Cherishing Churchyards Week

Caring for God’s Acre wins Heritage Lottery Fund support

It was announced this week that the national charity for the conservation of burial sites, Caring for God’s Acre, based in Shropshire, has received initial support* from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for its Beautiful Burial Ground Project.

The project aims to put burial grounds literally on the heritage map by creating a bespoke database and interactive map where individual burial sites can be mapped, linking records on the plants and animals to a particular site, easily accessed by all.

The new project will also encourage citizen science, social and historical recording and research to give a holistic picture of the whole range of heritage present in our burial sites. People new to this type of recording will be supported via special events, workshops and activities. Families, people with reduced mobility and those with mental health issues will be specially targeted to get involved.

Development funding of £17,700 has been awarded to help Caring for God’s Acre to progress plans to apply for a full grant of £586,700, which will, hopefully enable the new four-year project to start up in the Autumn of 2017.

Vanessa Harbar, Head of HLF West Midlands, said: “From nesting spots in ancient trees to hiding places in undisturbed walls, burial grounds are incredibly important for wildlife and biodiversity.

“Thanks to National Lottery players, this project will put citizen scientists at the heart of creating a lasting and accessible record of thenatural, built and social heritage of some of the UK’s thousands of burial grounds.”

Caring for God's Acre (CfGA) is a charity dedicated to the conservation of burial grounds, which encourages and supports people and communities to protect and enhance wildlife and preserve built heritage within their local burial grounds; involving people in learning about and helping to manage these remarkable places. CfGA has a membership and a national message to promote. The Beautiful Burial Ground project will support the aims of CfGA and enable the charity to extend its work reaching new audiences and raising the profile of burial grounds as special places for people, nature and history. Burial sites such as old churchyards and cemeteries have long been recognised for their rich biodiversity. In a landscape that’s squeezing out our opportunities for healing, first-hand contact with nature, old burial grounds are regarded as living sanctuaries because of the vast congregation of flora and fauna such as birdsandmammals, reptiles, amphibians, bumblebees and butterflies contained within their boundaries.

The man-made historic structures such as the monuments, memorials and lychgates, are of equal importance because they reflect the period in which they were made and set up, illustrating changes in fashion or technology in an immediate way. From simple headstones to grandiose, highly decorated structures they give us information on subjects from the geology of the stones to fashions in architecture and verse. They provide a fascinating insight into the lives of generations past; telling their stories in stone and bearing witness to the skill of the letter cutter.

The continued existence of these remarkable places cannot be taken for granted. They are under threat from such things as a lack of under-standing by the public of their value and importance, and how to best manage them. Falling congregations, a lack of statutory protection, neglect or poor management and climate change also all pose a threat.

Oliver Goode, Chairman of trustees said “We’re delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has given us this support. The Beautiful Burial Ground Project will enable us to literally put burial sites on the map, and it’s great to know that we are a big step closer to conserving these amazing sites for the generations to come.”

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