the water table and the likelihood of flooding.

Once the Local Planning Authority is satisfied that there is likely to be no harmful effect, the proposal satisfies planning policy and the details are acceptable for the site, planning permission will be granted.

If an application is refused, there is an opportunity to appeal to a government appointed inspector, who will consider the proposals against the same criteria as the local planning authority. It is important therefore to demonstrate why a proposal is acceptable and how the local planning authority have incorrectly assessed the merits of a proposal.

Final Approval

Once Faculty Approval and Planning Permission have been granted, it is then necessary to secure trustees approval before works can commence.

An application is made to the Property Team for consideration at a Property Sub-Committee meeting. The application must include details of the Faculty Approval and Planning Permission and must demonstrate compliance with the Archdiocesan burials policy.

On approval by the trustees, works may commence, subject to any conditions imposed by the Faculty Approval and/or the Planning Permission.

Notice of burial and lead times

Parishes should be aware of the time it will normally take to prepare for a burial from the receipt of instructions. They should make that timing clear to both funeral directors and the public, and should endeavour to ensure that such lead times are not exceeded. Certainty will normally be more important than speed.

The planning elements to be taken into account include:

  • allocation of grave plot or identification of existing grave
  • checking (and confirming where necessary) for any existing burial or memorial rights in relation to the grave
  • checking for any known hazards or problems with the grave, or planned works in the vicinity at the proposed time/date of the funeral
  • arranging for the excavation of the grave (and instructions on the depth, if the grave is to be for more than one person), and the temporary location of spoil
  • co-ordination of burial service
  • instructions for reception of the cortege, and backfilling and restoration of any existing memorial after the burial.

To allow for unexpected causes of delay, it may be prudent to build in additional time, or ensure that there are robust back-up procedures.

Similar considerations should be given to preparation for the exhumation of remains.

Normalised timings will inevitably be easier to determine and achieve by the larger burial grounds with dedicated staff and a regular demand for burials.

Cremated remains

There is often uncertainty about whether the Church permits cremation of a deceased Catholic’s remains and how to properly inter their ashes.

In accordance with ancient Christian tradition, the Church has always recommended that the bodies of the deceased be buried in cemeteries or other sacred places. Burial is the most fitting way to express faith and hope in the resurrection of the body in memory of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.

That belief remains, but for a variety of reasons there has been acceptance of cremation. This may be because burial of human remains may be impractical, unduly expensive or simply unavailable.

Cremation of the deceased’s body does not affect his or her soul, nor does it prevent our omnipotent God from raising up the deceased body to new life. So we can be assured that cremation, in accordance with the teachings of the Church, do not compromise the immortality of the soul or the resurrection of the body.

The Church continues to prefer the practice of burying the bodies of the deceased, because this shows a greater esteem towards the deceased.

However, cremation may take place as part of a Catholic funeral, but that is subject to an important caveat of the Church’s law that does not permit cremation for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine. 

Therefore, cremated remains must be interred in a sacred place. This will be either a cemetery that has been set aside for this purpose or a columbarium that has been designed and subsequently dedicated for the provision of ashes.

Christians have always practiced prayer and remembrance for the faithful departed and the reservation of the ashes of the departed in a sacred place ensures that they are not excluded from the prayers and remembrance of their family or the Christian community. It prevents the faithful departed from being forgotten, or their remains from being shown a lack of respect, which eventuality is possible, particularly once immediate family has too passed away.

Therefore, the Church must insist on ashes remaining intact. The distribution of ashes between family members or locations is not acceptable.

Neither is it permitted that ashes may be retained in a home as this separates the deceased from the family of God and their prayers for the faithful departed.

The scattering of ashes is also not acceptable nor is the preservation of ashes in objects, such as jewellery or mementos. They may give an appearance of pantheism, naturalism or nihilism and are contrary to Christian belief.

It is therefore important in the preparation of a funeral that involves cremation as to be clear on the intention of the deceased’s family in respect of his/her ashes. It may be necessary to explain the importance of retaining the role of the deceased in the community of the faithful after earthly death as well as in life.

This will be important because, in accordance with Canon Law, when the intention is to scatter ashes a Christian funeral must be denied.

There are occasions when the deceased prior to death or family, on their behalf, seek to interment of ashes at a church that they have been long associated with. This may be acceptable where the church has a cemetery or columbarium, but it is not acceptable where one does not exist unless and until one is created by the parish in accordance with the burials policy of the Archdiocese.

It is important to note that a place where ashes are interred have the same legal status as a cemetery and therefore a lawn or flower bed is not an acceptable location for the burial of ashes.

Again delicate conversations may be needed, because this may be a highly sensitive and emotive issue, but burial of ashes in isolation outside a dedicated burial place is not acceptable.

As the cost of funerals becomes ever more expensive, there may be temptation to cut costs by retaining ashes. It is important that where possible, families are helped to make decisions on expenses based primarily on the needs to ensure that the deceased has a proper Christian funeral as a baptised child of God.

The management rules of the burial ground need carefully to specify the types of memorialisation and decoration permitted. A line has to be drawn between the needs of families and the maintenance of the character of the burial ground. Where cremated remains are buried in full size graves in which space remains for further coffined burials, the parish should take care to place such remains within the grave so as to ensure that they are not disturbed if a future coffined burial is required.


A columbarium is used for the storage of cremated remains. It is designed to permit a number of urns to be held in each niche if required and each niche has a front plate on which a memorial can be placed.

The use of columbaria dates from Roman times, but their use by the Church has been relatively recent as it was not until the twentieth century that there was acceptance of cremation as an acceptable means of burial (see cremation).


Columbaria can be designed in a variety of manner

  • Underground columbaria are a feature of antiquities and it is feasible to have a below ground columbarium as part of a crypt or purpose built
  • Within a church as a specific room
  • Separate buildings in which the columbarium is sited within the curtilage of the church
  • Separate building in a cemetery
  • Stand-alone structure supplied by a manufacturer

Archdiocese Policy

The policy of the Archdiocese states:

Any new burial places shall be in the form of a columbarium and will not be permitted unless they satisfy the following:

  • The remains shall be stored above ground
  • It is demonstrated that there is demand for such a facility
  • It does not compromise the use of the grounds of the church
  • There is in place, prior to approval, the necessary arrangements to effectively manage the site
  • There are published charges which are based on the reasonable costs of establishing the burial plot and its on-going management
  • The design seeks to balance the requirements to be a thing of elegance, being suitable to convey the message of hope of the resurrection of the body and to avoid excessive maintenance cost
  • All the necessary approvals through the local planning authority and Historic Churches Committee / Art & Architecture Committee have been secured

Issues to Address

Burial law means that the establishment of a columbarium makes it a burial place with all of the responsibilities associated with that. Therefore, it is important to ensure that the parish has full understanding of the implications of what is required of it by building a columbarium

A columbarium is a structure that is self-contained and therefore will not require the interment of ashes into the ground. It is essential that this is adhered to. From a practical perspective, should any exhumation be required there is a more complex process than if above ground in a niche. However, the disposal of buried remains, even if cremated, into the ground introduces the requirement to adhere to detailed, costly and complex environmental requirements.

The parish should be clear what demand there is for the burial of cremated remains and how that demand that can be accommodated. If a parish does not currently have burials, the decision to consider a columbarium should not be based on the request of one or two parishioners who wish for their remains or those of a family member to be interred at the church. This is an emotive issue but nevertheless once created, the burial place requires an administrative function that the parish must be able to undertake. There should be therefore a demand, but that demand must also be managed to ensure that the columbarium is inadequate for the purposes and inadvertently causes dissent in the parish due to the limitation on places.

As a burial place, a columbarium is covered by burial law and therefore the relocation of cremated remains requires a licence from the Secretary of State and a faculty from the trustees. It is important therefore in considering a columbarium as to whether there is likely to be problems in the foreseeable future in respect of imposing an administrative burden on a different parish with future parish arrangements or require the removal of the columbarium in the event of the church being closed and the land disposed of.

The location of a columbarium must be accessible to all, easily managed and provide a fitting means of storing the cremated remains of the faithful departed. There must therefore be the opportunity for wheelchair users to be able to access the columbarium, it must be readily available for visitors and must be a prominent feature with associated facilities. Consequently, there are practical concerns regarding the creation of a new columbarium in a crypt, within a church that is not kept open during the day and in compact sites.

When considering the siting of a columbarium, it is important to consider how it would be incorporated into the liturgical and pastoral life of the parish to include commemoration of the dead and for specific events during November. It may be possible to incorporate a chapel with the columbarium or ensure that there is seamless connection between the church and the columbarium.

Any external structure may have potential implications, by way of its size and siting and the use associated with it, for surrounding uses especially in residential areas. These must be carefully considered as part of the planning process.

The design of a columbarium must consider its setting within the church grounds or cemetery. It may be attractive to purchase an off-the-shelf design, but this may not be appropriate especially if the church is listed, is in a conservation area or the predominant materials of the burial ground cannot be replicated. It is important to consider the character and appearance of the church, the surrounding activities, how the columbarium would associate with the rest of the site and the size, materials and design of the columbarium. A bespoke design is often the most appropriate means of achieving this.

Faculty Approval will need to be gained for any columbarium and planning permission is required for any external structure .

As with any parish that is responsible for a burial place, there must be the appropriate administration for the columbarium. This requires relatively modest adaption to practice and procedure in a parish with an existing cemetery but if a columbarium is to be established as the first burial ground in the parish it is important that there are agreed arrangements in respect of

Burial records

Bookings procedure


Fees and charges

Memorials policy

A parish should only proceed if it can satisfactorily address all of these matters.

Exhumation procedures and legislation

In the resurrection God will give incorruptible life to our body, transformed by reunion with our soul and therefore it is the duty of the Church to ensure full dignity to the earthly remains of God’s children. Whether it is by burial of human remains or ashes, the final resting place in a public burial place not only reasserts the dignity of the person and belief in the resurrection, but also reminds us of our duty to pray for all those who have gone before us.

Therefore, the Church places particular importance on respecting the final resting place of human remains. However, there are circumstances in which the Church will authorise exhumation.

Exhumation is the removal of remains from a grave. Exhumations are generally rare and can be traumatic for the bereaved family involved. It is a requirement of a proposed exhumation that all close relatives of the deceased are contacted and sign to say they agree to the proposed exhumation.

Exhumation includes both the removal of burial and cremated remains.

Under the provisions of the Burial Act 1857, only the (now) Justice Secretary or the Church of England on its own consecrated ground can authorise exhumation. Therefore, exhumation of burial human remains and cremated remains will normally require a Home Office Licence issued from the Ministry of Justice.

The licence application form is found at:

Application Exhumation Licence


Exhumations can occur for a number of reasons, including:

  • Movement from the original grave to a subsequently acquired family plot in the same or other cemetery
  • Repatriation overseas to be buried along with other family
  • Transfer from one cemetery scheduled for development to another
  • Court orders requiring further forensic examination Preparation for canonisation


The person who wishes the exhumation to take place is responsible for submitting an application for a Licence.


It is an offence at law to exhume any human remains or cremated remains without first obtaining the necessary lawful permission. The person requesting the exhumation should be advised to contact a Funeral Director to assist them. A licence must be obtained from the Ministry of Justice.

The consents required

There are a number of factors which the Ministry of Justice considers before issuing a licence to exhume human remains:

Grave Owner

The application must be made with the consent of the owner of the exclusive rights of burial relating to the grave.  This is because a MoJ licence is permissive only: it does not require the remains to be removed, and the grave owner must therefore be prepared to grant access.  If the grave is a public or common one, which could mean that unrelated remains may be buried there, and if so may have to be disturbed, then the permission of any surviving relatives would be required.  It is the applicant’s responsibility to obtain this permission.

Next of kin

The consents of all the next of kin of the deceased are required.  The priority given in accordance with that set out in the Administration of Estates Act 1925 or the Civil Partnerships Act 2004 (which provides civil partners will equal rights to spouses).  This means that if the spouse or civil partner is alive, then this person is the next of kin.  Thereafter it is defined that the deceased’s mother and father, and children, if any.  Thirdly, joint status would be given to the deceased’s brothers and sisters, grandparents and grandchildren.

If contact has been lost with any of the surviving relatives it is the applicant’s responsibility to undertake a search for that relative.  There are a number of ways of trying to trace lost relatives one being the Salvation Army. Licences are unlikely to be issued without all of the required consents.

Applications will also be considered from any person, but in such cases it will be important to explain why the application is not being made by a relative.


It is the applicant’s responsibility, even if they are the nearest surviving relative, to state whether there could be objections to the exhumation from other relatives, as it may be necessary to take such objections into account.  However, this does not necessarily mean that a licence would be refused.

If the consent of the grave owner is not given, then the Ministry of Justice would not normally be prepared to issue a licence. 

The Ministry of Justice unable to become involved in any family dispute and will not normally issue a licence until objections or disagreements between next of kin with the same degree of kinship have been resolved.

The application form

The Ministry of Justice requires details of the applicant, the deceased and place of burial.  The applicant should complete Part A and then send the form to the Burial Authority (the person in charge of the burial ground where the deceased is buried) for completion of Part B. 

Part C only needs to be completed if the death occurred between 1914 and 1947.  In this case, the form will need to be sent to the Commonwealth War Grave Commission for their observations.


The cost of an exhumation can be substantial, so the financial implications should be clearly established from the outset. It is very difficult to give precise details. Although there is no fee for a licence, anybody seeking to exhume must cover all costs that will include:

  • Memorial removal costs
  • Funeral director’s charges, including the cost of a new coffin or cremated remains casket
  • Cemetery fees and charges for exhumation and reinternment by the parish

Implications for the Archdiocesan parish

For the purposes of the licence, the parish has to accept the responsibility of being the Burial Authority. Whilst the first contact is the parish, where there is a cemetery or columbarium that a parish has responsibility for, the responsibilities of the Burial Authority fall upon the Archdiocese and its approval is required before a licence can be issued by the Ministry of Justice. It is therefore necessary for any exhumation application to be referred to the Archdiocese for a formal decision before the Ministry of Justice can make a decision.

Reasons for objection

The response of the Archdiocese will be made in the light of the specific circumstances of the case and the teachings of the Church, which hold the importance of confirming her faith in the resurrection of the body and intends to show the great dignity of the human body as an integral part of the human person whose body forms part of their identity. Furthermore, burial in a cemetery or another sacred place adequately corresponds to the piety and respect owed to the bodies of the faithful departed who through Baptism have become temples of the Holy Spirit.

By burying the dead in cemeteries Christian tradition has upheld the relationship between the living and the dead and has rejected the temptation to treat death as purely a private matter.

The Archdiocese will therefore object to any licence application that would seek to remove a burial for the purpose of cremation unless and until there was a clear explanation as to why such a course of action was necessary and a demonstration of where the cremated remains would be buried in accordance with the teachings of the Church.

Similarly, the Archdiocese would oppose exhumation that sought ultimately to the scattering of ashes.

Convenience for the applicant is not sufficient justification for exhumation. If the intention is to bury elsewhere any decision will be made in the context of the deceased’s lifetime associations with the original burial place and whether the deceased is buried with another.

The Archdiocese has full respect for the deceased as a born again child of God and therefore will not support any licence application in which there is dispute among family members.

As exhumation is an integral part of the canonisation process, the Archdiocese will be the applicant for any licence application in the cause of a future saint.

After the Licence is Issued

On receipt of lawful permission to exhume the body of a deceased person the applicant has responsibility for confirming that the exhumation will take place, but the parish, as Burial Authority, is responsible for ensuring:

(1)   exhumation and reburial or removal of the deceased is undertaken properly. The nominated parish representative will be the person responsible for managing its cemetery or columbarium. That person shall be responsible for:

a.   the correct grave is re-opened

b.   the exhumation commences as early as possible in the morning to ensure maximum privacy

c.   the grave is screened as appropriate for privacy

d.   health and safety of all workers is maintained, for example the use of protective clothing including masks and gloves, task lights and all other necessary equipment

e.   everyone present shows due respect to the deceased person and to adjoining grave sites

f.      the new coffin or casket has been approved by the Environmental Health Officer

g.   all human remains and all the pieces of the original coffin or casket are placed in the new coffin or casket

h.   the new coffin or casket is properly sealed and identified

i.       the area of the exhumation is properly disinfected

j.       satisfactory arrangements are in place for the onward transmission of the remains.

(2)    an Environmental Health officer of the local authority is present at the exhumation site to ensure that respect for the deceased person is maintained and that public health, and health and safety regulations, are observed and protected.

A parish may never have an application for exhumation and it is unlikely that this would ever be a regular occurrence. It is not therefore a matter that the parish should deal with on its own. The Curial Office will assist and guide through the process and it is expected that prior to any exhumation taking place, a meeting is held by the parish with the applicant and their funeral director in order to ensure that there is full compliance with the law, the decision of the Ministry of Justice and the teachings of the Church.

Ultimately, if the conditions of the licence or faculty cannot be met, or there are public health or decency concerns, the exhumation will not proceed.

Inspection and the enforcement of works

Section 8 of the Burial Act 1855 provides for the inspection of any burial ground by a person appointed for that purpose by the Secretary of State. It is an offence to obstruct such a person in the course of his or her duties. There is, however, no regular inspection process or standing body of inspectors.

Section 23 of the Burial Act 1857 provides for an Order in Council to be made to require works to be undertaken for the purposes of preventing places of burial becoming or continuing to be dangerous or injurious to public health. Section 1 of the Burial Act 1859 also provides that if such works are not carried out, responsibility will be passed to the relevant local authority. These provisions apply to any burial ground, not just those operated by local authorities.

It is not in the interests of the parish for this to happen and therefore it is important to ensure that all record-keeping, site maintenance, procedure for burials and health and safety matters are fully adhered to.

Closure of burial grounds

If, after inspection, the Secretary of State deems that a burial ground should be closed, Section 1 of the Burial Act 1853 provides for the Secretary of State to make representations to the Privy Council for an Order in Council to discontinue burials in any burial ground, with or without exceptions.

Unlike Anglican cemeteries, there is no right of burial in a Catholic cemetery and therefore it is feasible for an Order to be made when there might be a need to prevent the continued use of a burial ground which appeared to be unsuitable, or no longer suitable, for this purpose (for example, on the grounds of public health).

There is no provision for such Orders in Council, once made, to be rescinded. Nor is there a power to close a burial ground, or part of a burial ground, which has been opened with approval of the Secretary of State.

Disused Burial Grounds

Disused burial grounds may also be transferred to local authorities as open spaces (Open Spaces Act 1906). Such transfers are by negotiation and are entirely voluntary.

If such transfers take place, the Open Spaces Act requires the local authority to hold and administer the burial ground for the enjoyment of the public as an open space, under proper control and regulation. The burial ground must be kept in a good and decent state. The local authority may also enclose the ground and undertake works to improve the site.

Where the site is or contains consecrated ground, management of the site must be authorised by licence or faculty of the Bishop.

The Open Spaces Act also makes provision for the removal or relocation of tombstones and memorials.

The playing of games or sports on such open spaces is prohibited unless sanctioned by the persons from whom the site was acquired, or by the Bishop in respect of consecrated ground.

The procedure for seeking to transfer a disused burial ground is:

  • demonstrate that there are no pre-existing rights to bury in the cemetery to be taken up
  • Publicise in the parish the intention to close, with specific expectation that relatives of the deceased will be contacted
  • Formal decision of the parish to proceed
  • Apply to and receive authorisation of the trustees of the Archdiocese
  • Apply to the Secretary of State
  • Formal consultation and decision by the Secretary of State

Registration, plans and records of burials

Catholic cemeteries must ensure that all burials are recorded in a register by the responsible person in accordance with the provisions of the Registration of Burials Act 1864.

In the Code of Canon Law Canon 1182 states:

When the burial has been completed, a record is to be made in the register of deaths according to the norm of particular law.

The Burial Register

A burial register of both interred bodies and cremated remains should be maintained. The register should include:

  • Full name of the deceased
  • Age
  • Last home address
  • Date of burial
  • Location of burial, i.e. plot number
  • Name of officiating minister
  • Type of funeral and where held

Additional Records

Each parish should also consider additional records that will assist them in the management of their burial ground. In particular:

  • Recording the depth to which the grave was buried for the specific burial, which is particularly important when more than one burial has been made, or is expected to be made, in a grave
  • The approved memorial
  • Next of kin responsible for the upkeep of graves and memorials for the duration of the exclusive right of burial
  • At risk memorials from either quinquennial inspection or health and safety review
  • Photographic record

The Need for a Plan

There should be a plan of the burial ground that can identify plot numbers to cross-reference against the burial register.

Completeness of Records

There may be circumstances where records are incomplete or non-existent. It is important to ensure that every effort is made to ensure that records are as complete as possible.

In each cemetery it should be possible to prepare a plan of existing burials. This can be cross-referenced to the register initially by a review of the memorials that are in situ and identifying all parties that are named.

However, that is not conclusive as names may not be recorded and there may have been changes to the burial ground over time with the removal of memorials, the realignment of paths and exhumation.

This may prove problematic if, for example, there remains an exclusive right to burial (which the parish may be unaware of), there is intention to extension the church or create additional structures or there is the intention of providing additional burials.

Plot Viability

Before a burial plot can be offered for purchase, it must be viable. Therefore, if it is to be used for the burial of three coffins, it must be possible to dig to the necessary depth without hitting bedrock or water table. It must also be of sufficient dimensions to be able to accommodate coffins. There may be circumstances where what would appear to be viable graves are found not to be due to changes in ground conditions, the development of tree roots and the location of utility services.

It may be that some plots originally envisaged for burial of bodies may be able to accommodate cremated remains instead.

Therefore, a plan for future burials should include all recorded buildings, pathways, utilities, depths and grave capacity.

Most, if not all, can be acquired though initial investigation and local knowledge, but there is the potential to provide a comprehensive plan for burial grounds through the use of geophysical imagery.

Burial rights in cemeteries

The issue of granting exclusive burial rights in a grave or grave space can be particularly sensitive. There is no obligation to grant rights of burial. Rights may not, however, exceed 100 years, except for those granted to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission which may be granted in perpetuity. As a consequence, there is a range of lengths for which exclusive rights are granted from 25 years to 100 years. In circumstances where the initial right is less than 100 years, it may be possible to extend, such to a fee, up to one hundred years.

At the expiry of the time period for which rights are granted, the rights to allocate the plot return to the parish. The fee is non-refundable.

Allocation Criteria

When deciding criteria for allowing burials and, if a parish should decide to do so, granting burial rights, there should be clear guidance on the criteria against which such a request will be considered. This may vary from one parish to another and may be influenced by such considerations as availability of spaces, whether there are spaces for both burials of bodies and cremated remains, the Catholic population of the parish and the availability of other burial grounds in the vicinity.

These factors may influence whether plots will be awarded to:

  • Resident parishioners only
  • Former parishioners who reside outside the parish due to health care reasons
  • Former parishioners who are no longer resident for other reasons
  • Family of parishioners / former parishioners that are not resident
  • Non-Catholic family members
  • Non-Catholics from the wider community

Transfer of Right

An exclusive right of burial may be transferred on the death of the registered owner to the person or persons entitled to it. A parish should satisfy itself that the person or persons wishing to take up the ownership are entitled to do so by the production of a grant of probate or letters of administration. If these legal documents have not been applied for or issued, the parish may accept a statutory declaration from the nearest surviving relative(s).

Disputed Rights

There may be occasions when there is an expectation by the next of kin to inter the remains of the deceased in a plot where there is no clear documentation that there is a right to do so.

If the parish records are up to date, there will be a record of who the exclusive right to burial was granted. There will also be details of the burial capacity of the grave and if there is any remaining space available.

The next of kin should be given every opportunity to demonstrate their legitimacy of their claim to be beneficiaries of the right, using the means identified immediately above, but before agreeing to the burial, the parish can reasonably ask for a demonstration of evidence that there is no third party with a right to occupy the plot.

A parish may experience problems if its register is incomplete and there is a request for interment with no paperwork. The same procedure as above will need to take place, but in addition, the parish will need to be satisfied of capacity through an inspection. It is essential that there is no disturbance of any existing burial of any kind as part of this process as this would be regarded as exhumation for which a licence is required.

If parish records are incomplete, it will be important to undertake a visual inspection of existing monuments to be satisfied that the grave in question is that of the family in question.

Parishes can legitimately scrutinise but if there is no reason to doubt the legitimacy of their claim and the deceased in question satisfies the selection criteria of the burial ground, then burial should progress.

Agreement Restrictions

Any agreement for burial rights should include details of acceptable memorials and the maintenance requirements.


Where the right to burial or to construct a walled grave or vault has not been exercised for 75 years (i.e. no burial has taken place), the right may be extinguished subject to compliance with due notice procedure. These rights may then be granted to any other person.

Fee Setting

It is reasonable for parishes to make charges for burial services and these should be published so that they are readily available before any arrangement is made to use a plot or acquire burial rights. It is important to ensure that whatever charges are made, they reasonably relate to the costs involved. This may be difficult to gauge, but nevertheless it is important to be as transparent as possible. Therefore, no fee should be set at a speculative rate and there should be some understanding of the costs involved.

It will be important to consider a number of factors such as:

  • the original costs of establishing and laying out the cemetery,
  • its on-going maintenance for the lifetime of the burial agreement (including health and safety monitoring),
  • the extent of parish maintenance of the grave itself,
  • staff costs,
  • costs for preparing the burial plot and,
  • where appropriate the installation of a memorial plus other administrative costs.

Whilst not direct comparisons, there are similarities in the costs involved at Catholic cemeteries as at local authority or Church of England burial grounds. Across the Archdiocese cemetery charges are made by unitary authorities, district councils and town councils.  Each council will define its fees based on factors like those listed above and will also place a surcharge for non-resident applicants on the basis that there is funding through the Council Tax for residents.

It is for the parish to decide if there will be a surcharge on non-residents. If this was chosen, it would need to be justified on the basis that resident users would contribute through offertory giving.

Local authority charges vary in respect of their complexity, subject to the range of services that are provided and the extent to which there is an objective of seeking transparency in showing the cost of providing specific services. Consequently, Birmingham City Council has an extensive range of fees whereas, for example, Alcester Town Council has a much simpler charging schedule.

Examples of charging schedules are found here. These may be used as comparators, but the parish must be able to justify its costs.

Fees and charges should be reviewed regularly.

Unitary Authorities

Birmingham City

Coventry City

Dudley MBC


Sandwell MBC

Solihull MBC



District Councils


Cannock Chase

East Staffordshire


Nuneaton & Bedworth

Oxford City



South Oxfordshire

South Staffordshire


Staffordshire Moorlands



Worcester City

Wyre Forest

Town Councils










Church of England


Commonwealth War Graves Commission

The Commission was established in 1917 as the sole organisation charged with the care of the graves and the commemoration of those Commonwealth forces who died during the two world wars. The Commission is responsible for 1.7m graves and memorials in 153 countries and territories worldwide.

In the United Kingdom, the Commission is responsible for over 300,000 war graves and commemorations in over 12,300 sites. These range from large military cemeteries, to plots and scattered graves in local authority, privately owned and religious faith burial grounds of all denominations.

The Commission is responsible for the graves and memorials of those serving personnel who died:

  • whilst serving in a Commonwealth military force or specified auxiliary organisation between

o   4 August 1914 and 31 August 1921 and

o   3 September 1939 and 31 December 1947


  • after they were discharged from a Commonwealth military force, if their death was caused by their wartime service between

o   4 August 1914 and 31 August 1921 and

o   3 September 1939 and 31 December 1947

War graves are commemorated with the Commission’s standard pattern war headstone or by private family memorials. Consequently, when such graves are commemorated with private family memorials they are not often easily recognisable as being a war grave. As there have been many private burials of those personnel who have died within the scope of the Commission’s responsibility, but not formally known to it, there is an opportunity for these to be registered in order to benefit from the responsibilities of the Commission.

If in doubt as to whether the Commission has responsibility, make contact and advice will be given.

War graves are protected by a complex framework of legislation in the UK. The applicable legislation will depend on the location of the war grave (whether it is located in local authority owned site, Church of England etc). It will also depend on whether the burial ground has been officially closed for burials or whether it remains open. The Commission also owns the burial rights to a number of war graves.

The Commission should be contacted in the event that a war grave burial or memorial will be disturbed or affected by planned works. The following list is not exhaustive, but such planned works may include:

  • sale or transfer of land to another party,
  • if the land is to be developed,
  • headstones are due to be cleared or moved,
  • if access to the graves will be affected or grave re-use is proposed.

The Commission is opposed to the disturbance of war graves and memorials and the Commission is responsible for their protection in perpetuity. This may have implications for specific parishes but the Commission will discuss any queries with individual parishes on a case-by-case basis.

If churches are unsure if they have war graves or how they may be affected by developments, please contact [email protected]  for further information or assistance.

The Commission has the following detail of war graves in Catholic cemeteries across the Archdiocese. If more come to light, the Commission should be informed.

Parish no Town Name War graves
0 Birmingham / Oscott Oscott Cemetery 19
27 Birmingham St Joseph's Church, Nechells 39
47 Alton St John's Church 2
65 Brewood St Mary's Church 6
67 Broadway St Saviour's Church & Cemetery 1
98 Crewsswell St Mary's Church 1
100 Dorchester on Thames St Birinus Church 1
113 Harvington St Mary's Church 1
114 Haunton Ss. Michael & James Church 1
117 Hethe Holy Trinity Church 6
119 Kenilworth St Augustine's Church 1
136 Nuneaton Our Lady of the Angels Church 5
139 Olton The Holy Ghost & Mary Immaculate Church 20
150 Hadzor Cemetery, SS Richard & Hubert, Hadzor Lane 1
151 Rugby St Marie's Church 4
155 Sedgeley St Chad & All Saints Church 5
183 Stourbridge Cemetery, Norton 4
187 Studley St Mary's Church 4
199 Walsall St Mary's Church, The Mount 1
202 Princethorpe Graveyard - used by parish of St Anne's 1
225 Wootton Wawen Cemetery & "Chapel of Rest", Stratford Road 1

Offences in Cemeteries

The extant parts of the respective Burial Acts do not make reference to offences in churchyards. Therefore, the following acts, which are offences in a local authority cemetery (as they are covered by specific regulations) are not covered by law.

Nevertheless, it is reasonable to assume that parishes could make users aware that the following acts would not be tolerated:

  • creating a disturbance,
  • committing any nuisance,
  • interfering with any burial,
  • interfering with a grave, (without formal approval)
  • playing any game or sport, or
  • entering or remaining in a cemetery when it is closed to the public.


However much a parish tries, it is inevitable that there will be times when they do not meet the expectation of its users and all services are liable to human error. Parishes should plan both to deal with complaints and to learn from them.

Complaints are most likely to arise from disagreement with the parish’s policy (e.g. level of fees, or site maintenance regime), or where things go wrong (e.g. booking the wrong day for the funeral, or allegations of rude or insensitive behaviour by staff).

Parishes should ensure that there is readily available information about how to complain, and that complaints procedures are not unduly bureaucratic. Complaint handling is most effective if the complaint can be made locally and quickly, with the person responsible for administration of the cemetery empowered to deal, without delay, with the majority of the complaints which can be anticipated.

It will be helpful for complaint procedures to include provision for complaints to be escalated if the complainant is not satisfied by the initial response. For Diocesan parishes the point of contact is the Diocesan Head of Planning, Deacon Paul O'Connor.

In dealing with the complaint there shall be contact with the complainant, parish and any other third party necessary before a written response is made to the complainant and copied to the parish.

Section 2 - Health and Safety

Safety in Cemeteries

Each parish has a duty of care for all people who visit and work in our burial grounds. This means that health and safety requirements need to be of utmost importance. After all, we are seeking to provide a fitting location for the interment of the earthly remains of the faithful departed and a reminder that we should pray for the repose of their souls; we are not actively seeking to have more of their number simply by using our facilities!

The safety of gravestones and memorials has been a particularly high profile subject in the recent past and there is a responsibility to undertake risk assessments of memorials on a regular basis. Nevertheless, the responsibility for repairs runs with the family of the exclusive rights holder when that still applies. Otherwise it is the responsibility of the parish. The diocese has prepared an online tool for the oversight of memorials.

The parish is responsible for ensuring that there is a safe environment for all people using our burial grounds. This will entail having identified standards and risk assessments and then ensuring that standards are maintained, assessments are undertaken and the outcomes acted upon.

The details of those standards and the detail of risk assessments will depend on the size, amount of on-going burials, community use and whether workers are employed directly or by third parties.

If a parish has direct responsibility for staff, it is important to ensure that there is induction training and on-going training to ensure that staff are aware of health and safety issues in the workplace.

Where third parties are contracted, as part of the contract parishes should require the contractors to be fully trained and conversant with the specific requirements of the burial ground.

Where there are volunteers undertaking tasks in a cemetery they need to be treated equally to paid employees and that includes training on general health and safety issues in the cemetery but also specific areas of responsibility that they hold.

The areas that need to be covered by risk assessment will be proportionate to the activities at the cemetery and will be assessed by the parish.

Nevertheless, the areas to consider include:

Cemetery Grounds

  • low level tree branches
  • kerbs partly hidden by grass
  • roots of trees penetrating walkways
  • leaning or propping up against a headstone
  • hidden dangers such as rat urine on stonework, weeds and grasses
  • slippery paths especially after periods of heavy rain
  • hypodermics or drug equipment discarded in the area
  • bottles or broken glass
  • condition of boundary wall
  • ground stability
  • condition of furniture
  • standards of toilets

Working in Cemetery

  • Trips, slips and falls
  •  Working at heights
  • Grave digging
  • Noise
  • Use of electrical heights
  • Use of horticultural equipment
  • Lone working


  • Site safety during interment
  • Preparation of route for coffin bearers and graveside activity

It is important to have agreed risk assessments with suitable review dates. It would normally be expected that each risk assessment should be reviewed every twelve months.

Each risk assessment will have a required inspection routine, be it daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or annual. This will be dependent on the extent of risk involved and the likelihood of circumstances changing.

Each inspection should be accompanied by a written review, identifying compliance with the requirements, identified issues, the measures to be taken to address them and finally, the actions taken to comply. These records should be kept secure.


Under HSE Regulations volunteers must be treated equally as paid employees would be in any organisation. Therefore, risk assessments should be prepared for the specific areas in which they are involved.

Risk assessments can be undertaken in a variety of different manners. The important thing is that they cover all of the necessary areas, they are used and act as an effective means of keeping our burial grounds safe for all users and make them conducive for their intended purpose.

The approved diocesan risk assessment is at Appendix F.

Maintenance of graves and memorials

As our burial places commemorate the faithful departed, Catholic parishes have a special duty in ensuring that there are prayers for the deceased and an effective means of ensuring that is to care and maintain their memorials wherever possible.

The duty to repair is with those with the exclusive right to bury, but the responsibility to inspect and assess is with the parish and, in many circumstances, the duty of care belongs with the parish due to the passage of time since the memorial was erected.

The principles, approach and practice required to implement appropriate care, maintenance and repair within cemeteries are the same as other historic structures.

This must be based upon an understanding of the nature of the different materials of construction, their behavioural and deterioration characteristics, and the most appropriate means of preservation.

Types of memorials

The most common form of memorial is the simple vertical headstone, but cemeteries contain a vast range of structures often ranging greatly in size and manner of construction.

The care and maintenance of each memorial varies according to its nature and complexity of carving or construction and physical location. The level of expertise required to plan and implement any practical or passive intervention will also differ accordingly.

Materials and deterioration

Stone is the predominant material used for memorials, but brick, slate, terracotta, artificial stone such as Coade Stone, plaster, cast iron, bronze, lead, copper and timber have also been used, either separately or in various combinations.

Inscriptions may be incised, or sit proud of the surface and can be gilded, painted or filled with metal, such as lead.

The variety and combination of materials, their distinct physical and chemical properties, different reactions to agents of decay and the effect of any remedial treatment must be taken into account when planning any conservation intervention.

Correctly identifying the materials or materials of construction and accurately assessing the current condition requires relevant expertise to ensure appropriate repair procedures.

Inappropriate diagnosis and subsequent treatment methods will not only prove ineffective, but may also cause lasting damage.

All materials decay, especially when exposed to the effects of prolonged weathering in an outdoor location. However, the rate of deterioration will vary according to the composition of the material, its method of construction and degree of subsequent exposure and the prevailing environment. Limestone, for example, is more readily eroded by acid rainfall than sandstone, but both suffer equally disastrous damage to the outer surface layers from the effects of salt movements within the stone. Some of these salts are deposited by acid rainfall or transported into the stone by rising dampness.

Similarly, metals are affected by atmospheric pollutants and suffer adverse physical and chemical reactions in an uncontrolled outdoor environment resulting in progressive stages of deterioration.

Correct identification of the causes of deterioration is essential to long-term preservation and the success of any practical treatment.

Problems with memorials are caused by a number of different reasons, such as:

  • Poor design detailing may cause cracks or water being trapped in undercut surfaces
  •  Inadequate rain protection can lead to run-offs and differential staining or erosion
  • Inferior materials reduce the life expectancy of the original memorial or monument
  • Incorrect positioning can result in the memorial stone de-layering and other types of erosion
  • Different thermal expansion of incompatible materials causes stresses and in turn cracks or decay
  • Embedded iron fixings expand as they rust and push masonry elements apart
  • Inadequately secured metal railings can begin to tilt
  • Inadequate footings or foundations may result in structures slumping or leaning
  • Unsuitable mortar accelerates decay around joint-lines
  • Inappropriate cleaning may accelerate decay or promote surface breakdown

Memorial maintenance

The best means of long-term preservation is routine care and maintenance, but inappropriate action can be as damaging as no maintenance.

Excessive build-up of soil, the establishment of invasive plants and blocked or faulty drains are examples in which lack of maintenance can promote decay.

However, most lichens, mosses and some small ferns and wildflowers can be left on monuments, providing they are not so lush as to cause structural damage or obscure carved detail. Such plants contribute to the interest and biodiversity of the cemetery and some lichens are associated with specific stones and should be protected and left in place.

Woody species, such as Buddleia cause physical damage and should be carefully removed without damage to the memorial. Creeping plants, such as ivy or Virginia creeper can be tenacious and can cause physical damage or lead to differential moisture retention and staining on stone or metals.

Examples of inappropriate repair and maintenance include inexpertly applied or inappropriate chemical cleaning agents, application of unsuitable paints and surface treatments and poorly executed and non-compatible mortar pointing. Therefore, it is essential that only suitably experienced specialists undertake repair work, such as conservators, monumental masons or stonemasons and architectural metalworkers.

The need to prevent theft and vandalism is an important preventive conservation aspect of care and maintenance. Surfaces are defaced by graffiti or abrasion and components may be broken off and discarded. Metal roofing materials are attractive to thieves and entire monuments may be stolen for re-sale as architectural salvage.

It is important, therefore, that security measures to reduce the impact of theft or vandalism are considered and a rapid response is often necessary to remove graffiti as soon as possible after it occurs. This requires the sensitive skills of experienced operatives to prevent shadowing occurring where the graffiti have been removed and thus avoid an imbalance between the cleaned and non-cleaned surfaces. In some situations, it is necessary to retain lichens or other surface detail and particular care and the expertise of a conservator may be required to remove the graffiti.

Physical damage should be investigated and recorded at an early stage to identify potential health and safety risks and the repairs necessary that should be undertaken as soon as practicable to prevent further loss of any vulnerable adjoining material.

Identification, documentation and management

The first stage in documenting historic cemeteries is to create an inventory. A preliminary survey should reveal and document what is of interest and provide an illustrated record to include the location, dimensions, description, materials of construction and current condition of each memorial.

Specialists may be required, for example, to identify the stone types or other materials of construction and to carry out a detailed condition or structural assessment of the more complex structures.

However, most of the more straightforward recording can be undertaken by volunteers, once the surveying process and a common framework is devised. Volunteers may need to be trained in visual examination and recording procedures to provide a consistent level of observation.

Risk assessment

As the result of well-publicised accidents and fatalities within graveyards and cemeteries in the recent past there is now increased awareness and concern regarding public safety and the potential dangers, especially of large headstones or monuments. Unstable, poorly secured or physically damaged memorials can pose a serious hazard to cemetery workers and visitors.

However, the risks need to be objectively evaluated and an order of priority established for any emergency measures or practical intervention. It is important to note that it cannot be assumed that age will be the predominant factor in determining the condition of memorials. Surveys of local authority cemeteries showed that less than 10 per cent of Victorian memorials failed safety checks whereas many more post-war memorials were found to be unstable.

Risk assessments are a central part of the inspection process. Legally it is the responsibility of the parish to carry out risk assessment; and cemetery managers and their surveyors need to ensure this is carried out on a routine basis. All observations should be carefully recorded in a clear manner, perhaps using a standardised format, especially for large numbers of memorial or complete cemeteries.

Repeat inspection is the best means of monitoring the condition of the memorials and determining if change over time is affecting their stability. This also assists in programming necessary repairs before instability occurs, which prevents unnecessary damage or loss of important detail, and it also reduces expenditure.

The design and scale of many memorials and monuments within historic cemeteries present such different problems to modern cemeteries containing relatively small, upright memorials or low, horizontal monumental components. It is therefore, essential that professional specialists (architect, surveyor, conservator or structural engineer) with relevant experience of historic buildings, sculpture or monuments undertake the inspection.

A visual and physical examination should aim to establish all or most of the factors affecting the condition and stability of the memorial. This may require further practical or scientific investigation to substantiate the initial observations.

Memorials or monuments in historic cemeteries may not be perfectly upright or sometimes appear unstable. This may be due to a combination of inadequate foundations, ground movement due to subsidence or tree roots, corrosion of internal iron fixings, or physical separation of individual components. The danger presented by these hazards must be clearly identified and categorised, with the aim of removing the risk entirely, or reducing the potential for damage and injury by preventive measures or practical intervention.

In general, less risk of serious injury is attached to small headstones or memorials and conversely larger memorials are susceptible to greater instability and present a higher potential health and safety hazard.

Ground maintenance

It is expected that all cemeteries are kept in good order and repair as well as any buildings, walls and fences. There should therefore be a management regime that includes general maintenance, risk assessments and monitoring of health and safety issues.

Burial grounds as open areas of green space will require maintenance if the site is not to degenerate into an eye-sore and a liability for the parish, attracting vandalism and other criminal activity.

The extent and nature of the maintenance required will depend on the type of open space parishes wish to provide, varying from traditional lawn cemeteries, through wildlife conservation areas, to natural (woodland) burial grounds.

It is unlikely that our many of our burial grounds will be large enough to offer more than one type of area but if there is a decision to have a mix of open space, the maintenance regime for the site as a whole will need to be planned with this in mind.

For aesthetics, health and safety purposes, and accessibility, a continuous programme of levelling may be required.

Depending on the requirements of individual sites, ground maintenance is likely to include:

  • Grass-cutting
  • Planting and up-keep of floral displays
  • Trimming and care of trees and shrubs
  • Care of grave areas, including removal of kerbstones and memorials where appropriate
  • Care and cleaning of pedestrian and vehicular access routes
  • Building maintenance
  • Maintenance of boundary and internal walls, gates and fences
  • Rubbish clearance
  • Upkeep of signs and notices
  • Ground levelling, as necessary.

The frequency and standards of these activities cannot readily be prescribed since much will depend on the type of burial ground in question, but the principle must be that the level of activity should achieve its purpose.

Lawn cemetery

  •  A lawn cemetery or section should therefore be neat and tidy, with graves and memorials laid out to a regular plan and kept in good condition.
  • Grass should be cut regularly, depending on the time of year, and attention paid to ensure that the length of grass does not, wherever possible, mask any potential hazards.
  • Paths and roads should be clean, provide hard, dry, access, and be signed, as should the site as a whole.
  • Where there are flower borders, they should be offered to a standard comparable with other public flower displays.
  • Trees and shrubs should be maintained so that they present no danger to staff or visitors, or impede access. Care is needed with the siting of trees so that fallen leaves, cones or berries do not present a hazard to pedestrian access routes or make graves untidy (tree roots, of course, may also inhibit the excavation of graves).
  • Trees should also be checked regularly for anything that can be seen to be dangerous, with a formal inspection at regular intervals, such as once a year. Anything other than minor work should be undertaken by a properly qualified tree surgeon.
  • Replanting, particularly of trees and shrubs, should respect and complement the character of the original cemetery design.
  • Where burial grounds are in conservation areas or the trees are covered by a Tree Preservation Order, it will be necessary to secure the approval of the local planning authority before works to trees can be undertaken.
  • Buildings and other hard structures should be kept in a good state of repair, to avoid water ingress or premature deterioration of wood, brick, stone or tile.
  • Parishes should ensure that they form part of the quinquennial inspection and any resultant required actions are undertaken in timely fashion to high standard.
  • Where works are more than minor repairs incorporating like-for-like works, faculty approval will be required through the Historic Churches Committee (if the church is listed) or Art & Architecture Committee (if unlisted).
  • Litter should be cleared regularly and rubbish from operations and maintenance (grave spoil, grass cuttings etc.) should be removed out of sight as soon as possible.
  • Floral tributes can be left for removal by the families who brought them, but ultimately may need to be removed by ground staff. Notices setting out the authority’s policy on removal of such material should be available and on display.
  • Removal of unauthorised structures and items on graves and surrounding areas

Where graves are re-opened, particularly in old burial grounds, managers will wish to ensure that any recognisable human bones or coffin items are removed from the spoil and disposed of appropriately. (Managers are reminded that the disturbance or removal of buried human remains will require a licence, and a faculty from the trustees.)

There is room for much debate on what amounts to a ‘good state of repair’, varying from pristine to all but hazardous. There is little legal guidance. The cost of regular maintenance can seem daunting, but eventually the cost of failure to maintain can be even higher.

Financial liabilities may be incurred as a result of injuries or damage to staff or visitors, but the hidden costs are the deteriorating condition of the site which deters further burials (and income), alienates the community (a potential source of support), and encourages anti-social activity.

Burial grounds in poor condition bring into disrepute the Church’s belief that we honour the dead and pray for their salvation.

Environmental Conservation

Burial grounds which seek to provide a haven for wildlife should be cultivated with this in mind, although managers will need to decide the balance to be struck between the needs of mourners and other visitors, and the practicalities of continuing to provide burial facilities.

It is important to emphasise that an environmentally sensitive burial ground is not an over-grown or unkempt one, and that the maintenance efforts required may be just as challenging as for a lawn cemetery. Although a different type of mowing regime will be required, (less grass cutting and horticultural maintenance can be expected) the need to maintain hard structures remains and there will still be a need to provide for proper litter and rubbish disposal.

Natural Burials

Woodland/Natural/Environmental burial sites will present different maintenance requirements, but areas not yet used for burials will require appropriate levels of attention, and it will not necessarily be the case that planted areas can or should be left to fend for themselves. For example, care should be taken regarding grave markers which can readily become overgrown and a safety hazard

In all cases, burial managers should give detailed consideration to the specific maintenance requirements of their site, identify what action needs to be taken, and make explicit the standards expected. Whether the work is carried out by in-house staff, contractors, or even volunteers, supervision will be essential to ensure that standards are achieved and maintained.

Cemetery Manager/Grounds Supervisor Interments Procedure

A guidance note on standard procedure to ensure all interments progress accordance with best practice.

Stage One

Cemetery Manager to take the funeral booking from the funeral director.  Enter the following information onto the Grave Digging Order form:

Stage Two – Grounds Supervisor

1.    Physically locate the correct grave and insert marker

2.    If there is masonry on the grave arrange to have it removed

3.    Physically check the other masonry in the whole section

4.    Report any masonry that needs supporting and record them on grave digging form

5.    Report any maintenance that needs attending to in section, such as

  •  masonry
  • grass cutting
  • rubbish left lying in the section
  • cemetery entrance, clean and tidy
  • record such works on grave digging form

Stage Three

Inform that the grave is ready for Supervisor to check and initial the grave digging order form to confirm that the following have been checked.

The following is what Supervisor needs to check:

1.    Check the shoring has been carried out

2.    Depth, width and height of the grave

3.    Greens set up neatly

4.    Masonry secured

5.    No obstacles in the area

6.    Area of burial and entrance neat and tidy

Stage Four

Following the burial/funeral you should check the following.

1.    Grave marker is in exact position for stone mason to place headstone

2.    Grave is left flat and turfed

3.    Area has been cleaned and cleared of any soil and debris

4.    Flowers have been laid out respectfully over grave

5.    Sign grave digging order form to confirm that funeral has been completed

Employment legislation

If a parish employs staff with responsibility for a burial ground, it will be important for the parish to be familiar with relevant legislation relating to the recruitment, employment and treatment of staff.

This document cannot address all the employment issues which burial managers may need to take into account, but it is important for burial ground managers to ensure that they are equipped to handle all the relevant issues.

Parishes may need to use the Archdiocese’s human resources department and may consult on legal matters with the Archdiocesan Solicitor.

Any staff responsible for management of burial grounds or work therein should be provided with sufficient training to ensure that they have a knowledge of their responsibilities and best practice. 

Staff Training

In order to comply with health and safety legislation, and to provide a professional level of service, staff training is an essential investment.

The scope of the training will depend on, amongst other things, the nature of the burial ground, the services offered, and the extent of outsourcing of, for example, responsibility for grave-digging and ground maintenance.

While ‘on-the-job’ training has its place, parishes need to consider whether skills and knowledge are up to date. Some training external to the burial authority is largely unavoidable.

Where training has not previously been provided to any great extent, managers should first consider conducting a needs analysis to ascertain what skills may be in place and what additional needs there may be.

Training is likely to be needed in respect of:

  •  Health and safety
  • Machinery operation
  • Horticulture and landscaping
  • Historic and natural environmental conservation
  • Grave digging
  • Building maintenance
  • Record management
  • Customer care and bereavement issues
  • Burial law and practice

There are many training opportunities available. The difficulty may be in planning to manage staff absences while attending training courses.


Parishes frequently out-source grounds work to third parties. It is important to ensure that there is a formal contractual arrangement for such services.

The contract should be clear on:

  • the respective responsibilities,
  • Procedure through the burial process
  • Expected standards
  • Review criteria
  • Sanctions for failing to deliver to standard

Parishes should also be satisfied that the third party company has demonstrated compliance with employment legislation.

Parishes should include regular monitoring of work and liaison meeting with suppliers where necessary.

Contracts should be for a set period, usually three years.

Before the expiry of the contract arrangements should be in place for the next period of time. The parish should invite alternative suppliers to make a proposal for the delivery of the service.

Any decision should be made based upon:

  • Adherence to the specified terms and conditions
  • Quality of the supplier’s work
  • Qualifications (where appropriate)
  • Cost

The decision should be based on value for money; this is a combination of the above factors that should allow the parish to have confidence in its suppliers without unnecessary cost or administrative burden during the length of the contract.

Section 3 - Environmental, Historical & Cultural Role of Burial Grounds

Responding to specific needs

Parishes are usually aware of the needs of their communities and seek to meet those needs as far as possible. It is important to emphasise that increasingly people only engage with the parish at momentous times in their families and the death of a family member is one of them. It is an opportunity to ensure that parish can demonstrate that, however estranged, it is possible for people to be part of the parish community and provides for potential evangelisation through care in what is said and done.

Therefore, parishes should, within reason, seek to accommodate the needs of families, whilst politely emphasising, when necessary, the teachings of the Church and practicalities, especially when the parish may operate a small burial ground or with limited resources.

Parishes should consider how it can address these needs through:

  • The days/ times when the parish can be contacted in preparation of the burial
  • Readily accessible information on service provision and fees and charges
  • Whether it is possible for families to select a specific plot
  • When the cemetery is open and if there is a requirement to close (a wider decision based on security and other considerations)
  • Accessibility for those who require wheelchairs, but also the frail and partially sighted on the principle that a spouse, sibling or parent should always be able to visit the burial place of a loved one.
  • Accessibility to a columbarium should apply equally to a cemetery
  • Site facilities for visitor comfort, convenience and information.

Many burial grounds are likely to be constrained by virtue of their size or resources and not therefore able to offer a complete range of services in ways that are conveniently accessible to all users.

Parishes should remember that they and their staff may be in contact with the bereaved at any time, and should be prepared to deal with them sensitively and compassionately.

Equal treatment

Facilities and services should be designed and executed in compliance with the Disability Discrimination Acts. Burial ground managers should always have regard for equal treatment policies and practice, including provision for the disabled, whether or not specific legislation applies.

Burial facilities, memorialisation, appreciation and use of a local open space amenity should be considered for all (subject to constraints of practicality and the authority’s policies).

Consideration should be given to wheelchair (and all-weather surface) access to all parts of the burial ground and any church or chapel. The Centre for Accessible Environment (CAE) does not require a hard surface for wheel chair users – only that surfaces do not have any sharp edges, bumps or holes in them.

Attention should also be given to the needs of the hard of hearing (e.g. in connection with funeral services) and the partially sighted (particularly potential hazards).

Similar consideration should be given to provision of information in local community languages.

There is no specific guidance for burial grounds but the Disability Rights Commission has published guidance that might be of assistance: Code of Practice

Burial Environment

It is important for parishes to have regard to the environment provided or created for burials, friends and relatives, and visitors. Lawn cemeteries may reflect the requirements or expectations of many families and visitors, but their provision is primarily to meet the needs of the parish for ease of maintenance and minimising costs. There is considerable room for debate about the extent of provision of formal or informal planting and landscaping, and natural or wild-life opportunities.

Informal memorialisation can present particular difficulties for parishes. Decoration of graves (and the surrounding area) with soft toys, flags and banners, musical ornaments and unauthorised boundary markers may serve to commemorate the deceased in an individualistic way which brings comfort to the family concerned, but can appear garish and out of place for others, detracting from the intended ambience of the burial ground.

Too rigid and austere a policy towards such memorialisation can attract criticism and encourage flouting of what may be regarded as petty bureaucracy. Equally, an entirely laissez-faire approach may only aggravate the incidence of inappropriate and perhaps hazardous decoration.

It is important to remember however, that our Archdiocesan burial grounds are an extension of our church community. They are a sacred testament to our belief in the resurrection of the body and are therefore holy places for prayer and consolation. They serve our parishes in ministering corporal and spiritual works of mercy in which they bury our deceased Catholic brethren and their family members, comfort the sorrowful, and pray for the living and the dead with all attendant rites of the Roman Catholic Church.

Solutions may include:

  • Catechesis about the purpose that burial rounds play in relation to the life of the parish
  • Better information to families about permitted memorialisation and decoration on the grant of grave spaces or burial rights (including the reasons for limitations)
  • Notices to this effect within the burial ground to discourage post-burial memorial additions
  • Provision of separate, dedicated areas within the burial ground for informal memorialisation, coupled with strict enforcement of prohibitions outside these areas.


Readily-available information for the bereaved and the general public will provide an enhanced service. Information services may be divided into three types:

  •  Information for the bereaved (e.g. information relating to coroners and inquests; probate; benefits; taxes; and counselling services)
  • Information about the burial ground (ownership/management; age/size; opening times; fees and charges; regulations/by-laws; facilities; aims; notable features
  • Information for special interests (family historians; architectural historians; ecologists).

Not all information services will be relevant to all burial grounds. Closed burial grounds are unlikely to need information for the bereaved, but are more likely to want to provide information about the burial ground itself.

Information may also be provided in different ways. In many cases, notices, leaflets and interpretation boards will be appropriate, but burial grounds with, for example, close links to ‘Friends’ groups may be able to provide conducted tours or open days. Websites may be an option for all sites of interest, particularly where the burial ground is partly or wholly dependent on income from visitors and there is a need to attract them.

Parishes will also wish to consider the educational benefits of providing information, particularly for schools and colleges. This might promote familiarisation with death, bereavement and memorialisation; record sources for local or national history; and examples of local environmental development and conservation. It should also help mainstream burial grounds as a beneficial resource for the local community in which to take pride.

The extent of information provided and the manner in which it is disseminated will be dependent on factors like the resources available to the parish and the frequency of demand. Nevertheless there should be no impediment to parishes providing in some manner information associated with the service that they provide.


Parishes should give consideration to the facilities provided for the bereaved and visiting members of the public. Such facilities might include:

  • Shelter (including shelter at the graveside during the burial ceremony)
  • Seating areas
  • All-weather pedestrian access
  • Car-parking
  • Floristry
  • Water supplies (for floral tributes)
  • Litter and waste bins (including bins for dog faeces)
  • Rubbish recycling
  • Toilets
  • Refreshments
  • Signs

The appropriate level of such facilities will depend on perceived demand and available resources.

Parishes should not feel that facilities are satisfactory simply because of lack of complaints. There is no reason why mourners and other visitors, including professional users, should not be invited to comment or make suggestions.

Cultural, Environmental and Historical Heritage

The wide range of interests

Burial grounds are not simply places for the burial of the dead. They provide areas for the living to commemorate those who have died, a focal point to record and appreciate the life, aesthetics and ethos of previous generations, and, by default or design, a lightly used largely unbuilt environment offering an open space refuge for local flora and fauna, as well as for human recreation and enjoyment.

The interest and appeal of burial grounds is to an audience much wider than those who have a friend or relative buried in the site.

Parishes need to recognise, provide for and, where appropriate, develop these various uses, which can complement the fundamental purposes of burial grounds.

These need not be a purely charitable activity. Promoting burial grounds as part of the life of the community can reduce costs by broadening the appeal of the site to a wide range of interests. These are more likely to provide voluntary or other support in managing the historical, cultural and environmental heritage of the site.

Parishes should therefore consider how best to develop links with local interest groups, and how those links might best be used.

There will usually be a range of organisations interested in the history of the site, its structures and architecture, or of the persons buried there.

There may be a separate range of interests in the landscape, or the plants and animals which have found a safe haven within it.

There may also be more general supporters of the site (e.g. ‘Friends’ groups) whose interests are site-specific rather than thematic.

All such groups may have much to offer parishes by providing services which will help maintain the site, whether or not it continues to be used as a burial ground. Such services might include:

  • ground or monument maintenance
  • information services (on-site leaflets; website coverage; guided tours and talks)
  • professional advice.

The National Federation of Cemetery Friends can provide information on how to create voluntary group: Cemetery Friends

Record keeping – genealogy

The scrutiny of parish registers is subject to the General Data Protection Regulations are in force from 25th May 2018 and are supported by the new Data Protection Act 2018.

Data protection law does not cover those who have died.

Parish registers may be stored safely with the parish or they may have been passed to the Archdiocese of Birmingham Archive. These may be because the parish has closed, because the register in question was complete more than 110 years ago or for safe-keeping.

Requests for Information from The Book of the Dead

Information about the person who has died (but nobody else) can be given without needing any proof of identity from the person asking

Baptism and Confirmation Registers

A request relating to a baptism or confirmation more than 110 years ago or a marriage more than 100 years ago requires no proof of identity from the person asking for the information.

Requests for more recent information requires evidence that the person has died. There is then no further requirement for proof of identity from the person asking.

Conservation Management Plans

Whilst our burial grounds are places where we inter the remains of the faithful departed, they can nevertheless be places of life if they are managed with the interests of biodiversity in mind.

It is possible to allow wildlife to flourish with management that encourages diversity and balances the need to preserve historic interest with the promotion of biodiversity, whilst maintaining a pleasant and secure environment in which visitors can feel at ease.

Many of our established cemeteries have historic interest, either by the buildings within them, the structures such as memorials and tombs or the historic landscape in which they were established.

A conservation plan is a means of seeking to ensure that the historic interests and nature conservation form integral parts of the management of the cemetery.

Cemeteries may form part of local authorities’ identified open space which may have strategies prepared for their enhancement. It is advisable to liaise with the local authority if considering a conservation management plan as there may already be principles in place that can form the basis of the plan.

Preparing a conservation management plan

It may be appropriate to engage an experienced professional to formulate the plan, but a well-organised parish that has a group dedicated to the task, especially if encouraging support from local residents and interested parties could reasonably expect to prepare a plan or undertake much of the preparatory work.

Preparation is in two stages:

1.    understanding the cemetery, its contexts, its significance, the available resources

2.    agreeing what is required and how to achieve it

Stage 1 will require a survey of the cemetery that will be as straightforward or complex as the nature of the cemetery dictates:

  • Archive research into the history of the site to identify how it was established, what might have been lost and how the cemetery has developed over time
  • Architectural survey identifying buildings, structures, memorials, boundaries and gradients to identify their national importance through listing, their local significance, their condition and their potential (should be covered by the quinquennial report)
  • Monument and sculpture survey to identify interest and conservation requirements
  • Biographical survey of the people buried in the cemetery, including those of national and local importance and the presence of CWGC graves
  • Geological interest survey where this might influence what flora and fauna might flourish
  • Landscape design survey to identify the existing opportunities and constraints
  • Ecological survey to identify existing species
  • Tree survey

Stage 2 sets priorities and the work programmed required. It should set out priorities for attention in the short, medium and long term. The plan is also a tool for the parish and local community in planning how they can help to look after the cemetery.

The plan will need to address:

  • Urgent repairs with identification of permissions required, sources of funding and timescales involved
  • Longer-term works to buildings, walls and memorials
  • Repairs to specified buildings and monuments, with priority given to repairing listed structures
  • Restoration of the historic landscape design where appropriate
  • Creation of appropriate habitats and associated management arrangements
  • Day-to-day maintenance for the new arrangements
  • Strategy for wider parish and public involvement in the project
  • New developments, including new burial areas

By using a conservation management plan there is clearer understanding of the value of the burial ground, effective management of existing resources, creation of an enhanced environment, greater appreciation of running costs and an opportunity to engage with a wider community than just users of the cemetery.

Managing for Wildlife

“When we speak of the “environment”, what we really mean is a relationship existing between nature and the society which lives in it. Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it.” Pope Francis, Laudato Si.

Our burial grounds are, to a greater or lesser extent, places where flora and fauna does, or at least has the potential to, thrive. The potential to manage wildlife will be dependent on the size of the burial ground and its location. A long-established country churchyard can be an integral part of the open countryside, whereas an urban cemetery may be intensively used but potentially a wildlife oasis in a densely populated area.

Whatever the circumstances, there are species that have a purpose created by God that can benefit from thoughtful and effective management.


The principal wildlife habitats found in cemeteries are woodland and species-rich grassland, although many also support thickets, scrub, heath, veteran trees and wetlands.

Trees from former landscapes incorporated in the landscape design can be of considerable stature and age. These veteran trees provide important habitat for many species like invertebrates and fungi and host breeding birds and roosting bats.

The built structures in cemeteries also provide wildlife habitats like the lichens on monuments.

Habitat management

Habitats need to be managed. Without active management, shrubs and trees tend to seed and establish themselves and through this natural process of succession, areas of grassland and other open habitats become colonised by scrub and trees. Conservation management aims to arrest this succession. In some circumstances low key management may be appropriate but not benign neglect. The art of good management is to optimise the quality and diversity of wildlife and natural features and to be able to sustain this in the long term.

Whilst it may be possible to create new habitats as well as managing existing ones of conservation value, such changes need to be considered both in the context of the historic design of the cemetery, its role, and any additional maintenance costs this may imply.

Different habitats require different styles of management and different budget planning. Health and safety considerations apply to wildlife areas and features, and where trees and other woody species are undermining memorials they will need to be removed.

Well-planned conservation management for wildlife is generally less intensive and can therefore require less resources to manage and there should be less need for chemical control.

Where the cemetery is large enough, it is good practice to identify wildlife management areas and to rotate these areas over a number of years. This helps to gently and incrementally restore the site and helps spread costs and workloads.

In the wildlife areas vegetation need not be cut so regularly, nor is there any need to cut to formal lines as in other parts of the cemetery, although it is good practice to demarcate areas managed for wildlife so as to show that apparent neglect is intentional and managed. Techniques such as mowing strips along main paths and drives can help guide visitors around the cemetery and show active management is underway.

Natural England encourages the following management principles:

  • Avoiding the bird breeding season (February to August) for all tree and shrub management to prevent nests, eggs and young birds being disturbed or destroyed
  • Retaining, where safety permits, dead and dying trees (both standing and fallen) as additional habitats and to help grade the change between grassland and woodland habitats breeding birds and roosting bats. The built structures in cemeteries also provide wildlife habitats like the lichens on monuments.
  • Managing grassland to benefit wildflowers and insects by cutting either once (late August/early September) or twice a year (June and October) and removing cuttings
  • Composting of cuttings rather than burning but if burning is the only available option then to identify one specific burn site
  • Controlling invasive weeds such as Japanese knotweed but leaving some corners where plants such as bramble and nettle can grow
  • Limiting the use of herbicides, pesticides and other chemicals; use should be carefully targeted to tackle specific problems where other forms of management are impractical
  • Providing bird boxes for a range of species if there are few large old trees and built structures
  • Retaining patches of bare ground in sunny areas for solitary bees and wasps
  • Providing information and interpretation of the site’s natural features and their conservation management
  • Involving local people in conservation management work
  • Establishing new trees and shrubs where the existing cover is poor (appropriate to the historic landscape design)

More recent cemeteries may lack areas rich in wildlife. Beside tree and shrub planting, establishing wildflowers in selected areas can help make these places more attractive. The introduction of such features should be considered carefully within the context of the landscape design of the cemetery and its overall management.

Ideally plant material of local provenance should be used, although the use of exotic and naturalised species to maintain the integrity of the landscape design may preclude this. Where there are trees of historic importance, scions could be made to grow replacements.


There may be opportunities to receive funding from a range of sources. Parishes may seek funding through the Heritage Lottery Fund, but in order to maximise the potential for funding and its extent, there needs to be consideration as to how the project to create a wildlife-rich burial ground forms part of and engages with the local community. There is also enhanced opportunity where the burial ground is associated with a church that is a listed building.

Other available sources are: 

Allchurches Trust Ltd Burial grounds linked to a church from £1000 to £15000
Biffa Award Rebuilding biodiversity funding for locations within 15 miles of a Biffa site and 10 miles from a landfill site
Birmingham International Airport Community Trust Fund For areas affected by the airport and provides up to £3000 for environment improvement, improving awareness of environmental education & training.
CB & HH Taylor 1984 Trust Environment and conservation work in the West Midlands from £500 to £58,000
Edward & Dorothy Cadbury Trust Grants typically of £1000 for conservation and the environment projects in West Midlands & Worcestershire
Edward Cadbury Charitable Trust Grants typically of £2000 for conservation and the environment projects in West Midlands, Staffordshire, Warwickshire & Worcestershire
Garfield Weston Foundation Maximum grant is usually 10% of total project cost. Environmental grants range from £2,500 to £750,000, with most grants being used to fund nature projects
Groundwork/Tesco Bags of Help Maximum potential grant £4,000 for environmental projects
Ibstock Enovert Trust Within 10 miles of Kingswinford and Walsall sites for environmental protection up to £50,000 grant
Mary Doney Charitable Trust Environmental and religious activities in Worcestershire are eligible
Roger & Douglas Turner Charitable Trust Grants from £2000 to £20,000 for environment and heritage projects in Birmingham, Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall, Wolverhampton and Worcestershire
Roughley Charitable Trust Grants between £500 and £5000 for church-based community projects in Birmingham
Rowlands Trust Environmental grants of £1500 to £120,000 in the West Midlands and Worcestershire
SMB Trust Faith based and environmental/wildlife project grants about £1200
Sabina Sutherland Trust Grants between £500 t0 £15,000 for advancement of religion and environmental protection/improvement
Steel Charitable Trust Potential source in Oxfordshire for environmental grants from £1000 to £75000
The 29th May 1961 Charitable Trust A special interest in the Warwickshire/Birmingham/Coventry area for conservation and protection with grants between £6000 to £100,000.
Veolia Environmental Trust Grants between £10,000 & £75,000 for enhancing biodiversity for locations “in proximity” to Veolia sites
William A Cadbury Charitable Trust Grants up to £10,000 in the West Midlands for community-based projects and environmental enhancement / heritage conservation

The Development Team of the Curial Office can assist with any bid funding and should be contacted in advance of making any applications for grant funding.

 Section 4 Appendices

A. Burials Policy

The following criteria are to be used for decisions on the extension of burial grounds or provision of new:

1. Management of existing burial places

Existing burial places shall ensure that there is:

  • A full record of all burial plots, those buried therein and any pre-allocated plots with contact details of person responsible for the plot.
  • Where applicable, the cost of any plot for interment of body or cremated remains shall be made public and based on the reasonable costs of the parish in respect of initial preparation and on-going maintenance.
  • Management of the cemetery to ensure that:
    • Records are kept fully up to date,
    • Risk assessments are undertaken and acted upon.
    • Regular surveys are undertaken to avoid risk associated with headstones and memorials and where applicable, risk acted upon.
    • They are maintained in good order.
    • Undertake an inspection of pre-allocated plots to ensure their suitability for burial and thereafter inspect the burial ground annually with the scope of inspection based on the risk associated with the likelihood of change for plots and where necessary alert plot owners of the change in circumstances.
    • Any requirement for specific size, design or materials of headstone or memorial marker is specified and implemented.
    • There is enforcement of those requirements to ensure no subsequent addition to plots.

2. Extensions to Existing Burial Grounds

Extensions to existing burial grounds will only be approved provided:

  • It has been demonstrated that there is a requirement for additional space at a cemetery due to existing reaching capacity and demand being made for additional plots that is likely to remain for a minimum of twenty years.
  • There is demonstration of the effective management of the existing cemetery in accordance with the requirements above.
  • There is demonstration of the proposed management of the cemetery extension.
  • The extension does not compromise the potential to re-use church and/or presbytery should they no longer be required.
  • All the necessary approvals through the local planning authority, Environment Agency (or successor in title) and Historic Churches Committee / Art & Architecture Committee have been secured.

3. Alterations to Cemeteries

Alterations to cemeteries may be necessary at times. This will include the moving of bodies, relocation of headstones, removal of headstones and grave markers and enhancement of graves. This may be for a variety of reasons but approval of such alterations will only be forthcoming if the following criteria are satisfied:

  • There is a clear justification for the works taking place.
  • Any works are undertaken in consultation with any next of kin of those buried (where applicable) and consultation with the parish to ensure that there is maximum opportunity for any concerns to be allayed.
  • Measures are in place to show how there will be compliance with the extant law on the disinterment of remains and Home Office approval secured.
  • All the necessary approvals through the local planning authority, Environment Agency (or successor in title) and Historic Churches Committee / Art & Architecture Committee have been secured.

4. New Burial Places

Any new burial places shall be in the form of a columbarium and will not be permitted unless they satisfy the following:

  • The remains shall be stored above ground.
  • It is demonstrated that there is demand for such a facility.
  • It does not compromise the use of the grounds of the church.
  • There is in place, prior to approval, the necessary arrangements to effectively manage the site.
  • There are published charges which are based on the reasonable costs of establishing the burial plot and its on-going management.
  • The design seeks to balance the requirements to be a thing of elegance, being suitable to convey the message of hope of the resurrection of the body and to avoid excessive maintenance cost.
  • All the necessary approvals through the local planning authority and Historic Churches Committee / Art & Architecture Committee have been secured.

5. No new below ground burial places shall be created for either bodies or cremated remains

6. No scattering of cremated remains is permitted in any burial ground of the Archdiocese

7. No burial shall take place in an area established to be simply a garden of remembrance

B. Cemetery Management Rules. Template for Leaseholders

The template is available in Word format:

Cemetery Management Rules. Template for Leaseholders

C. Cemetery Rules and Regulations

The template is available in Word format:

Cemetery Rules and Regulations Template

D. Contract Template

The template is available in Word format:

Contract Template

E. Cemetery Memorial Permit

The template is available in Word format:

Cemetery Memorial Permit

F. Cemetery Risk Assessment

The template is available in Word format:

Cemetery Risk Assessment