Celebrating the Beautiful Burial Ground Project

30th January 2023

Executive summary by Harriet Carty, Director of Caring for God’s Acre

After 4 ½ years our Beautiful Burial Ground project has come to an end. We are really proud of all that’s been achieved and feel there is a lot to celebrate. Don’t just take our word for it though! Here’s what our evaluator Heritage Insider says – to read the full report, download it here

Infographic of achievements of the Beautiful Burial Ground project by Caring for God's Acre

Burial grounds are filled with wonderful built, natural and social heritage. Yet despite offering such rich biodiversity and cultural significance for the communities around them, little data Is publicly available about these amazing places. The Beautiful Burial Ground project, known as BBG, was a first step in addressing this. Thank you to the National Lottery Heritage Fund for supporting this vision and to all who play the National Lottery. We’re also delighted to have won an award for this project, The CIEEM Knowledge Sharing Award 2022

CIEEM 2022 Awards Winner Logo

So much has happened during BBG which can be summarised under 3 headings:

  1. We created linked systems that allow everyone to see what’s already known about an individual burial ground, giving a full picture. To do this we worked with national organisations able to manage large datasets. We now have a BBG portal and more information on the Church Heritage Records of both England and Wales. It’s now possible to check an individual burial ground and see what’s known about its wildlife, ancient trees, listed monuments and more.
  2. It’s great to know what has already been recorded in a particular churchyard, chapel yard or cemetery but it’s also vital to keep adding more information. We’ve encouraged people to get out exploring, recording monuments and archaeology and making lists of species they see, be it a blackbird or a rare waxcap!
  3. We’re a small charity and can’t do this alone. BBG has been a project of partnerships and collaboration with churches, councils, experts, interest groups and other conservation charities. Thank you to all who worked with us, we will continue to work in this collaborative way.

Stand-out achievements are:

The number of you who got involved so Thank You! Love Your Burial Ground Week activities took place across 808 burial grounds, with a lots of people joining in through Churches Count on Nature. In all, about 20,000 people were involved, across England and Wales, many of whom had never done something like this before and our feedback forms showed that they loved it! Large numbers of experienced naturalists and social history experts have now started to record regularly in burial grounds with about 650 continuing to regularly submit records of species, to photograph monuments or record inscriptions.

Volunteering or ‘citizen science’ is of huge value to a charity like Caring for God’s Acre, we estimate that the financial worth of the work done by volunteers during BBG is £857,115.

Thanks to BBG we now know far more about burial grounds, in particular the rich biodiversity they contain. You can look up an individual site and see what’s known to be there and can also start to get a feel for the cumulative importance of these places. We now have over 87,000 new heritage records across 6,273 burial grounds in England and Wales. The key features of each site can also be viewed on the Church Heritage Records, bringing wildlife information into the heart of church planning. Look out for Ancient and Veteran Tree information (from the Woodland Trust), designations such as Local Wildlife Site (from county Wildlife Trusts), rare species in the Seek Advice list and a Summary of Ecological Importance to help site managers to make informed decisions.

We hoped that BBG would encourage people to think of burial grounds in a new way, be they church wardens, local authority employees, neighbours or naturalists. There is good evidence to suggest that this is happening, with those managing burial grounds taking a holistic view and managing for heritage, wildlife and people. One happy result is that people feel increasingly welcome to visit and enjoy their local burial ground, and there is a changing perception of the importance of these places within the community.

Although this particular project has closed this is not the end of The Beautiful Burial Ground – please keep exploring, learning, recording and increasing the knowledge about these special places. This really helps us to support those managing them and to champion their importance both locally and nationally.

To give the final word to our evaluator; “Given Beautiful Burial Grounds has been such an accomplished project, it will be fascinating to see what this organisation can achieve next.

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